Give this woman her flowersssss!
Laurieann Gibson should be a household name. Period. Now the woman who helped develop careers of names like Lady Gaga and Katy Perry has released a new book to help EVERYONE reach their own superstar potential. BOSSIP’s Sr. Content Director Janeé Bolden chatted it up with Gibson about her new book “Dance Your Dance: 8 Steps To Unleash Your Passion And Live Your Dream” (releasing via W Publishing, a division of HarperCollins) and her experiences as a choreographer for Diddy and Mary J. Blige, working with Lady Gaga and dancing with the legendary Michael Jackson on his “They Don’t Really Care About Us” video, directed by Spike Lee. Check out the Q & A below:
BOSSIP: When I see the title, obviously you’re known for being a dancer and a choreographer, but I think, at least I’m surmising, that there’s a deeper meaning to “Dancing Your Dance.” That’s a metaphor, right?
Laurieann Gibson: Yes, 100% this book is not just for dancers, but for dreamers and visionaries. The metaphor is that today is the society of comparing yourself and you know insta-beauty/insta success, but the real truth is that greatness is in the process and there is such a unique fabric to a person’s dream. And to maintain that confidence in that dream, it’s difficult. But the narrative today, we’ve just come out of covid, so I think now more than ever, my passion is to inspire a different narrative, which is to celebrate the individuals dream and the uniqueness of what it is that they want to do, and so “Dancing Your Dance” is truly about owning your road map to success.
For as long as we’ve witnessed you, witnessed your journey in entertainment you’ve always seemed so strong, so outspoken. Have you always been that way or is it something that was kind of like you know, made in the fire?
Laurieann Gibson: [laughs] Well, I got hotter in the fire, that’s for sure, but as a baby on my nickname was Pepper.
I think there was purpose in that for me, you know, because in the music industry, in building the artist, you know there’s a point where no one else gets to see what it is that you’re building and what it is that they’re dreaming. So as the visionary, as the coach, as the collaborator, you have to have that fire to actually make it happen when no one else can see the vision.
So it does take a little bit of extra confidence or a certain type of will to survive when you’re building something that isn’t there?
Laurieann Gibson: I talked about it in the book. In each step, I inspire you how to do that for yourself, because if you’re a small business owner or you’re a writer or a producer an athlete, an entrepreneur, there’s a season where you’re actually becoming the dream. And so you do have to understand how to have that fire. That’s what I talk about when I say 8 steps to unleash your passion. The fire that you’ll need to stay on the road towards living the dream.
What made you decide to write a book? Why was this the right time?
Laurieann Gibson: Well, two things; glory to God because I did not know I had a book in me and he knew, but the purpose was really always exciting to me. It’s not autobiographical, although I use a lot of situations to help the reader connect with the challenges the disappointments the overcoming of the insecurities, the fear, the pain of rejection. I use circumstances some situations, like when I had to leave Gaga or the challenges I faced with Puff or there are some situations that I went through, but I say all that to say Covid helped me really have the time to perfect my methodology that I’ve used in helping big superstars find their dream and become their brand.
So I did the deal prior, but Covid really gave me the time to really flush out the steps and really create not only the inspiration but a book that had the power to transform all of these things and talking about transforming from the fear from the insecurity into the confidence and the security of how to live your dream.
You’ve worked with so many artists, many of whom the public has no idea you had a hand in. You really haven’t gotten enough credit for so much of your work. Is that ever a thought that you have, or do you just kind of like keep pushing and keep working and doing the work?
LG: I think it’s a combination of both. I must do what you just said, but yes, there’s times where I am saddened or disappointed by the lack of acknowledgment, because it does help support the journey. But, I do talk about a step in the book called training and sustaining. I think it’s that process that helps me to persevere. It’s because I’ve trained to sustain the dream. Meaning, when I feel that disappointment, I feel it but I understand that there is more for me to do. So there is a passion that still burns and pushes me forward and what’s very important is the knowledge that if you dream based on man’s acknowledgment, you will not reach the full potential of the dream. So the knowledge of that keeps me going. But yes, it is difficult. It is a fight and it does hurt at times, but I definitely have worked those steps and I understand like I said, how to be confident in the dream and not man’s approval of that dream.
Yeah, well, I definitely want to shine a light on you and give you your flowers!
LG: It is emotional and this whole journey of writing the book has been emotional because it does open up those more sensitive sides and allow me to really be evidence for young girls of another conversation, right? A lot of the times artists are successful and they get to a place and then it’s all, “Yay!” They never talk about how to fight, or the fight. And I’m happy that I wrote the book and had opportunity not to inspire people through the artist that I appreciated the work that I’ve done, but for me directly to you, me directly, to your heart, that it will be a fight. It will be tough. But here’s how you can win. Here’s how I’m winning, I’m living the dream. But I really do appreciate you saying that because it gives me an opportunity to be able to say that, and without that opportunity, sometimes it’s difficult to reach the audience.
I did want to ask you specifically about a few folks working with Michael Jackson. What was that like?
I mean, it was beyond. He’s by far the best entertainer of all time. Obviously there are some others like Bob Marley, for me and Tina Turner. But it is the epitome of the most incredible gift as an entertainer, singer, songwriter, dancer, performer. It was really amazing because the first time I worked with him was Spike Lee was directing. I talk a little bit about it in the book. I did the Michael Jackson video and I’m leaving Brandy on an award show. And so I’m like wow Brandy to Spike to Michael all in the same week. And I was young and I remember getting on set and just my T shirt, the underarms sweating, just like yellow stains, because I couldn’t even believe I was there and Michael’s energy was beyond and I remember once I started dancing and choreographing and it all faded away and it was really about my gift. It was really about the fact that I had this gift and I remember him looking at me and just, you know, really, when he said my name I almost fainted just for him to say it the way he said it. But all of that faded away and there was just a space, just a zone; and he basically told me it was going to be tough because he knew I was special, but he encouraged me and I mean it was Michael Jackson, but he still had the ability to encourage the greatness in somebody else.
I love that so much. Mary J Blige, I feel like her dance movement is so iconic in a way that when you say Mary J Blige you can almost visualize the dance that she’s doing. Did you help her find that?
Yes, 100% yeah. That’s exactly what I do. When it was the first time that I learned a lot about what was unique about my gift with artists, versus just like doing choreography for artists, but pulling out of them, their natural movement, their natural ability to move, where they breathe. When I listen to the records, I like to see where they take their breath and I understand what is limited about their movement so I can understand how to utilize what they can do.
And it would be funny ’cause you know it with Mary. I was dancing her way before. I mean I did her first show with her as a dancer, right? So I understood how she felt the music and I used to choreograph on stage when she was in the vibe. And I would be shouting at the dancers, ‘Stay over, stay over!’ like, and then I would call it on stage. And then we would, you know do the Uptown at a certain spot and so I started to study how she moved and sang and then go back to the studio and create it based on what she did when she freestyled it out though and then I would give it back to her. So yeah. [laughs] And now I laugh ’cause when people try to interpret it, I’m like they don’t even understand where it came from!
I saw the Bad Boy 20th Anniversary Reunion Tour which was incredible. I know you choreographed that I had so much fun. I think I filmed the whole thing on my Instagram story. What was that like?
I mean, it was all insane. It was probably the one, Puff had never pushed me to those limits. When I decided to direct the Bad Boy Tour and I had this vision that they were frozen in time and they were just timeless, right? But on day one when you get all those people together, you’re looking at everybody here like, OK, we don’t look timeless. No. Oh my God, it was definitely a challenge but the best you know it wasn’t like it was just non-stop.
I mean, I can only imagine ’cause it’s so many acts in that like how what your rehearsal days had to be like 12 hours.
Or 24 you know. I got pushed to the limit physically, emotionally, creatively and I used to just look at Puff and I was like listen to what I’m not gonna do is not come out on the other side of this ’cause I’m a woman and I can do this. I can. I can carry this right? So there was a challenge for me to rise to the occasion that I knew something was bigger in me than what people thought I could do, and so, yeah it was about everything from soup to nuts and maintaining Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs as an artist, as a logo, as a businessman in all of the elements, which is a whole another job on top of itself.
I read that the movie Honey was loosely based on your life.
It was. I was at Motown, when Andre was the president of Motown Records, we were actually dating and a friend of mine had brought a script from Toronto and I brought it to the film department and then a couple months later they sold the script and I read it and I was like, ‘Wow .’ And his assistant was like “Laurieann, you know this is based on the idea.” And I was like, ‘Oh yeah?’ And I was just so happy to choreograph it girl. I was like, ‘Let’s go!’
There’s something about dancers that, they just have a different energy, and they are like the most fun to be around. What do you think it is about dance that creates a special spark? It’s a different energy, a different fire I think than other fields.
Totally different energies that gift unto itself, but I always found that it’s because we have to speak without opening our mouth. You have to communicate yes, this is it is an inner strength and inner conversation that happens even before. Like I said, you can open your mouth so you develop a rhythm. You develop connection to your spirit too. Igniting that spirit. And I think that’s why the book brings a nondancer to a place of rhythm within themselves and within their dream. Because everybody has a rhythm.
I mean you have a super unique rhythm in understanding the more powerful things and to connect to that, so that is incredible. I think that there’s a place where the metaphor and the idea of us being comfortable inside out is something that I inspire in the steps, and I believe everybody can dance. There’s a dance everybody has.
The “Diddy Bop” has like four moves and every time, over all the years he [Diddy] would be like ‘I wanna learn some new steps’ and I’m like, ‘OK, great, let’s go!’ And then even if I would be like ‘No, you don’t have to. You have your movement Sean! You don’t need to change it.’ And then we end up back to the re inspired formation of the Diddy Bop.
I love it. Brand new again. When I look at your resume, you know you’ve directed, you’ve choreographed, I always think of you as a creative director. When you’re doing all these things, are you specifically always being hired as a director as a choreographer? Or is it like, people were like ‘I need to do this, Can you help me?’ And then from there, after you’ve done it, you realize, OK, I just did this job or that job.
Both of those things happen at different times in different stages. So obviously when I was dancing for Mary, I realized that I had the vision of movement and I wanted to do more and I knew how to tell a story through movement. I understood that I had the gift of a choreographer. Not all dancers can choreograph. It’s a different gift, a different study. So I actually had to stop dancing.
And then as a choreographer, not all choreographers are a creative director or an artistic director. What I then understood was that I was challenged, not only to tell the story in the movement, but in the lighting, in the design, in the intention. The intention is when I wrote the Monster Ball when I rebooted “Making the Band,” the intention behind the movement, behind the clothing of Lady Gaga, behind this strategy, Nicki Minaj, Pink Print Tour or behind Katy Perry, Teenage Dreams. There’s a story that drives the why and it sustains that artist. It sustains the experience in the concert.
So that is a lot of responsibility as a creative director and so therefore I will write my lights or inspire the lighting design or inspire the clothing or inspire the set design. So it is that of a director to drive the entire ship. I think a lot of people in the younger generation, these titles are killing everybody, some people are just picking up a title like you pick up a handbag and there’s no substance in it. So not every dancer is a choreographer, not every choreographer is a creative director, not every creative director is a director because now you have to direct a story using dialogue, script, time period… Oh my God. It’s a whole thing. I didn’t realize I had all of those abilities until I went through all of the processes that it takes to reveal that to a person. And now I think titles really stop people, they’re limiting their biggest potential, especially in today, where people are picking up titles. It’s now dismantling the understanding and the clarity of that position, so you have to be very careful.
Well, you’re an author now, so do you have another goal? You’re now in the world of publishing, but is there another goal for something you haven’t done before that you would like to do?
There’s much more. I just sold a reality show and a scripted show, so there’s a lot to do and you know new artists coming out. Obviously, film television. There’s Broadway. So yeah, there’s ownership and there is inspiration, then original pieces that I need to write and inspire younger people and just communicate and educate as a result of being a black woman in a male-dominated field, driven by the passion to make the world theirs.
Do you have like a proudest accomplishment? I mean you’ve done so much. Lady Gaga is huge, enormous, but so is Diddy, Biggie, Mary, Missy, Beyoncé, Janet and there’s also all the TV you’ve done. All of the awards.
I know it’s scary. I’m not gonna sit down and like Oh my God, I really did do all of that. I think you know every moment has been proud honestly because it is bread crumbs and they all are necessary and you can really get the understanding of that in the book you really can, but I think my proudest moment is this book. It really is right now because it’s the purpose, and it’s my passion to make and inspire other people to not have to necessarily go down the road that I had to go through or to give up, or to let a circumstance stop you from becoming your dream.
It’s a real conversation you have real haters out there you have real oppressors in this business. And it is shameful and I really am passionate about the journey of a different narrative. Because yes, I’ve had the tightest door shut and the most disappointing reactions to what was the nugget to the moment that you could argue — would Lady Gaga be Lady Gaga if it wasn’t Laurieann in the studio when there when she had brown hair and no sound where we went to. Why is that so bad that it was my gift that transformed and inspired and perfected what millions of people are enjoying or can identify with? Why do we need to oppress that history? Or that type of talent? Or that process? Is it ’cause it was a black girl behind a white girl? Yeah, that was part of it. Or was it because she was a female and she was surrounded by males? Yeah, that was part of it. But regardless all of that, it gave me the substance to unlock even more talent, continue to have the ability to now not only do that, but do more with the new artists that I work with. Do more, own more, see more, create more. But I do talk about how to get through some of those most oppressive times.
So incredible. She said so much we couldn’t even fit all of it here — but there’s so many more stories in her book. Laurieann Gibson’s book “Dance Your Dance: 8 Steps To Unleash Your Passion And Live Your Dream” is available now.