Jazz Dance Technique - Luigi Jazz
I discovered jazz dancing in my thirties,and my introduction was Luigi Jazz. It's a wonderful technique, and both a great foundation for a dancing career, and an accessible and effective dance preparation for adults who want to learn to dance, whatever dance style they ultimately take up.
These days, jazz has gone out of fashion somewhat and with it, Luigi's marvellous creation. There aren't many teachers using the Luigi technique any more, which is a tragedy in my opinion. If you want to do a Luigi jazz class these days, you must either go to his studio in New York, or buy the book!
But who was Luigi and why is his technique so special?
There are no DVD's of Luigi technique - this book is the best introduction.
Luigi was born Eugene Louis Faccuito, and was what we call a "triple threat" - he sang, acted and danced. We'll never know how good he was, because in the 1950s, he had a horrific car accident which nearly killed him. Doctors doubted he would ever recover from the paralysis that affected one side of his body.
However, they reckoned without Eugene's determination. It took him a year, but he made it back to dance class, having developed his own system of stretching to rehabilitate himself. Amazingly, only a year later he was asked to audition for a dance part in the Gene Kelly movie On the Town, and over the next eight years, he kept in regular work on movies like An American in Paris, Annie Get Your Gun, Singin' in the Rain, The Band Wagon and White Christmas - over 40 in all. The parts were not major, but through them, he initiated a revolution in dance training!
On The Town was also where he became Luigi. Being a Eugene, he was called Gene at the time - but Gene Kelly felt it was too confusing to have two dancers with the same name, so Luigi he became.
During the long, tedious breaks between takes, Luigi would do his exercises to keep himself moving and prevent his muscles seizing up. Other dancers saw them, and started joining in - sometimes he would have 10 or 20 dancers lined up behind him, copying his moves. Gene Kelly became an enthusiast.
In fact, he had created the first formal system of jazz technique. Before long, he was teaching classes while still appearing in movies, TV and Broadway musicals.
In 1956 he decided to concentrate on teaching and opened his own studio in New York.
One of his innovations was counting in 8's (unlike musicians, who count in 4's). So next time your dance teacher gets you started with, "5, 6, 7, 8" - thank Luigi!
Luigi Technique for Adult Beginners
Before I started Luigi jazz classes, I was a ballet nut. I loved my ballet classes, but was never as good as I wanted to be - I started far too late, and my turnout and flexibility were never going to be equal to the demands of more advanced ballet moves.
The only reason I enrolled for a Luigi class was because I'd moved to another city in my thirties, and there were no adult ballet classes available. It was either jazz dance, or join a class of 13-year-olds! I decided to give the jazz dancing a try - and fell in love with it.
A Luigi jazz class gave me the same full-body-stretch feeling I got from ballet class, the same skim-across-the-floor sensation - but it also made me feel grounded and tall at the same time. My flexibility and balance improved out of sight in just a few months. Finally my high kicks really were high, and the sense of freedom of movement was quite intoxicating - I felt like a real dancer at last. Not bad for a 30-something late starter!
I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised that Luigi's jazz technique worked so well - after all, he invented it to get his own out-of-shape, damaged body working again. But I knew nothing about its history then.
Jazz dance used to be the foundation for all Broadway dancers - these days it's been overtaken by other styles, which is a pity. Jazz is gentler on the joints than ballet because there's no turnout, it's earthier and funky while still stretching and mobilizing the body, and it's easier than modern styles with all their popping, locking and snapping. I've even found its isolations invaluable in my study of belly dancing.
I'm sad to report that Luigi passed away in April 2015, aged 90. You can read an obituary here:
Do read the comments, there are some lovely tributes.
Text copyright Marisa Wright. Bob Fosse dancer by shoobydooby.