EXPOSITION PARK — In celebration of the popular Cross Colours apparel exhibit titled “Cross Colours: Black Fashion in the 20th Century” currently on display at the California African American Museum, the Debbie Allen Dance Academy delivered an electric performance Feb. 23.
The exhibit, which will be on display until Aug. 23, features a 30th anniversary retrospective of the clothing line that is currently experiencing a resurgence among youth from the gritty streets to the fashion runways.
Composed of young dancers ranging in age from 15 to 22, the Debbie Allen Dance Academy ensemble is the brainchild of dancer and choreographer Debbie Allen, who founded her academy in 2001.
Located in the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza, the academy offers classes in ballet, modern, jazz, tap, hip hop and various other styles of dance for children 3 and older. The nonprofit academy has performed at the Kennedy Center, the Hollywood Bowl, the Grammys with celebrated ballet dancer Misty Copeland, Royce Hall and at the White House.
“We want to expose you to these wonderful, talented artists,” said Karen McDonald, director at the Debbie Allen Dance Academy, who introduced the young troupe. She added that some of the performers had been training at the academy since they were 3.
“The dancers are being accepted into the top schools and universities around the country and some have even danced on Broadway,” McDonald said. Seven girls and four boys performed four dances that kept the audience captivated.
The dancers were Bianca Brown, Megan Prout, Rachel Conley, Kendall Dennis, Jalyn Flowers, Sydney Guine, Brianna Urena, Donte Essien, Eric Freeman, Jean Victor Mackie and Ethan Richardson.
Three of the female dancers performed to “What a Wonderful World,” choreographed Darrell Moultrie; a solo female dancer performed to the energetic “Shift,” a contemporary dance about abandoning the old and finding the new choreographed by McDonald; “On Fire,” a dynamic contemporary work choreographed by Terry Beeman; and “Now Presenting,” a fiery performance also choreographed by Darrell Moultrie.
Cross Colours, the iconic clothing line, was created by Carl Jones and TJ Walker in 1989. The brand immediately broke glass ceilings in the apparel industry and propelled urban hip hop apparel from streetwear to the fashion catwalks in the 1990s.
The eye-catching clothing exhibit, which features colorful oversized pants, T-shirts and custom leather jackets and also features media footage and rare memorabilia, has attracted scores of fashionistas, fashion designers and fans, continuing to draw dozens of admirers each day.
The museum’s brochure stated that the Cross Colours display is one of the most popular exhibits in the history of the museum.
Back in the 1990s, the street-inspired fashion with its bright colors and geometric designs immediately captured the attention of celebrities in hip hop, sports and pop culture. The brand’s apparel was built on a single message: “Clothing without prejudice.”
The two designers wanted their brand to speak against injustice and the effects of Reagan-era cuts to federal education and social programs as well as the increasing incidents of police brutality as a way of making fashion political. Other messages that the brand espoused were “Educate 2 Elevate” and “Stop D Violence.”
Cutting-edge rappers and entertainers quickly embraced the Cross Colours brand, including TLC, Kris Kross, Stevie Wonder, Muhammad Ali, Magic Johnson, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Spike Lee, Jamie Foxx, Jim Carrey, Sean “Diddy” Combs and SWV. Actor Eddie Murphy wore the apparel in the movie “Boomerang”; the Wayans Brothers sported the threads in “In Living Color” and singer Lauren Hill wore the gear in “Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit.”
Actor/rapper Will Smith regularly sported the colorful clothing on “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” TV show, which won the label millions of new fans. Relaunched in 2014, the iconic street wear is wooing a whole new generation, this time with the social messaging of “Unity, Equality and Empowerment.”
Celebrities recently sporting the brand include Rihanna, Drake, Future and Diplo. Singers Cardi B and Bruno Mars appeared at the 2018 Grammy’s wearing the brand and the two performers flaunted the colorful apparel in their “Finesse” video.
Jones and Walker said they were honored to have the Debbie Allen Dance Academy perform at the CAAM tribute. “The dancers from the Debbie Allen Dance Academy were remarkable,” Jones said. “TJ and I have known of Debbie Allen for decades and we are proud of all of the barriers that she’s broken through as a dancer in the entertainment industry.
“To see the students of her academy come alive like that during their performance, it was absolutely inspiring,” he said.
“It was nothing short of spectacular seeing the way the students of DADA executed their performance,” Walker said. “We were honored to have them showcase their talent at CAAM. Also, to do so during Black History Month and in a way that aligned with our exhibit made the performance that much more meaningful.”