A Dance Enthusiast's Day With Mr. Luigi, Recipient of The Bessies 2013 Lifetime Achievement Award in Dance
Eugene Louis Faccuito "Luigi" - Dancer, Choreographer, Innovator, and Peacemaker
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“Never stop moving, kid!”
These were the words Eugene Louis Faccuito – known affectionately as Luigi – heard from his inner voice while in two month coma after a tragic car accident. It was 1946 and he was only twenty-one. The accident left Luigi with a basal skull fracture and paralysis down one-half of his body.
As the eighth of eleven children, born to Italian immigrant parents in Steubenville, Ohio, Luigi was always encouraged, (especially by his father) to dance. He was also coached, from the time he could move, by his older brother Tony. Luigi accomplished much in his early dance career, winning several amateur contests and even replacing singer Dean Martin in the Bernie Davis Orchestra before being drafted in the Navy. Still, the car crash and those words “Never stop moving, kid!” were pivotal. After his near fatal experience Luigi stopped dancing for others and starting dancing to heal himself.
It is often in our darkest hour that we discover a significance which exceeds our personal limitations. Eugene Louis Faccuito is an example of this. He worked with his body to get the most expression out of the least amount of movement. By “put[ting] the good side into the bad side,” as he says, he created a brand new lexicon for Jazz dance that continues to inform the genre today.
The Dance Enthusiast Takes Class with Luigi or Elana Aquino Gets "The Real Deal"
On a Monday morning in September, I decided to head down to Luigi’s Jazz Centre to see what it was all about. I found myself beginning at the beginning, paring down all the fancy styling I’d learned over the years to get right down to the basics.
Frances J. Roach, the General Manager for Luigi’s Jazz Centre and teacher of Luigi’s style, challenged us to resist the urge to embellish and to let the body speak for itself. The beauty of the movement is in the simplicity.
The song chosen for the choreographic section of the class was “Fever” by Peggy Lee (one of my all time favorites). As we danced, Frances pointed out that the movement is purposely not “sexed up,” particularly as it relates to women. Though the choreography we learned was very sensual, the sensuality came from an inner space, from transmitting the rhythm of the music through the body -- not from overwrought dramatic expression. There was no crawling around the floor or "pumped up" hip thrusting. What I noticed was gorgeous footwork and beautifully stylized arms. The element of “cool” so basic to Jazz, seemed ever-present in Luigi’s style and choreography.
And, did I mention that everyone takes his class? I met a 20-something stilt-walker from California who had watched his parents study with Luigi, then decided to join classes as an adult. An older woman with a significant portion of her body paralyzed, possibly from stroke, was there keeping her body limber. A professional Jazz dancer also attended, looking like “liquid fire” – words often used to describe Luigi’s dynamic style.
After class, I had the distinct honor of being granted an interview with the master. I discovered that Luigi has not only stood up against tough odds with his body, but he also has stood strong against racism.
Luigi, Jazz Master and Peacemaker Chats With The Dance Enthusiast
Elana Aquino for The Dance Enthusiast: Can you tell me about your dance philosophy?
Luigi Faccuito (with support from Frances Roach): Learn the music first. Make the music look good. And you’ll be good. When it’s good, it’s simple.
TDE: When did you start dancing?
Luigi: All my life. I had my automobile accident first. I simplified that and made that look good. And now it’s the same thing again. I’ve had two strokes. And I find the more simple I make it, the better.
TDE: What would you change about dance today? What would advice would you give to aspiring young dancers?
Luigi: Again, keep it simple. I mean, when somebody does too much, it’s sort of ridiculous.
TDE: Can you share any amazing moments from your dance career?
Luigi: All the wonderful jobs I got doing motion pictures. They were among the best.
Frances Roach: (reminding Luigi about his trip to South Africa in the early 1970s.) You taught at a college, but it was an open master class for anybody that was a dancer in South Africa. They came from as far away as Bostwana and other parts of the continent to take the class. The first thing the director of this master class series said to Luigi after he got off the plane is “Luigi, we have a lot of people signed up for your class and we have some blacks that want to take class. What do we do?”
And Luigi said, “Put them in class.”
At the end of his master class series, he gave a lecture demonstrate at a big opera house in Capetown. They were sold out. The administration of the college and the theatre asked, “What are we going to do now? We have your class going up on stage with blacks too.” They were opposed to it.
But Luigi said, “I’m not doing it unless everyone from the class can participate.” He was the first to put blacks and whites on stage, performing together, in South Africa.
Luigi: It was the first time. I had them all together on stage. The administration flipped out. They didn’t know what I was going to do.
FR: And you got a standing ovation.
TDE: As a dancer and choreographer you are also a peacemaker, that’s the story I’m getting. What does this lifetime achievement award mean to you?
Luigi: It means it’s (what I’m doing) the right way to do it. Always think of the right way of doing it and it will work.
TDE: How do you know if something is the “right“ way?
Luigi: Do it from your heart. I always did that, taught from my heart.
FR: And Luigi, what’s your motto?
Luigi: Never stop moving.
Footnotes:Luigi has trained several acclaimed artists including Loni Ackerman, Alvin Ailey, Michael Bennett, Richard Chamberlin, Peggy Fleming, Elliott Gould, Johnny Mathis, Patricia McBride, Bette Midler and Barbra Streisand to name a few. He continues to teach class six days a week, from Monday to Saturday, as he has done for decades. His Style Class is available almost daily to all levels at 11:00 a.m. at Studio Maestro in Midtown Manhattan. It is a great way to get to know the man behind the legend by beginning with the basics of his movement vocabulary.
Where to find him:
LUIGI'S JAZZ CENTRE
The First World Jazz Center
48 West 68th Street
New York, NY 10023
at Studio Maestro