Kiya and the Kimoja Heroes is a new animated show coming to Disney+. The series follows Kiya, a young girl who uses friendship, dance and martial arts to protect her home Kimoja, a South African-inspired city. With an emphasis of harmony and unity, Kiya—known as "Dance Ninja"—commits herself to the well-being of her community while shielding them from “Flawed Friends,” three Kimojans who are motivated by "jealousy, competitiveness and envy." In the midst of problem-solving the disruption in Kimoja, Kiya and her friends learn big lessons along the way.

Last month, the Debbie Allen Dance Academy (DADA) announced they would partner with Kiya and the Kimoja Heroes to bring specially curated lecture demonstrations to local elementary schools in Los Angeles. Made public during DADA’s Free Community Block Party, children were able to get a sneak peak of what's to come from the series and participate in themed activities.

Debbie Allen spoke with EBONY about the exciting collaboration with Kiya and the Kimoja Heroes and the power of dance.

EBONY: Kiya and the Kimoja Heroes incorporates dance terms with martial arts to protect citizens in city. Why is dance, when used as a medium to invoke community, so powerful? 

Debbie Allen: I think there are two primary universal languages: music and dance. Even if we don't speak the same languages or pray to the same God, we dance to the same beat. All my life, I have known dance to evoke a certain energy, power and self-confidence, which is why I think all people need to dance. No matter your age or ethnic background, you need to commune with the Earth. In ancient times, humans danced, stomped their feet, and celebrated birth and rain before we could write or speak the same language. All these things were related to ritual beliefs and dance.

In conjunction with Debbie Allen Dance Academy (DADA), there will be lecture demonstrations inspired by themes from the show. Why was this partnership important?

Honestly, we were kind of a launchpad. I think the company was looking for a community group that has the demographic they looking for and also serves the community they're looking for. DADA fit the bill. What we do is dance—we don't do a lot of fighting like Kiya. DADA's biggest groups at the dance academy is my early birds, consisting of three to seven years olds. So when we did our community block party during Black History Month to just engage our neighbors in our community, the show was a sponsor of the event. It was lovely. It was also made possible by Councilwoman Heather Hutt, who moved mountains to ensure we had a wonderful time that day.

DADA has been doing lecture demonstrations for 22 years. So the show is stepping into our world that already exists. We do anywhere from 20 to 25 lecture demonstrations every year. We go out to elementary schools, middle schools, high schools, private schools, and charter schools to talk about the value of the arts in these young people's lives, the language of the dance and different techniques. In a lot of schools, performing arts is the first thing they cut out. So with these lecture demonstrations, we'll be doing what we normally do, with the support of Hasbro and Kiya, and be able to tell the youth about the show.

Kiya and her friends utilize their collective strengths to help the community during various challenges in Kimoja City. What can this show and the lecture demonstrations put into perspective for youth wanting to be superheroes themselves? 

Someone who protects and helps others is a superhero. The success of this show will surely make it possible for us to have more shows like this. And I know there are some wonderful shows, just dancing in the wings and waiting to come on the heels of Kiya which is the dream coming into fruition.

kiya and the kimoja heroes
Kiya (center) and friends Jay (left) and Motsie (right). Image: courtesy of Disney+

We live in a time when many political leaders seek to erase the arts from being taught in schools. Why is it still important in 2023 to have culturally-relevant programming and entertainment to expose youth to?

The truth is, the quality of life of all the people that might be complaining would be zip without these things. Because if you take away the arts, you can't play the radio, there's no television and you have to take the art off the walls. Everything all around us is art. So people want to marginalize, yet, don't understand the value of the arts in everyday life and seek to do so for control. But it's not going to work because young people need that expression. Kiya and the Kimoja Heroes also talks about creativity and self-expression and I think that's what's going to resonate. This is the heart of what we do at the Debbie Allen Dance Academy which is why we were a good partner for them as they're launching this new show.

Kiya & the Kimoja Heroes will premiere in the US on Disney Junior on Wednesday, March 22nd at 4:00 p.m. EST/PST, and the first four episodes will premiere the same day on Disney+.