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A couple of weeks ago, we reported on the racial discrimination Vivian Nixon, Debbie Allen’s daughter, experienced in the dance industry.

Sadly, the experience wasn’t entirely foreign to Allen.

She too experienced discrimination early in her dance career. Sadly, it’s a memory that she still harbors.

During an interview with PEOPLE, Allen shared that after years of training at the Houston School of Ballet, she was rejected from the North Carolina School of the Arts because of her body type.

The rejection came as a shock, given what Allen had already learned. “I had been so well trained by that time by the Houston Ballet Foundation. I got there early, and I watched the auditions, I watched class. I was like, ‘Oh, I know all of this. I’ll be good.’ I got to my audition [group] and they used me to demonstrate. And then when it was over, I was excited. I wanted to know when I would start. And the man told me I was not going to be accepted because my body type wasn’t right. That was just devastating,” she admits. “It still hurts. It stopped me until my mother made me know that I could not have a pity party.”

Allen said that going to Howard University, ultimately helped her to be able to get back to where she belonged.

“And then I was blessed to go to Howard University, where I was bathed in my cultural identity. [Famed choreographer] Mike Malone saw me at a party doing a double or triple turn, and pulled me out of the party and put me back where I belonged at the dance barre working with his company,” she says.

At Howard, Allen earned her bachelor’s degree in classical Greek literature, speech, and theater before she moved to New York to continue her career in the arts.

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