Jazz master Luigi passed away yesterday in his home in New York City. A memorial will be announced soon, but in the meantime, his longtime associate Francis Roach says that in lieu of flowers, Luigi had asked for scholarship donations so students could learn his life’s work.
I was one of those students once. As a teenager, I spent a summer in New York City at the Joffrey Ballet School’s summer intensive. I felt lost in the giant classes, increasingly unsure of myself. My technique lagged behind where I wanted it to be, and I wasn’t getting the attention or corrections I needed to improve. So I spent my free time bouncing between other studios. I took the open class that used to be offered at American Ballet Theatre and stood next to my idols in Wilhelm Burmann and David Howard’s classes at Steps on Broadway. I thought following the dancers I wanted to be would get me closer to their level, but I still felt invisible. Then one night I landed inside Luigi’s basement studio on the Upper West Side. I was the youngest dancer in the room, so he smiled at me, warned me not to be intimidated if Liza Minnelli came into class, and told me to just follow along as he demonstrated his set warmup. I reveled in the classical elegance as I reached my hands up to the sky, alternating left and right. If Luigi could use the exercises to teach himself to walk again after a devastating car crash—and perform alongside Hollywood luminaries like Gene Kelly—he could use them to teach a stiff, awkward bunhead to relax into her body, and move with a sense of grace. I went back every Tuesday night for the rest of the summer; it was my favorite part of the week. When I returned home, I practiced his exercises on my own, and worked to incorporate his expansive sense of line into all of my movement.
Last year, I was proud to watch this magazine present Luigi with a Dance Magazine Award for his incredible contributions to the dance world. It was such a fun moment when Francis led the entire audience in those same upward reaches to the sky. Thank you, Luigi, for inspiring me and so many generations of dancers like me. Because of you, we will never stop moving.