Jul 24, 2014 >> Meet the King of Jazz: Gus Giordano
All this month—and thanks to our #GFMusical shoot!—we’ve been highlighting some of our favorite musical theatre moments in the city. We’d be remiss to explore the creative theatre culture in Chicago without tipping our bowler cap to the king of jazz dance, Gus Giordano.
His school of dance that he ran alongside his wife Peg celebrated their 60th anniversary last year, and the glistening mecca for talented professionals and young hopefuls alike sits like a beacon along buzzing Clark Street in Andersonville. Now run by their daughter, Amy Giordano, the studio is as alive as ever. Now if you know anything about dance, you’ll immediately recognize the Gus Giordano name. Touted for creating the handbook that created Jazz dance as we know it, Gus was a master dancer, choreographer and teacher who circled the globe to deliver one faithful message: Dance is life. Oh, and the tagline: “Long Live Jazz!” of which Amy stills signs all her e-mails and cards. We visit Amy and the Andersonville studio. And as luck would have it, former Gus Giordano company member Pattie Obey was warming up in studio—with stage presence like a hawk, the world renowned jazz dancer helped us dust off our capezio’s and get back on stage (take a look at the fun instagram video of us hoofin’ here). Between working up a jazzy sweat and taking in the glossy posters plastered all over the studio—a veritable museum paying homage to the dance journey that Gus, Peg and Amy have created over the past 60 years—we’re reeling from our time spent at Giordano Dance School. Amy sounds off on her father’s legacy, dance as religion and the importance in knowing how to count in every language.
You grew up with the man who is credited for creating jazz. Did that register with you when you were younger?
I didn’t realize how significant it was because dance was always there. Dance was everywhere. It’s hearing the El train go by and thinking “That’s a great rhythm for a new dance!” Growing up, my dad’s office was next to my bedroom and I could always hear the music.
Describe what you heard.
I would hear drums and him counting. He knew how to count in every language, up to eight, at least! He traveled all over the world working. So he could say “Un! Deux! Trois!” or “Eins! Zwei! Drei!” Dance language is universal so he used to say as long as he knew how to count in different languages, he could teach anywhere. And he did.
Your parents, who ran the studio together, were magnets for everyone. What was it about them that drew people in?
Both of my parents had this warmth. For years, I thought all adults were like that. They wanted to give what they were experiencing to other people. I can’t tell you the number of dancers who have told me stories about the charity and support they demonstrated to get them dancing or to comp their classes if they weren’t able to pay the bills. My mom passed away very suddenly when I was 29. Something that I’ll always remember is that all the garbage men came to the wake. My mom treated people with a lot of dignity. It didn’t matter who you were or what you did. It really left an impression on me that you need to be kind to everyone. My dad was the same way.
What a journey from then until now. What’s next?
This generation sometimes doesn’t realize that everything comes from somewhere. I try to keep the traditions that my parents worked so hard for alive in our studio.
So, here’s a tough question: What is Jazz to you?
When I think of Jazz, I think of strong arms and contractions. You take the strength of Ballet and then the Jazz is what moves the body. It really becomes spiritual. Pattie Obey, a jazz master who trained under my father, taught a master class last night. A dancer left the class and exclaimed: “That was like being in church!” That sums it up perfectly!