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Gus Giordano (July 10, 1923 – March 9, 2008) was an American jazz dancer and choreographer. He performed on and off Broadway and in theater and film. He was a master teacher, a gifted choreographer, founder of Giordano Dance Chicago, creator of the Jazz Dance World Congress and the author of Anthology of American Jazz Dance, the first book on jazz dance. He taught world-renowned dancers in schools such as the American Ballet Theatre, and choreographed award-winning numbers for television, film, stage, commercials and industrials. Giordano is considered one of the founders of jazz dance, and his influence in jazz dance is still felt.
Gus Giordano was born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1923. At the age of five, Giordano traveled to New Orleans, where his cousin taught him the Charleston dance step to the song, "The Shoeshiner's Drag", thus introducing him to jazz music and dance. After this trip, Giordano was hooked on dance. He returned to St. Louis and studied with local dance teacher Minette Buchman, whom he credits for early dance training. He also studied with vocal teachers and guest artists visiting his area. Giordano took classes in ballet and theater dance. At this time, Giordano did not take jazz classes as such, because jazz dance as a concert dance style did not exist. Giordano continued to dance through his childhood.
During World War II, Giordano joined the Marines, where he was assigned to a performing group that put on shows at the Hollywood Canteen and at military bases around the country. After the war, Giordano left the service and moved to New York City where he searched for a Broadway job. During this time, he studied with Hanya Holm, Katherine Dunham and Alwin Nikolais. He also joined a dance group at Roxy Theater where they performed four shows a day. Giordano did not make it onto Broadway, so he returned to St. Louis and finished college at the University of Missouri in Columbia. While in St. Louis, he met his wife Peg whom he married in Detroit after closing a show.
After college, Giordano moved back to New York City. After six months of auditioning, Giordano landed a job in the Broadway musical Wish You Were Here. He also performed in Paint Your Wagon, On the Town and several television variety shows. Giordano enjoyed the work but did not find it fulfilling. He said once "If you were in Oklahoma and it ran nine years, you made that your career." Giordano did not want this kind of lifestyle, so when Peg got pregnant they decided to move out of the city.
Giordano found out that the equity office was in need of someone to stage a film festival in Chicago; he applied and was accepted. In 1953, he moved back to Chicago and opened a dance studio where he could teach and choreograph. His students included many people from Northwestern University. Giordano taught dance at his studio and staged the film festival at the same time.
Giordano's technique was based in modern, learned from his teacher Katherine Dunham. His class begins with strong floor work gained from another of his teachers, Hanya Holm. He emphasizes strength from the start of class. He adds his own "undulating movement that emanated from the pelvis and rolled through the chest and arms." In the mid-1970s, Giordano compiled his teachings and techniques into what is now considered one of the most influential books on jazz dance.[clarification needed] Gus Giordano is considered one of the forefathers of jazz dance. His technique and style have shaped today's modern jazz dance.
Ten years after his studio opened, a dance critic asked Giordano to perform with his classes for visiting Bolshoi Ballet dancers who wanted to see what jazz dance looked like. Giordano took his senior students and choreographed a number for them to perform. The Bolshoi dancers were impressed, and Giordano's students were invited to tour Russia the next year. Thus, Giordano Dance Chicago, his company, was born in 1963. Giordano Dance Chicago is one of Chicago's top professional dance companies and is run by his daughter Nan Giordano. It currently performs at Chicago's Harris Theater. Many Giordano dancers became part of the company after spending time in Giordano II, the "apprentice" company. Giordano II travels with the first company and performs in large pieces. They also put on community outreach programs and travel on their own.
Giordano founded the Jazz Dance World Congress, a five-day event celebrating the uniquely American art form of jazz dance. Since its inception in 1990, Congresses have been held in Phoenix, Ariz. (1998), San José, Costa Rica (2004), Chicago (2002, 2005, 2007, 2009), Evanston, Ill. (1990, 1992, 1994), Wiesbaden, Germany (1997), Nagoya, Japan (1995), Monterrey, Mexico (2001), Buffalo, N.Y. (1999, 2000, 2003) and at Washington, D.C.'s Kennedy Center (1996). Giordano's daughter Nan is the artistic director to the Congress. Held in the summer, the Congress gathers dancers, teachers, and performers from across the United States and other countries. At the Congress, these jazz dance enthusiasts take classes from world-class Master Teachers, see performances by internationally-known dance companies, witness the judging of new jazz dance choreography in competition for the Leo Award, and discuss any topic of interest to jazz dancers in formal panel discussions and informally throughout the Congress. The Congress also includes a professional public performance segment, the Jazz Dance World Festival, attracting some of the most acclaimed modern dance companies from across the US and around the world.
In 1980, Giordano's television show The Rehearsal won an Emmy, the PBS award and the Ohio State award. In 2005 he received the Heritage Award from the National Dance Association for his contributions to dance education.
Giordano died on March 9, 2008 of pneumonia. He was 84 years old. He has four children, Nan, Amy, Patrick, and Marc.
In 2009, director Pedro Brenner released Gus: An American Icon, a documentary about Giordano. Narrated by former Giordano student Colleen Zenk, the film includes interviews with Giordano's friends and collaborators and a full-length performance of his allegorical dance Wings. The film won prizes for Excellence at the Canada International Film Festival and for Best Documentary at the 2010 Burbank International Film Festival.
- "Giordano, Gus". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica online. 2009. Retrieved 2009-06-17.
- Jennifer Dunning, Gus Giordano, 84, Innovator of Modern Jazz Dance, Is Dead", New York Times, March 13, 2008
- "Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago". Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago. Retrieved 31 March 2012.
- "Seize the Dance!". Jazz Dance World Congress. Retrieved 31 March 2012.
- Sabo, Linda (1998). Made in America: the cultural legacy of jazz dance artist Gus Giordano (M.A. thesis). Retrospective Theses and Dissertations. Retrieved 25 June 2015.
- McStraw, Michael (2014). "The Legacy of Gus Giordano". In Guarino, Linsday; Oliver, Wendy. Jazz Dance: A History of the Roots and Branches. Florida Scholarship Online. ISBN 9780813049298.
- Ruskiewicz, Ashley. "Indie Filmmaker Spotlight: Pedro Brenner". Burbank International Film Festival. Retrieved 25 June 2015.
- "Gus: an American Icon". Cyber Tiger Studios. Retrieved 25 June 2015.