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On May 8, students of the Gus Giordano Dance School will appear in the 2021 production of their annual “That’s Entertainment,” live-streamed from Chicago’s Edge Theater. Five Evanston girls will be performing onstage in person after a year of workarounds necessitated by COVID -19. In addition to jazz dance, for which Mr. Giordano was known, there will be Hip Hop, Contemporary, Musical Theater, and Tap pieces. The performers’ fellow dancers, masked and distanced, will be their audience.
Serena Brown, 16, an Evanston Township High School junior, is one of the Evanston quintet. Having studied at the dance school since she was a two-year-old toddler, she refers to it simply as “Gus.” Though jazz is her favorite, she has been exposed to numerous dance forms. She will showcase her versatility in eight different numbers in the show, ranging from an emotional contemporary piece called “Hope” to an energetic tap dance called “Ants Marching”.
In 2011, Amy Giordano realized one of her father’s dreams, moving the dance school from Evanston to Chicago, where she says he had always believed he “could reach more dancers.” As the executive director of GUS LEGACY, Ms. Giordano oversees the umbrella organization that comprises the dance school, GUS companies (pre-professional dancers up to twelfth grade), Gus Legacy Foundation, Gus Legacy Company (professional dancers who perform around the globe), and GUS teacher training.
Inspired by the generosity of her parents, Ms. Giordano established the GUS Legacy Foundation, the source of hundreds of scholarships that promote equitable access to dance education.
Under her tutelage, Serena and the other Evanston pre-professionals – Maria Andersen, Bernadette Boyle, Anna Laing, and Tatum Prigge – learn the moves and philosophy Mr. Giordano first disseminated from the eponymous school he and his wife, Peg, founded in Evanston in 1953. He is known worldwide as an early and lifelong advocate of the formerly unrecognized style called jazz dance, which he championed around the globe before his death in 2008.
In addition to writing a groundbreaking 250-page manual detailing the Giordano technique, he performed and choreographed pieces for Broadway, film, and TV, and toured the world with his Jazz Dance Chicago, said to be the first company performing only jazz dance.
Despite his central role in jazz dance, Mr. Giordano maintained that a young dancer should train in all styles. Ms. Giordano agrees that the different experiences build confidence and life skills that will help sustain the dancers. She takes her students beyond dance skills, making sure they can write an email and giving them experience in mentoring the younger dancers, building community, and helping the older dancers acquire competencies they can use in other arenas.
During the pandemic year, the school “has been a savior for isolated students,” Ms. Giordano says. Serena Brown admits to being one of them. She struggled in the beginning, she says, and when she missed classes the staff offered support, not criticism. “My experience [with COVID] wouldn’t have been the same without Gus,” she says.
The school took just one week off before launching a roster of virtual classes. In March, Serena cleared space in her room and “danced virtually. I loved it,” she says. In September, she resumed in-person classes – 15 a week, each one hour long. Dance for her is “a fun, creative outlet,” she says. But as evidenced by her experience in the pandemic, the most valuable aspect of her association with Gus is that it includes her as “part of a family I can turn to.”
Tickets for the virtual performance are $30 per household. More information is available at guslegacy.org or 773-275-5230.