Gus Giordano

By Boross, Bob; Allen, Courtney Rae | Dance Teacher, April 2009 | Go to article overview

Gus Giordano


Boross, Bob, Allen, Courtney Rae, Dance Teacher


Innovator of American jazz dance

Many individuals have been instrumental in triggering the growth of American jazz dance, but the achievements of pioneer Gus Giordano (1923-2008) are without comparison. In the 1950s, when jazz dance was viewed with derision, Giordano emerged from the nation's heartland to deliver a steadfast message about the style's value, integrity and artistic appeal. His lifelong passion was to advocate for jazz dance through teaching, creating, writing and producing-and by nurturing the true potential of his gifted dancers. The charismatic jazz innovator had such zest for life and dance that even a month before he died at age 84, he would climb the 40-plus stairs of the Giordano Dance School to observe classes, pointing out the future stars because "he knew talent when he saw it," according to his youngest daughter, Amy. Giordano will forever be remembered as the man who shaped what is known today as American jazz dance.

Born August Thomas Giordano III, the St. Louis, Missouri, native received his first taste of dance at age 5 on a family trip down South. While visiting New Orleans, his mother's birthplace, he saw his cousin tap dance to "Shoe Shiner's Drag" and demanded that he be enrolled in dance class. After returning home, he began taking ballet lessons and his natural gift for teaching emerged-he spent any free time hosting dance classes in his basement for the neighborhood children. Giordano continued taking dance lessons throughout his teens, until leaving his hometown to serve as a gunner in World War II, where he traveled to military bases around the world as a member of a U.S. Marine Corps performance group. When he returned, he attended the University of Missouri on the G.I. Bill. There he met his future wife and business partner, Peg, who left school a year early to follow him to New York City.

The young married couple struggled, sharing one bathroom with an entire apartment floor and splitting napkins to conserve, as Giordano tried to break into Broadway. He landed roles in Paint Your Wagon and On the Town, but experienced frequent periods of unemployment. It was during those times, however, that he was exposed to the refined, expressive elements of concert dance that laid the groundwork for what came to be his signature style. He studied modern dance with Hanya Holm, Alwin Nikolais and Katherine Dunham, and was greatly inspired by the artistic originality of this era's choreographers, especially Jerome Robbins' jazz-ballet piece NY Export: Opus Jazz.

Eager to raise a family elsewhere, the Giordanos said good bye to the Big Apple and moved to Evanston, Illinois, a northern suburb of Chicago, where Gus received a job offer to stage a film festival for the Film Council of America.

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