‘ World well-known dancer Debbie Allen invitations Durham dancers to LA :: WRAL.com

— Young dancers from a studio in Durham are leaping into the opportunity of a lifetime after world renowned dancer, choreographer and actress Debbie Allen invited them to come to her summer intensive training in Los Angeles.

When dancers from Durham’s own Empower Dance Studio discovered Allen would be visiting Duke University, they surprised her in the hallways before her speech. A viral video shows the group performing for her.

“I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, Debbie Allen! I’ve got to somehow connect and meet her and have her come and see the work that we do here – because it’s really inspired by her,’” says Nicole Oxendine, who says she modeled Empower Dance Studio with the same vision as Allen’s Studio.

Allen’s studio in LA is also known for supporting dancers of color, financially giving them opportunities like no other. Empower in Durham is modeled after the same idea: Helping young, Black dancers in Durham with its non-profit foundation. They provide meals, dance costumes, tights, transportation and more.

The six dancers; Cayla Sutton, Naziah Harper, Lauren Tyler, McKinley Brown, William Hill and Ashanti Bellamy surprised Allen in the hallways of the university with a performance right before her commencement address.

Allen was so impressed she kept in contact with Oxendine and decided to award all of the Empower dancers full scholarships to attend her highly-selective and prestigious one-month summer intensive training in Los Angeles.

Thousands across the globe compete for the opportunity to attend Allen’s summer intensive camp, and many who are selected are picked up by major dance companies, with opportunities for commercial and movie gigs.

“It was really exciting. It was fun,” said Tyler. “It’s an opportunity of a lifetime for young dancers.”

Tyler started dancing as just a toddler and hasn’t stopped since.

“At first, I didn’t believe it because it’s just really cool and not everybody gets to go. And then I was really excited,” said Tyler.

Oxendine is thrilled her students have this incredible opportunity.

“The whole point of the non-profit is to make sure that students have access to opportunities like this,” she said.

However, the group still had to cover the cost of flights, housing and all their clothing pieces. The Empower Dance Foundation, the studio’s non-profit, raised more than $40,000 with the community over the past two weeks to help get the students there.

Oxendine says this experience is one of her greatest lessons, proving what can happen when you work hard and take that leap of faith.

“What can we do as a community to make the next Misty Copeland come out of Durham?” she says.

“Just go for it – because at the end of the day you should do what you like,” said Hill, one of the dancers who surprised Allen. “And if you’re passionate about it, go for it.”

The dancers will fly out of Raleigh-Durham International Airport on Thursday evening. They will get a send-off celebration as they head to embark on this journey.

For more information on how you can support these dancers as they represent Durham in Los Angeles, visit the Empower Dance Foundation’s website.

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