On a stormy day in 1946 a 21 year old aspiring dancer, Eugene Louis Faccuito, was on his way to buy ballet slippers. A devastating car accident left him with a crushed skull, a paralyzed body and a broken dream. But after waking up from a coma and being told by his doctors that he would never walk again, he realized that conventional physical therapy was not going to work. He could feel that the movement had to come from the inside. He discovered that he could press down on the space, using the space for support like an imaginary barre, and slowly begin to regain the use of his paralyzed limbs and find his alignment and placement. He also realized that he could use epaulment to give his body balance and direction to move through space and gradually and methodically he built a masterful technique and a stunning personal style. He was hired by the legendary Gene Kelly to dance in his film On the Town and it was on the set of this film that Faccuito began teaching the other dancers in the ensemble. Gene Kelly renamed Eugene Louis Faccuito LUIGI, and so was born the technique that forever changed the way dance was taught.
Every time I teach Luigi’s technique to a new group of students I tell this story. And as the years roll by, fewer and fewer students know the name Luigi or have knowledge of the origins of this technique. And with each passing decade, fewer and fewer teachers and program directors are familiar with this story and the technique’s relevance and place in history. The retelling of the story has taken on, for me, ever more importance.
Now, as I relate this story to a new group of students (except at the highest level conservatory level) I am most often met with blank stares. I am met with impatience as the dancers want to learn new choreography and I am met with disengaged students who are practicing pirouettes and splits. But still, I tell the story.
Recently I faced a very large group of rather beginner level 12-14 year olds in a summer intensive. I asked, as I always do: “Has anyone ever heard of Luigi?” And a tentative hand went up. “Where did you hear about him?” I asked. “I read his name somewhere on the internet and so I decided to Google him” replied the student. I asked the student to share what she had learned and she began to tell the story of this tragic accident that gave rise to a legendary teacher. I filled in the missing details and this group of students was spellbound. They had so many questions and were so moved and touched by the discussion that I was almost unable to start class. Perhaps it was because one of their peers began the discussion, perhaps it was because they were in a particularly receptive mood or perhaps this was simply a group with interested open minds, but this story had a profound impact.
Luigi technique is not simple and it is not easy. Doing it well takes years of study. Teaching it well takes a lifetime of study. And it is a slow and painstaking way of working that few seem to have the patience for today. But these beginners, who were probably expecting their Jazz class to be fun and “sassy”, fully committed to the work at hand. For the remainder of this class these beginners studied like professionals; with full commitment to the work, probing and thoughtful questions and a spirit of exploration that made my heart sing. If only my beloved Luigi was alive to see them. He adored beginners. He was my first teacher and his commitment to the training of beginners gave me my life.
I have said so often that this technique has been responsible for some of the most beautiful, interesting and unique dancers the stage has ever seen. Luigi once told me “I don’t train chorus dancers, I make stars”. And so I will continue to tell this story, and teach this technique, because it is too important not to survive.
Luigi is famous for having said many things:
“Learn to feel your technique and your technique will become your feelings.”
“To dance, put your hand on your heart and listen to the sound of your soul.”
And of course:
“Never stop moving.”
But there is another phrase that all Jazz teachers seem to use, that Luigi used first. A phrase that is inextricable from Jazz. A phrase that forever impacted Jazz and dance as a whole:
“a 5, 6, 7, 8!”