Some choreographers have signature steps. Laurieann Gibson has a signature sound: "boom, kack," the count-cum-catchphrase familiar to everyone who's anyone in the commercial dance world. "The boom is something I feel in my heart, and the kack is my soul," she once told The New York Times.
Even if you've only ever met Gibson through a screen—on MTV's "Making the Band," or Fox's "So You Think You Can Dance"—you've probably felt the punch of that "boom, kack, boom, kack-KACK!" deep in your gut. Such is the power of Gibson's persona, which has pushed some of the industry's greatest dancers and musicians to higher artistic heights.
Gibson studied Horton, Dunham and Graham techniques at The Ailey School, but found freedom in hip hop. She left Ailey to dance for Mary J. Blige, and went on to work with the boldest of bold-faced names: Michael Jackson, Alicia Keys, Katy Perry, Beyoncé. Behind the scenes, she sometimes struggled. The 2003 film Honey, in which Jessica Alba plays a young commercial choreographer sexually harassed by her mentor, is based partly on Gibson's experiences. (Gibson choreographed the film, and appeared in it as Alba's character's archrival.)
But adversity made her resilient—and tough. In 2005, Gibson became a celebrity in her own right thanks to Sean "Diddy" Combs' reality series "Making the Band," which gave the wider world a window into her extremely rigorous, extremely TV-friendly approach to choreographic coaching. Later, she applied the same exacting standards to the young hopefuls on "Dance Moms," and the chameleonlike talents of "SYTYCD."
Gibson's career hasn't been without turmoil, most notably her 2011 falling-out with longtime collaborator Lady Gaga. That's partly due to Gibson's affinity for drama—an intrinsic part of her brand. Drama creates pressure, and pressure forges diamonds, whether the gem she's working on is a "SYTYCD" competitor or an awards-show performance. Her dance successes have been achieved not in spite of but because of her willingness to speak up and out, to demand more, to hold her artistic ground. In boom-kack world, there is no compromising.
Join Dance Magazine in celebrating Laurieann Gibson at the December 7 virtual Dance Magazine Awards ceremony. Tickets are now available here.