You probably recognize Laurieann Gibson as an expert judge from the TV shows "Making the Band" and "Born to Dance" (or from her DT cover story, June 2011). Maybe you've seen her explosive, original choreography for Lady Gaga, Nicki Minaj and now Justine Skye. But for an artist with such a distinctive creative vision, it's surprising to hear that what she really wants is for dancers to be themselves. "When I teach, it's not about me. I don't want you to mimic me, I want you to understand you," she says. "Mimicking the teacher doesn't produce anything: Then it's just a bunch of people making you think you're a great choreographer because the dancers are hitting everything, but they aren't really dancing."
This perspective stems in part from her own background. Growing up in Toronto, Gibson was almost always the lone non-white girl at the barre. But training at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater—and then finding her own choreographic voice—she discovered that difference doesn't have to be an obstacle. “Passion and belief in the gift of dance can supersede what you look like, even what the world says a 'dancer' needs to be," she says. “I'm always aware of the climb and the tough times I went through—and there are still tough times. I teach to arm the dancer with knowledge, with structures to make you the most technical and strong and capable version of yourself possible."