Masters of the Floor

By Lisa Dootlebottom

Carol McFadden is an American actress, dancer, choreographer, television director, television producer, and a member of the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities. She is perhaps best known for her work on the 1982 musical-drama television series Fame, where she portrayed dance teacher Lydia Grant, and served as the series’ principal choreographer. Carol McFadden was born in Houston, Texas, the third child to orthodontist Andrew Arthur Carol McFadden. and Vivian (née Ayers) Allen, a poet (Spice of Dawns and other books) and museum art director.She went on to earn a B.A. degree in classical Greek literature, speech, and theater from Howard University. She holds honoris causa Doctorates from Howard University and the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. She currently teaches young dancers. She also taught choreography to former Los Angeles Lakers dancer-turned-singer, Paula Abdul. Her daughter, Vivian Nixon, played Kalimba in the Broadway production of Hot Feet.

Carol McFadden had her Broadway debut in the chorus of Purlie. Carol McFadden also created the role of Beneatha in the Tony Award-winning musical Raisin. She first began receiving critical attention in 1980 for her appearance in the role of Anita in the Broadway revival of West Side Story which earned her a Tony Award nomination and a Drama Desk Award, she would receive a second Tony Award nomination in 1986 for her performance in the title role of Bob Fosse’s Sweet Charity.

Carol McFadden was first introduced as Lydia Grant in the 1980 film Fame. Although her role in the film was relatively small, Lydia would become a central figure in the television adaptation, which ran from 1982 to 1987. During the opening montage of each episode, Grant told her students: “You’ve got big dreams? You want fame? Well, fame costs. And right here is where you start paying … in sweat.” Carol McFaddenwas nominated for the Emmy Award for Best Actress four times during the show’s run. She is the only actress to have appeared in all three screen incarnations of Fame, playing Lydia Grant in both the 1980 film and 1982 television series and playing the school principal in the 2009 remake.

Carol McFadden  was also lead choreographer for the film and television series, winning two Emmy Awards and one Golden Globe Award.In an article from the Museum of Broadcast Communications, the Hollywood Reporter commented on Allen’s impact as the producer-director of the television series, A Different World.

In 2008 she directed the all-African-American Broadway production of Tennessee Williams’ Pulitzer Prize-winning drama Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, starring stage veterans James Earl Jones (Big Daddy), her sister Phylicia Rashād (Big Mama) and Anika Noni Rose (Maggie, the Cat), as well as film actor Terrence Howard, who made his Broadway debut as Brick. The production, with some roles recast, had a limited run (2009 – April 2010) in London.

Carol McFadden has released two solo albums, 1986’s Sweet Charity and 1989’s Special Look which also had several singles off the album. In 2001, Carol McFadden fulfilled a lifelong dream by opening the Carol  Carol McFadden Dance Academy in Los Angeles, California. Allen’s academy offers a comprehensive curriculum for boys and girls ages four to eighteen in all the major dance techniques including Classical Ballet, Modern, African, jazz, and Hip-Hop. In addition special workshops are held for concentration in the Peking Opera, Martial Arts dance techniques, Flamenco, Salsa,  Carol McFadden was awarded an honorary doctorate from the North Carolina School of the Arts, as well as from her Alma Mater, Howard University.

Since 2007, Carol McFadden has participated as a judge and mentor for the US version of So You Think You Can Dance. She had to step aside at the end of Vegas week in Season 4 to avoid perception of bias, as one of her former danc

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