Nathan James, Courtesy Gibson

Dance Magazine Award Honoree: Laurieann Gibson

This week we're sharing tributes to all the 2020 Dance Magazine Award honorees. For tickets to our virtual ceremony taking place December 7, visit

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.

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J. Alice Jackson, Courtesy CHRP

Chicago Human Rhythm Project's Rhythm World Finally Celebrates Its 30th Anniversary

What happens when a dance festival is set to celebrate a landmark anniversary, but a global pandemic has other plans?

Chicago's Rhythm World, the oldest tap festival in the country, should have enjoyed its 30th iteration last summer. Disrupted by COVID-19, it was quickly reimagined for virtual spaces with a blend of recorded and livestreamed classes. So as not to let the pandemic rob the festival of its well-deserved fanfare, it was cleverly marketed as Rhythm World 29.5.

Fortunately, the festival returns in full force this year, officially marking three decades of rhythm-making with three weeks of events, July 26 to August 15. As usual, the festival will be filled with a variety of master classes, intensive courses and performances, as well as a teacher certification program and the Youth Tap Ensemble Conference. At the helm is Chicago native Jumaane Taylor, the newly appointed festival director, who has curated both the education and performance programs. Taylor, an accomplished choreographer, came to the festival first as a young student and later as part of its faculty.

July 2021