Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Dance Pioneer Left Imprint on Film, Broadway

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Dance Pioneer Left Imprint on Film, Broadway

Article excerpt

Eugene Louis Faccuito, a dancer, teacher and choreographer who made paralysis the beginning -- not the end -- of an extraordinary career, died Tuesday at age 90. He was a resident of Woodcliff Lake since the mid-1960s.

"His life should be a film, or a Broadway show," said his protege Francis J. Roach, director of Luigi's Jazz Centre, which Faccuito, known as "Luigi" to his army of students, proteges and devotees, founded some 50 years ago in New York.

Faccuito, who had dual residency in Manhattan and New Jersey, had been in declining health since Thanksgiving. Though slowed by a stroke four years back, he had been active at his center until about a year and a half ago.

If you don't know Faccuito's name, you might know the face.

You can see it in many of the classic Hollywood musicals of the 1940s and '50s. He's a society swell holding out costly baubles to Vera-Ellen in the "Miss Turnstiles" dance sequence from "On the Town" (1949). He's the bartender who tries to slip Fred Astaire a highly explosive mickey in the "Girl Hunt" ballet from "The Band Wagon" (1953). He's the last of the three agents to whom Gene Kelly blurts "gotta dance!" in the "Broadway Melody" sequence of "Singin' in the Rain" (1952). And he appeared in a dozen others, including "An American in Paris" (1951), "Annie Get Your Gun" (1950) and "White Christmas" (1954). In "The Ten Commandments" (1956), he can be seen roistering around the Golden Calf.

But that's the smaller part of a very rich legacy. In dance circles, Faccuito is revered as an innovator in jazz dance, and the creator of the "Luigi Warm Up Technique" that helps promote body alignment in dancers.

Far-reaching influence

Several generations of Broadway and Hollywood dancers have been trained in this system of ballet-based exercises that stress "feeling from the inside," taught for five decades at Luigi's Jazz Centre in New York (currently on 68th Street), and spread throughout the world by an army of proteges. John Travolta studied with him. So did Susan Stroman, Robert Morse, Liza Minnelli, Twyla Tharp, and the late Michael Bennett, creator of "A Chorus Line" -- who gave a nod to the master in the "5, 6, 7, 8!" count-off at the beginning of the show's big dance routines. That was a Faccuito trademark.

"Musicians count in fours," said Jessica Northrop, protegee and teacher, who appeared on Broadway in "Cats." "[Faccuito] learned to count in eights, which is a dancer's language. It makes more sense for us. It's much easier to keep phrases of eight counts in your memory."

More remarkable still, Faccuito's technique of training and limbering the body was born of necessity. In 1946, when he was just 21 and three months returned from his World War II duty in the Pacific, he was in a Hollywood car crash that left him paralyzed on the left side of his face and the right side of his body. …

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