Nan Giordano of Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago

By Emily Yewell Volin. 

Nan Giordano, Artistic Director of Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago, spoke with Dance Informa’s Emily Yewell Volin whilst overseeing the Company’s international season.  There was obvious excitement in her voice as she shared that the Company had just arrived in Austria to begin their European tour.  We enjoyed a candid conversation about many aspects of Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago and the history and evolution of jazz dance. 

Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago was founded by Gus Giordano, your father, in 1963. 
What inspired Gus to create the Company?  What was unique about Gus and his approach to dance?   How do you honor his unique approach today?
My dad began the company in 1963 under the name Dance Incorporated Chicago. In 1968, at the invitation of renowned dance critic, Ann Barzel,  the company performed American jazz dance for the touring Bolshoi Ballet who were so impressed that an invitation was extended, and the company eventually toured the Soviet Union in 1974. We were the first jazz dance company to do so.

Nan Giordano

This focus on jazz dance led to a new name — Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago — and its current mission to develop and preserve the indigenous American art form of jazz dance, thereby creating an awareness of jazz dance as a true artistic expression of American life.

I think what was unique about Dad’s approach to jazz dance was that he saw at a beginning stage a way to combine the ballet technical base with soul, center work, and isolations. This countering of classical ballet technique and grounded jazz dance technique was a very new concept at the time.

As Artistic Director of the Company I really work to always bear in mind the Giordano tradition my father began. You have to be the beautiful technician but you also have to be able to dance from your soul. Otherwise, just forget it.

GJDC is celebrating its 48th season this year.  How does the Company maintain relevance in the ever changing look of dance?
Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago remains relevant because we are innovators; not imitators.  We do not follow trends in dance; we define them.

Chicago audiences seem to crave jazz dance.  How do you think the geographic location of Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago helps the Company thrive? 
Gus Giordano, for a long time, WAS the Chicago dance scene.  And still, you go to any company in this city and, guess where many of their leadership and talent trained or performed?  It all came out of Gus Giordano.  He was a true dance pioneer in our city.  Chicago has become a thriving dance town and my dad really laid the foundation for that success.

Giordano dancers are recognized for their athleticism, technical mastery and performance charisma.  In an audition how do you know when you have found a future Giordano dancer? 
It’s a feeling I get.  It’s about connecting with a young dancer. A lot of times I like to know that we’re going to get someone who is going to be open to being molded; someone not so set in stone who thinks, ‘I’m a great dancer and already know exactly what to do’.  I find it’s all about energy. Really a feeling about what kind of energy that dancer has to be a step above the rest.

The Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago repertoire is noted for its broad inclusion of jazz dance styles.  How do you select repertoire to showcase these skills?
I like to go with new or unknown choreographers. Just today I was speaking with a ballroom choreographer about the possibility of working together.  He’s somebody on the high post in his world and virtually unknown to the concert dance community.  I am always looking to initiate trends, not to imitate them.

How do you feel Jazz dance has changed in the almost 50 years of Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago’s existence? 
The major change is that jazz dance is now a recognized art form.  Thank you Mr. Giordano! It used to be that audiences didn’t come to jazz dance concerts because they didn’t understand what we were doing. We’d say, “come on, you’ll love it, you’ll feel it”.  So, now I think the biggest change is the recognition of concert jazz as a qualified art form. 

Is there any particular style or quality of jazz dance that you would like to see renewed?   
I notice right now that the quality of so much movement is all the same. So much jazz dance now is too abrasive for my taste, there’s no feel, there’s no beauty. I’d like to see this raw emotion in more balance with stylistic elegance. One of the characteristics I particularly treasure about the Giordano technique is its elegance.

Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago perform Give & Take, 2009, choreographed by Brock Clawson. Dancers Jarrett Kelly and Maeghan McHale. Photo: Jake Laub

Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago’s mission is ‘to develop and preserve the indigenous American art form of jazz dance’.  How do you think our current social and economic circumstances in the United States are impacting the look and feel of American jazz dance? 
I think the fact that television has done a huge, huge amount to raise the awareness of everything from ballroom dance to dance in reality shows has been good on one hand but also one sided. This type of exposure to dance focuses so much on the commercial side of the form. I think dance on television is becoming a little too dramatized instead of focusing on the dedication, the passion, and the discipline of the art. I wish these shows included more basic components.

Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago has an impressive portfolio of Educational Outreach.  What types of programs do you offer and how do you feel these programs impact the participating children and GJDC Company members? 
Our Enrich Lives with Dance Partnership Program offers numerous opportunities for individuals or businesses to partner with the Company to help enrich the lives of others through dance.  We offer pre-packaged artistic and educational partnerships as well as tailored partnership programs.  All these partnerships help the Company build upon our mission to do outreach.  Our outreach programs include making it possible for large groups of socioeconomically and culturally diverse children to attend our concerts.  Many of these children and their families have never been to a theater, much less to a dance concert. 

However, in addition to this type of outreach we have also developed an in-school science and health program as well as a dance program. For these programs, we partner with 4th and 7th grade students in two Chicago Public Schools to integrate dance into the curriculum. The science and health programs are taught by Giordano dancers and administrators and meet twice weekly. The programs provide real life teaching in basic anatomy, nutrition, the relationship of the body systems and injury prevention.  We’ll be starting our 5th year of this partnership in January 2011.  It’s all about looking at science through dance.  We follow a rubric for grading and administer exams.  Scores in the Science portion of the ISAT (Illinois Standards Achievement Test) have gone up drastically as a result of these partnerships. We created the whole thing and are really proud of it.

The Jazz Dance World Congress is a five-day event celebrating the uniquely American art form of jazz dance.  How does this event support the mission of Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago and what can a registrant expect from attending this world class event? 
The Jazz Dance World Congress completely embodies the Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago mission to elevate the level of jazz dance and create awareness of it as a true American art form. Registrants can expect a very powerfully invigorating and inspirational experience. Dancers become immersed in the culture of jazz dance as they learn about so many different jazz dance styles through participation in the classes and by attending the innovative evening performances.

Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago will make an announcement in January about the next Jazz Dance World Congress. We’re working on something new as we move forward.  Keep an eye on the website ( and contact the Company for more details. 

See Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago perform!
For more information on Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago and the 2010-2011 performance calendar visit

Giordano Company Audition Dates:
New York, January 9, 2011 at the Alvin Ailey Dance Studio
Chicago, March 13, 2011 at the Giordano Dance Center
Check the website for further information

Top photo: Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago perform. Cheryl Mann Photography



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