Actress paid tribute to dncer and choreographer Debbie Allen at NYC Dance Alliance Foundation gala

By Sara Hammel
September 28, 2015 02:25 PM

Catherine Zeta-Jones is a dance mom – and a nervous one at that – she revealed before she and husband Michael Douglas watched their daughter Carys perform at a charity gala on Sunday night.

The two Oscar winners made the NYC Dance Alliance Foundation’s “Bright Lights, Shining Stars Gala” a family affair.

“I have a confession to make,” Zeta-Jones solemnly told the crowd at the New York City fundraiser. “As I tell the truth for the first time in public I am a dance mom.”

The audience, many of them young dancers and their families, erupted in cheers and applause. She added in a booming voice, “And I’m proud of it! And I’m proud to share it with you. And I LOVE being a dance mom. I have to say I see it first-hand as my daughter partakes in the NYC Dance Alliance workshops and I love to watch those kids, and I love to see what they get, the nurturing, the fantastic amount of talented teachers.”

Catherine Zeta-Jones at the NYC Dance Alliance Foundation's "Bright Lights Shining Stars" gala
Chance Yeh/WireImage

The honoree of the night was legendary dancer, choreographer, actress and director Debbie Allen, whose sister is actress Phylicia Rashad. Rashad raved about her sister and said she “has been blessed with an abundance of talent” before presenting her with the Ambassador for the Arts Award.

Zeta-Jones, who was given the same award in 2013, also paid tribute, saying she’s still “star-struck” by Allen. “When I was a young, aspiring dancer growing up in a small town in Wales, we didn’t have any of the media outlets you folk have today,” Zeta-Jones said, then joked, “I sound so 46 right now.” (She and Douglas celebrated joint birthdays on Sept. 25 – he turned 71, she 46. Douglas told PEOPLE before the event: “We had a great birthday. It was quiet, easy – you gotta let ’em go by once in awhile.”).

“What I did have,” Zeta-Jones continued, “was on a Thursday night at 9 o’clock, I had FAME. And I had the star Miss Debbie Allen in my home. For me it was the window into everything that I had dreamed of. That was what I wanted to do. When she said fame hurts, I felt it. I felt it in Swansea, South Wales, and I wanted to feel more pain, and more hurt, and work harder than anybody else in that class.”

Before the show began, Zeta-Jones told PEOPLE she was excited to see her daughter perform – but she wasn’t calm about it.

Catherine Zeta-Jones with husband Michael Douglas
Sean Zanni/Patrick McMullan

“Mommy gets nervous for her,” she admitted. “That’s the way it goes these days: I get really nervous and she breezes through it. The way that my mom used to do for me it all comes around.”

Carys and her fellow students from the Westchester Dance Academy performed to Avicii music in a piece tiled The Long Road, and their number closed out the night’s show to raucous applause. They had the approval of everyone in the house – including Carys’s mom, who caught up with her daughter later at the reception and assured her proudly, “You NAILED it!”

Zeta-Jones told PEOPLE how thrilled she is that her daughter has an interest in the art.

“It feels great, because I love the dancer’s life,” she said. “It’s been so good to me, and she’s really passionate about it, and she’s done the NYC Dance Alliance workshops, been in their competitions.

“She’s really seen what this foundation does for young dancers. It’s inspiring. It’s healthy competition and it really is the best tuition, the best training, coupled with what it is to have team spirit and work together and be kind to people.”

Added Douglas in a separate interview: “Dance is an important part of our lives. It’s always great to support something that’s giving back to dance, a lot of the scholarships tonight are going out, and it’s a win-win.”

Douglas and Zeta-Jones, who have two children together, Carys and Dylan, have been going strong since separating briefly in 2013, after Douglas revealed he’d beaten cancer. They walked into the event holding hands, with Zeta-Jones looking stunning in a teal lace dress and both seeming in high spirits.

Allen, an Emmy and Golden Globe Award-winner and Tony award-nominee, said during her acceptance speech: “I’m grateful I’ve landed where I am and gone through all I’ve gone through. The dance worlds is a world where we command time and space. A world that knows real freedom. I directed everything the finale of Empire, Scandal, and I’m working on Grey’s Anatomy. Dance informs everything I do. I was doing double turns to get Patrick Dempsey to say his lines!”

Also attending was The View panelist Raven-Symon , who told Allen, a mentor of hers, “I love you.”