Last week, the dance world mourned the loss of the great Eugene Louis Faccuito , better known as simply “Luigi.” He was the father of American Jazz dance, and his students were superstars, Broadway gypsies, and yes, even for a time, me.
When I was a kid, my dance studio made an annual pilgrimage to New York to audition for the School of American Ballet summer intensive. We would cram as much as humanly possible into those weekend trips- a slew of Broadway shows, the audition, dinner at Tavern on the Green, and as much dance class as we could manage. I remember meeting Luigi in his studio on the Upper West Side and feeling awestruck- my dance teacher had told us that he was living legend, having shared the stage with Gene Kelly in several Hollywood movie musicals and trained Broadway big wigs like Ben Vereen, Liza Minnelli and Donna McKechnie. As soon as we began the warmup, everything felt SO GOOD, even to my young 12-year old body. After that class, my mom snapped a picture of the two of us together, which at this moment I would KILL to have in my possession (Mom, if you’re reading this, can you go up to the attic for me?) ! Several years later, I visited Luigi’s studio again after moving to NYC, yearning for a taste of familiarity in the sea of uncertainty that was my new life. I am so glad I did.
Here’s why I’m telling you this: In 1946, Luigi was living in Hollywood when he was in a terrible car accident, leaving him in a coma for several months with his face and BODY paralyzed. He was not expected to live. He was told he would never walk again. Three years later, not only was he walking, but he was DANCING, and dancing more beautifully than you could ever imagine. He met Gene Kelly soon thereafter, who was so impressed with Luigi that he gave him a chorus role in the film ON THE TOWN. Luigi went on from there to perform in several other films, and his fellow dancers would notice him stretching in between takes to keep his body warm. They asked what he was doing, and before you know it, EVERYONE was doing his moves, which he created solely to rehabilitate and stretch his OWN body after the accident. Luigi style jazz was born, and the rest is history. If you have ten minutes, do yourself a favor and watch this youtube video about him– it will take your breath away.
I’ve been thinking about Luigi so much since he died. Even after his prognosis, there was no alternative. He HAD to dance. And his method, which quite literally served as the very foundation of jazz dance as we know it, is a direct result of his rehabilitation, his healing, his persistence, his triumph. Luigi reminds me that we (I) severely underestimate what we are capable of in this world post injury, baby, divorce, setback, or bump in the road. I’ve seen so many students with injuries who will simply never even TRY to get back to their previous fitness level because of fear. I have been that person. In some ways, I still am. Fear of further injury, fear of looking bad, fear of disappointment. Sound familiar?
BUT. What if we can cross over to the other side of that fear? What if whatever is waiting for us is just hanging out over there, ready to blow our minds?
Luigi’s paralysis didn’t stop him from working in Hollywood, on Broadway, and as a leader in the industry. His “handicap” didn’t define him as a failure or a pity case, but as an American ICON. Why? Because he believed he could overcome the odds and he listened to his body. He trained. And he prevailed.
So my question to you is, where in your life are you using your setbacks to limit you instead of fuel your fire? How can those obstacles actually HELP you break through to territory no one has ever seen? Can you train yourself (because that’s what we’re doing, we’re training) to reframe your situation? Are you willing to stop leaning on your insecurity as a crutch and choose to release it instead? To fill that hole with determination and fear (yes, fear!) and life? I want to know your thoughts. Let’s support each other in this mission- to hug our imperfections and cultivate greatness, not by avoiding them, but by working through and WITH them! Leave me a comment below so I can support you!
Luigi’s mantra was “Never stop moving.” What will yours be?
In love and movement,