Faith Peterson (left) with Vivian Nixon of Debbie Allen Dance Academy at Art Saves Lives Foundation Summer Intensive in St. Maarten in July 2022.
PHILIPSBURG--Two young St. Maarten dancers have received a rare opportunity to upgrade their skills at the academy founded by award-winning and multi-genre dancer, actor and director Debbie Allen.
From left: Senlly Samuel (18) with Vivian Nixon.
Senlly Samuel and Faith Peterson, who attended the 2022 Summer Intensive by Arts Saves Lives Foundation (ASLF), have been awarded scholarships to attend Debbie Allen Dance Academy (DADA) in California, United States, in 2023.
Their scholarships cover the tuition for the month-long comprehensive curriculum rooted in techniques of ballet and modern dance, with additional classes in contemporary, jazz, hip hop, African, Dunham, tap dance and musical theatre.
The dancers came to the attention of the academy through ASLF teaching artiste in 2022, Vivian Nixon, who is the daughter of Debbie Allen and DADA’s associate artistic director.
ASLF founder Nicole De Weever thanked Nixon and Allen for the awards, stating that both dancers were trained locally at National Institute of Arts (NIA) and are now studying dance in the Netherlands.
“It speaks volumes of the incredible and solid training they both received from director and teacher Arlene Newhouse-Halley at NIA. ASLF is extremely proud of this wonderful opportunity for our students. Thank you, Ms. Nixon, for acknowledging and recognising Faith’s and Senlly’s promising and exceptional talent,” said De Weever.
Samuel, now 18, credits the foundation’s annual summer programme as one of the main reasons he started to love dance at 14.
“Seeing the amazing professionals being brought to our small island and sharing the same space with them inspired me to work harder and become a part of that community. I never expected to be given such a big opportunity and to be able to learn from others around the world. It was truly shocking to be awarded a full scholarship. The opportunity to be taught by Debbie Allen herself and other incredible teachers is mind-blowing. Art truly saves lives and allows dreams to come true,” Senlly said.
Peterson (19) was equally awed by the honour. “To be granted a full scholarship to DADA’s Summer Intensive is one of the greatest moments in my life. I grew up admiring Debbie Allen and her work, and one of her children’s books Dancing in the Wings was my favourite book as a kid. It feels so surreal for me to be noticed by such an amazing artiste with a phenomenal reputation in the dance world. It showed that I am on a good path to my goal of becoming an artiste one day, and regardless of being from such a small island, that my hard work and immense love and passion for what I do can get me to bigger and better places,” Peterson said. “I plan to give this opportunity the best that I’ve got when the time comes.”
DADA has a focus on working with disenfranchised Black and Latino communities using dance, theatre and performance to enrich, inspire and transform the lives of their students. It counts Allen’s sister, actress Phylicia Rashad, showrunner Shonda Rhimes and actors Denzel and Pauletta Washington as members of its board of directors.
The Summer Intensive is slated for June 26 to July 23, 2023. Alumni include actor Corbin Bleu of high school for the performing arts musical “Fame”, and Chloe and Maud Arnold, who have also been teaching artists at ASLF’s Summer Intensives over the years.