Light on Her Feet, Sharp on Her Tongue
Laurieann Gibson sounds off on the perfect audition, going "Brooklyn," Seacrest as a hoofer and kicking up her heels—in the loo!
By Peter Gilstrap
If you've ever wondered what's behind the fancy foot work of those finely toned humans busting astonishing moves in music videos, concerts and award shows, choreographer and creative director Laurieann Gibson's The Dance Scene reveals all. Gibson's worked with the likes of Diddy, Alicia Keys and Lady Gaga, and now she dishes on what it takes to bump and grind your way to the top.
On what she looks for in an audition:
The look in their eyes. It's the eye of the tiger, the spirit of a dancer, and I can tell from their first step, I can tell from the way they walk in the room. There's a hunger, an aggression, but there's also a humility that says, 'I don't know what this gift is about, it's just who I am.' I gravitate to the oddball with outside-the-box technique, not the prefect look that casting always wants you to have. I gravitate to someone with a serious gift.
On what inspired The Dance Scene:
Me and my team are like brave warriors, and we're trying to unlock another door. We're inspiring people who are in circumstances where they don't think they can fulfill their dream. There's the drama you'd expect in a reality show, but behind it is real talent, substance, inspiration and opinion on a celebrity channel which usually gives you the glitz and the glam. Our glitz and glam is the fact that we have the ability to dance our f--king asses off. That's our red carpet.
On "going Brooklyn" (AKA tough love) on her dancers:
It's about a certain kind of realness that Brooklyn is known for. I'm from Toronto, but when I came to New York fresh off the Greyhound bus, I experienced the raw truth that artists from there have. Sometimes you just got to go Brooklyn and tell it like it is.
On going Toronto:
That would be being polite! Give them a beer and package the truth so I don't offend you.
On taking dancers to the next level:
The next level is the work ethic, and that's what The Dance Scene reveals. In your local dance studio, you could be the big fish, but when you get to the reality of it, they suddenly realize, 'oh my God, this is how long we rehearse? This is how much dedication it takes? This is how little sleep I get? It really takes 23 hours to shoot this 3-minute music video? I'm really standing in the cold on concrete waiting for them to light the shot?
The night of the Grammy show or the final video edit, those are the small payoffs to weeks of preparation and an insane amount of physical torture, and emotional and spiritual pushing. You have to put years of work into 32 counts of 8.
On smoking to take the edge off:
Unfortunately, I smoke when I'm stressed. Definitely with Puff Daddy, I'm smoking! There's such discipline involved, that cigarette gives that moment of aaaaahhhh!
On her creative heroes:
Gregory Hines, Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Michael Jackson, Prince. And a lot of record executives that have defined soul music, Berry Gordy, Clive Davis, people like that have helped me form my opinion as far as how music and dance and entertainment effect the world, and how you can ultimately continue to make the right choices so we can keep making great art that makes a difference in the world.
On the biggest misconception about what she does:
Most people are like, 'Dance? That looks easy and fun. You guys stay in shape, I'd like to do that!' I'm like, no. It's about unfolding a language along with music that effects an emotional change in the atmosphere. Those are the jobs of a dancer and a choreographer, but most people don't understand that responsibility. That's what the show's about, so people can see what's going on.
On executive producer Ryan Seacrest's dancing abilities:
Here's the deal with Ryan. I keep telling him, you feel like a dancer. His undeniable ability to do it his way and fulfill his dreams, that feels like a dancer to me. When he gave me the opportunity for the show, I told him if it was a hit, I'd teach him the most lethal two-step! Everyone will be jealous of him at all the Hollywood parties.
On working with Lady Gaga:
When I started with her, there was no recognition, and at the time I was disappointed where I could go because the industry wanted the same things, so we pushed each other. Now we're in this free place to collaborate without judgment and be unstoppable. I'm so grateful for her as a brave artist. She's embraced my gift with such love and loyalty and kindness.
On the secret dancer's cure for sore feet:
I put mine in the toilet and flush! And it works for the ladies at 3 a.m. when you come home from the club, too. You might put in some disinfectant or some bath salts, but go ahead and stick 'em in and flush. It's an instant whirlpool!