Not Just Her Father's Daughter: Nan Giordano Carries on the Family Business-Jazz Dance-Her Way

By Molzahn, Laura | Dance Magazine, August 2002 | Go to article overview
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Not Just Her Father's Daughter: Nan Giordano Carries on the Family Business-Jazz Dance-Her Way

Molzahn, Laura, Dance Magazine

Imagine growing up with dance as a family business. That's what happened to Nan Giordano, who was "very little" forty years ago when her father, now a legendary teacher, started the school and unique concert dance company that came to be called Gus Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago. Performing more than ever with Nan at the helm, the company has gone in new directions while maintaining her dad's vision. [] "I grew up just in awe of my father," she says. "It was such a wonderful upbringing. We were always going to performances. We lived in Paris for three months. We went to Germany. And the dance company--I thought it was the coolest thing in the world."

Internationally known and respected, the troupe founded and has sponsored the Jazz Dance World Congress since 1990 and this spring was negotiating on performances in China, Italy, and Brazil.

A dancer with the company for six years, its associate director for seven, and artistic director since 1993, Nan has a warm manner, animated features, and a pleasantly ragged voice. She describes the Giordano school and company as having been a mom-and-pop operation in which her mother was the "behind-the-scenes doer." Peg Giordano (who died in 1993) didn't want any recognition, Nan says, while Gus, now 79, was "always in the limelight. So they were a good team." The mother of 6-year-old Keenan, Nan adds, "I don't see how they did it, I really don't. They raised four children, ran a dance school, ran a dance company; she organized my father's personal schedule, and my father taught ballroom in all the schools on the North Shore of Lake Michigan in the Chicago area--sixth, seventh, and eighth grade." He also traveled much of the year, teaching master classes in Giordano jazz technique for every major dance teaching organization in the United States. And in the late 1960s and early '70s, he choreographed the Waa-Mu shows--music and comedy reviews--at Northwestern University, where one of his dancers and a teacher at the studio, Judi Sheppard Missett, founder of Jazzercize, earned her degree. (For many years, Northwestern dance and theater students have enjoyed a discounted class rate at the Giordano school, and quite a few company dancers have been students at the university. Northwestern's dance chair was co-sponsor of the first three Jazz Dance World Congresses, providing dorms and venues for classes and performances.)

Today Nan has the help of several people. Her sister, Amy Curran, is treasurer of the school and the Congress, while brother Patrick, an Illinois attorney, helped form the board. Her brother Marc is spearheading efforts to document their father's career on video. Ben Hodge, a longtime family acquaintance with a master's in theater who had been the CEO of a video-film distribution company, joined the board in 1986 and is now executive director of the company and the Jazz Dance World Congress. (Gus says, "He's like Nan's mom, and Nan is like me, the artistic one.")

Jon Lehrer, a dancer with the company for five years who was recently made associate director, says, "You never feel you're an employee, but part of this big family." Coming from a modern dance background, he didn't really know what to expect with the Giordano company. "I found this wonderful world," he says. "They're cultivating jazz, not letting it die but redefining it."

Even the company's studio, about to celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, has a history. Ensconced on the top floor of a building in downtown Evanston, a northern suburb of Chicago, it was once a bowling alley--and you can still see the lanes in the polished wooden floor. This is where Nan took classes as a child, beginning at age 8. She didn't warm to the discipline right away. "I loved my modern and hated my ballet," she says. "Even at that age, I didn't like the rigidity." She was also afraid of her teacher--a theme that continued in her first year at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

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