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Gus Giordano (July 10, 1923 – March 9, 2008), born August Thomas Giordano III, was an American jazz dancer, teacher and choreographer. He performed on Broadway and in theater and television. He taught jazz dance to thousands in North America, Europe, Asia and South America. He was the founder of Gus Giordano Dance School (1953), founder of Gus Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago (1963), creator of the First American Jazz Dance World Congress (1990) and the author of Anthology of American Jazz Dance (1975). He taught at institutions around the world including American Ballet Theatre, The American University of Paris, Duke University, Joffrey Ballet, New York University and hundreds more. He choreographed award-winning shows for television, film, stage, commercials and industrials. Giordano is one of the founders of theatrical or Broadway jazz dance styles, not to be confused with African American vernacular jazz styles that he drew upon.
Giordano was born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1923. At the age of five, he traveled to New Orleans, where his cousin taught him the Charleston dance step to the acrg, "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. He took classes in ballet and modern. At this time, He did not take jazz classes as such, because jazz dance as a dance class did not exist. He continued to dance through his childhood and spent summers in New York City training with Hanya Holm, Katherine Dunham, Peter Gennaro and Alwin Nikolais. He auditioned and was hired at the Roxy Theater in New York where they performed four shows a day.
During World War II, Giordano joined the Marines, where he was trained as a bomber. He was also a performer in shows at the Hollywood Canteen and at military bases around the country. He was stationed in China. After the war, Giordano returned to the University of Missouri to finish his Bachelor of Arts degree. Giordano met his wife, Peg Thoelke, while in college. He was a member of the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity and Peg was in the Delta Gamma sorority. Peg and Gus Giordano were married on October 14, 1950 in St. Louis, MO.
Giordano appeared on Broadway in Joshua Logan’s "Wish You Were Here". He also performed in "Paint Your Wagon", "On the Town", "Guys and Dolls", "Brigadoon", "Pajama Game" and several television variety shows, such as "The Perry Como Show" and "The Ed Sullivan TV Show", "Martin & Lewis" and "The Colgate Comedy Hour". He enjoyed the work but did not find it fulfilling. Giordano did not want this kind of lifestyle in New York, he wanted to teach jazz dance to the world.
Giordano was offered a job at The Film Council of America in Evanston, IL. He accepted the position and moved from New York to the Chicago area. He began teaching in one of the offices in the same building as The Film Council in 1953 and established Gus Giordano Dance School in 1953. He was the first to put dance on television by teaching a 15-minute series called JAZZ DANCE on WTTW Channel 11 in Chicago. Giordano was the pioneer of dance on television. He helped produce, choreograph and performed in several award-winning shows on PBS, including "Requiem for a Slave", "Michelangelo – A Portrait in Dance", "The Rehearsal" and "Chic Chicago" for WGN.
In 1953, Gus and Peg Giordano opened their dance school in Evanston, IL. What started as a one-room studio blossomed into Gus Giordano Dance School. Now Gus Giordano Dance School resides in Chicago, where he always dreamed his School would be one day.
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, he compiled his teachings and techniques into Anthology of American Jazz Dance, which includes over 250 technical pages detailing Giordano technique. In 1992, Giordano published "Jazz Dance Class: Beginning Thru Advanced," an illustrated guide to American theatrical jazz dance for students and teachers alike. This book broke down, in detail, warm-ups, individual techniques and jazz combinations at three levels, beginner, intermediate and advanced.
Giordano is considered one of the forefathers of Broadway or theatrical jazz dance styles. His technique and style have shaped today's modern jazz dance.
Ten years after his studio opened, Ann Barzel (dance critic) asked Giordano to perform with his classes for visiting Bolshoi Ballet dancers who wanted to see what jazz dance looked like. He took his senior students and choreographed a number for them to perform. The Bolshoi dancers were impressed, and his students were invited to tour Russia the next year. Thus, Gus Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago, his company, was born in 1963. Gus Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago was renamed in 2009 to Giordano Dance Chicago by his daughter, Nan Giordano. It currently performs at Chicago's Harris Theater. Many dancers became part of the company after spending time in Giordano II, the "apprentice" company. Giordano II performs in large pieces with the company.
Giordano founded the American Jazz Dance World Congress in 1990. Giordano invited many jazz master teachers in his networks to teach at JDWC including Robert Battle, Homer Bryant, Randy Duncan, Frank Hatchett, Liz Imperio, Joe Lanteri, Luigi, Matt Mattox, Pattie Obey and Joe Tremaine. Since its inception, Congresses have been held in Phoenix, AZ (1998), San José, Costa Rica (2004), Chicago (2002, 2005, 2007, 2009), Evanston, IL (1990, 1992, 1994), Wiesbaden, Germany (1997), Nagoya, Japan (1995), Monterrey, Mexico (2001), Buffalo, NY (1999, 2000, 2003), Pittsburgh, PA (2012) and at Washington, D.C.'s Kennedy Center (1996).
Giordano’s beloved wife, Peg, passed away suddenly from a heart attack on May 10, 1993.
Giordano’s theater choreography credits include "A Christmas Carol" at the Goodman Theater for over 15 years, Northwestern University’s "Waa-Mu Show" for over 25 years and the Chicago revival of "Hair".
Giordano received numerous honors and awards for his work throughout his lifetime. In 1980, Giordano's television show The Rehearsal won an Emmy, the PBS award and the Ohio State award. In 1991, Giordano received the "Circle of Dance Award" from Dance Teacher Now Magazine. In 1985, April 25 was declared Gus Giordano Day in the state of Illinois by Governor James R Thompson. In 1986 he was the American Ambassador of Jazz Dance to Brazil. In 1989, October 13 was declared Gus Giordano Day in the City of Chicago by Mayor Richard M Daley. In 1993, he received the Ruth Page Lifetime Service to the Field Award along with his wife, Peg Giordano. In 1996, he was "The Scholar-in-Residence" award from the University of Missouri. This award goes to "distinguished alumnus" and "outstanding individuals that have made a substantial mark in their field of study". During that time he performed for the last time at the University, "Tribute to Peg", a number he choreographed in memory of this late wife. In 1997, he served as National Spokesperson of National Dance Week. In 1991, he won Katherine Dunham Award for "excellence and great contributions to the arts". In 2005, he received the Heritage Award from the National Dance Association for his contributions to dance education. In 2005, he received the Chicago Senior Citizen of The Year Award from Mayor Richard M Daley.
Giordano died on March 9, 2008 of pneumonia. He was 84 years old. He has four children, Patrick, Marc, Nan, and Amy.
Dance scholars have praised Giordano for establishing Broadway or theatrical jazz dance as an internationally recognized artistic medium. Ruth Page is quoted to have said "Giordano knows more about jazz dance than anyone, probably in the world, and jazz dance is a difficult thing to teach; there’s more creativity involved unlike [the more structured] classical dance."
Giordano taught and many performers, teachers, choreographers, including: Ann Margret (Actor), Judi Sheppard Missett (Founder/CEO Jazzercise, Inc), Gregory Hines (Actor/Dancer/Choreographer), Mia Michaels (Choreographer So You Think You Can Dance & more), Colleen Zenk (Actor As The World Turns), Daryl Hannah (Actor), Patrick Swayze (Dancer/ Actor), Tim Anderson (Artist), Jimmy Locust (Choreographer Janet Jackson), Joe Tremaine (Tremaine Dance Conventions), Robert Battle (Alvin Ailey), Joe Lanteri (NYC Dance Alliance), Sherry Zunker & Frank Chavez (Founders River North Dance Chicago), Nick Pupillo (Founder Visceral), Claire Batille (Hubbard Street Director)
In 2009, Giordano's daughter Amy Giordano, produced Gus: An American Icon, a documentary about Gus Giordano. Narrated by former Giordano student Colleen Zenk and directed by Pedro Brenner, the film includes interviews with Giordano's friends and collaborators. The film won prizes for Excellence at the Canada International Film Festival and for Best Documentary at the 2010 Burbank International Film Festival.
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