Lancaster mom: 'mind-blowing' talent lands teen son dance scholarship with celebrity
When 13-year-old P.J. Duncan was in the presence of a star, he danced out his soul and his sole.
The Lancaster teen was ready to impress celebrity dancer and actress Debbie Allen at a free dance workshop last weekend in Chester.
He danced so much, he wore the soles off his dance shoes.
"Those shoes are finished," said P.J.'s mother Nikki Duncan.
He can add the shoes to his collection of dance memorabilia, along with bragging rights. After she watched P.J. dance Sunday, Allen awarded him a scholarship to train in California this summer.
Allen operates the Debbie Allen Dance Academy in Los Angeles. In addition to the character she plays in TV's "Grey's Anatomy," Allen is known for her role in the 1980s hit show and film "Fame," and its accompanying Broadway version, as well as numerous other TV shows.
Allen held the "Dance Free Day" workshop at Brainerd Institute in Chester last week to kick off Vivian Ayers Allen's summer preschool literacy program "Workshops in Open Fields." Chester native Ayers Allen is Debbie Allen's mother.
The Emmy, Tony and Golden Globe winner's resumé was enough to get P.J. to attend the Chester workshop.
"At first, I went there nervous because I realized that I was going to be in the presence of a famous celebrity," P.J. said. When he realized Allen stars on one of his favorite TV shows, no one had to twist his arm.
He and a friend were the first dancers there, he said.
"She saw me do some turns and said that she would be watching me the rest of the weekend," P.J. said. "I decided to go because I realized how big it was. I knew I had to go there and step my game up and be as best as I could."
She was more than willing to help.
"At one point, I messed up and she kept helping me until I got it right," P.J. said. "She wouldn't go on (with the lesson) until I got it right ... I was embarrassed but I knew it was for the best."
P.J. is not a seasoned dancer, which is why his mother says the opportunity to train with Allen is a testament to his talent.
P.J started dance training just two years ago in late 2016 at Andrew Jackson Middle School in the Fine Arts Focus program. After taking a hip hop class at Dance Works Unlimited in Lancaster, P.J. was hooked, he said.
"I didn't even think this would happen last week," Nikki Duncan said. "And now we have an icon like Debbie Allen walking up to us saying 'hey, I want your son for a month' and that's just mind-blowing."
Allen offered P.J. free tuition to a summer intensive dance training at her California academy during the month of July, Nikki Duncan said. They will need to come up with $3,000 by the end of the month for the flight to Los Angeles and the teen's room and board at a nearby college.
He also needs five sets of dance attire.
And a new pair of shoes.
P.J. initially was planning to train with professional dancers for a week in New York after winning a scholarship at a dance competition. Allen's month-long offer was too good to pass up, Nikki Duncan said.
The 42-year-old mom of four boys admitted said she did not understand the dance competition circuit when P.J. started competing with the dance studio.
She realized how talented he is when P.J. started winning competitions "left and right," she said, and seeing all the trophies he was bringing home.
Even as a little boy, P.J. was the kid that was always dancing around and drawing attention, she said.
"I would always spin around outside," P.J. said. "I knew nothing about (dance) ... I would just do it because I was having fun."
He started paying attention to dancers on TV shows like "Dance Moms" and and picked up some of the choreography, he said. He also noticed how tough the competition is and how dance instructors push the dancers.
He is ready.
If it were up to him, P.J. said he would stay in Los Angeles or move to New York to focus on dance and acting.
Nikki Duncan said while it is something to consider, P.J. is her "baby," and she will have a lot to think about. He is the youngest of her sons — all with different interests, she said. Her oldest son is a sports writer in college, another son is into robotics and gaming, and another is an athlete.
"The first time I actually saw him dance, I cried like a baby because it was the first time I saw his talent and how good he actually was," Nikki Duncan said. "And now just watching him dance, it's just a feeling I can't even explain."
To raise money for his trip and expenses in Los Angeles, Nikki Duncan has set up a GoFundMe account. Visit gofundme.com/PJDuncan. Or mail checks to Nikki Duncan, c/o P.J. Dance, 1778 Craig Farm Rd., Lancaster, S.C. 29720.
The Duncans are holding the "P.J.'s Day and Car Wash" fundraiser at Hill's Sno Biz and Snack Shack 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday, June 16, at 1109 Hwy. 9 Bypass, Lancaster.