An interview with Amy Paul Giordano
Director of Gus Giordano Dance School in Chicago, IL
|Quick facts on Amy Paul Giordano|
|What type(s) of music moves you?||The classics. Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett. They all knew how to entertain.|
|What is special to you about the Chicago dance community?||The dancers are so supportive of each other. I adore that.|
|Is there a piece of choreography or a company that enthuses and inspires you?||My Gus Company members age 6-18 years inspire me everyday!|
|Name a performance you have attended that took your breath away.||My father choreographed and performed a piece in memory of my mom who had passed away, called Tribute to Peg. The performance was beautiful. There was not a dry eye in the theater.|
|If you weren’t involved in the dance world, in what other field could you see yourself involved?||I would be a school teacher. I adore kids.|
|What do you most look forward to at recital time?||Being backstage with all of the children. They get that the whole experience of performing on a professional stage is special, even the young ones.|
|What stretch feels great on your body?||With my knees it’s kind of like being the tin man.* I take my knees and bend them as far as they can go [demonstrates in a lunge position]. It loosens them. I probably should never jump but I really want to do it [laughs]. Anytime I get to stretch I feel so happy. That’s a goal, to be able to do that more.*Giordano underwent a life-changing double knee replacement surgery in 2011, after years of constant pain and compensation with her upper body. Her experience was featured in Dance Teacher Magazine’s February 2012 issue in an article entitled A Joint Decision.|
Allegro Dance Boutique: Can you give a little background on yourself?
Amy Paul Giordano: I had danced until I was 16; all styles, all the time, all day. I injured my left knee dancing and then the other in a car accident. I didn’t think a car accident would end my dancing career, but for me it turned out to be a blessing because I knew I wanted to go to college. Dancers at that time, nobody was going to college to dance and education has always been very, very important to me. My mom and dad had both gone to college. I went to college for marketing, gained business experience, found that I was really adaptable to change. I went to Tulane in New Orleans and loved it, really realizing then that I could do anything, could go anywhere. My first couple of years out of college, I worked in marketing and worked with large ad agencies like DMB&B.
ADB: How did you become directly involved with the school?
APG: At 29, my mom passed away very suddenly. While she was in the hospital I took over everything that she handled. The complete business of the studio: the checks, the building, the scheduling, the buying. I handled all of my dad’s personal bookings for teaching, his flight arrangements, etc. I talked to people every day and that’s when I realized, they’d all say the same thing about Gus. He was the most humble man you’d ever meet, he was kind, and all he wanted to do was spread his love of jazz dance. From the time I was little he taught every ballroom class on the North Shore. I would go shopping with my dad to buy all of the prizes for ballroom, put them in bags, get the cupcakes, every little detail. I was [helping] my whole life, it was just so innate, that that’s why when my mom passed away I just did it. It wasn’t even a question. I was also lucky to know the artistic side of my dad then because we were together all of the time.
ADB: When did you officially step in as director?
APG: I became the Director in 2007 while the studio was still in Evanston. After my dad passed in 2008 the building was sold. My father always dreamed of having his school in Chicago. I knew it was time for his dream to become a reality. I opened in Chicago in June of 2011.
ADB: You recently hit your 1 year anniversary as a Chicago studio. Can you speak a bit on your new location?
APG: We love being in the city! We are able to reach many more people in the city and continue to spread my dad’s love of jazz dance. Andersonville is family friendly and safe. The school has a warm, family environment. My dad was very caring and observant and my mom was gregarious and warm; I really care, I love people and I get involved. Our goal is to also reach those who can’t access dance. We go into schools and give performances because so many children have never seen dance. When we first moved to the city, a woman came in with her child and said “I love this place. I don’t even know who Gus is but I can feel the warmth and I want to know everything about who he was … he seems alive in your building.”
ADB: What characteristics did your dad (or your parents) possess that you feel you possess as well?
APG: He was such a creative man, and was willing to always take chances. Those are the two things that I know are in me, because when I opened here [the new Gus Giordano Dance School in Chicago] that was probably the biggest chance of my life! I mortgaged my home to open the school. It was also when my knee surgeries were happening. My dad, and mom too, they were both people of change. I think a lot of people resist change but life is change. It never stays the same. They instilled that in me. They were also two of the hardest workers I’ve ever seen in my life. I have a very strong work ethic. Change also nurtures my creative side; I am always changing and improving the school.
ADB: What kind of legend has your dad left behind?
APG: Gus’ jazz technique. My father’s mission of spreading jazz dance is now my mission. My dad’s technique is based on the center and the core with strong arms and a strong back. I produced a film on his life after he passed away and Susan Lee, head of Northwestern’s dance department, said “Gus was talking about the stomach and the core before anyone even knew what that was.” I want to train the total dancer and if you have Gus’ technique then you can do anything.
ADB: What makes Gus Giordano Dance School unique?
APG: The technique, the warmth, the hands-on staff and the professional faculty.
ADB: What do you want the students to take away from their training at your school?
APG: You have to give whatever you do your best, it has to be quality. [On our end] the quality of training of the dancer that comes in only once a week, the teachers are giving as much to that student as the students that are taking multiple nights a week. If you expect students to give it to you, you should give them that same quality. We have a quality environment. With my own children, if you sign up for something you finish it because you’re going to gain from it. Dance is discipline, dance is finishing something. We want the kids to learn more than just a routine. Children need to learn technique.
ADB: What is the best thing about being the director of Gus Giordano Dance School?
APG: Getting to work with a range of people, from age 2 years to 75 years. The joy. I hear from my Gus Company members’ parents all the time “I drop them off and they’re in a bad mood, I pick them up and they’re happy.” Being physical releases positive endorphins, and then you add the physical with the creative aspect of dancing and it creates pure joy! Even adult students have said to me “When I leave I’m so happy.” I love seeing them leave happy.
Gus Giordano Dance School’s Youth program schedule is now online! Classes start at age 2. All fall classes begin the week of September 10.