Ellen Thompson (writer),
Chris Shonting (photographer)
Laurieann Gibson is your typical warrior. Well, except for that directorial Emmy nomination, choreographing everything Lady Gaga (including the “Bad Romance” video), those reality TV shows, and her position as creative director of Interscope Records. But aside from all that, she does what any ordinary warrior would do: fights battles, inner and outer, on a daily basis, which is quite obvious from the armor she wears.
Gibson’s left arm is protected by a bishop, gently shaded and emblazoned with the initials L.G., which belong to her father, who passed last year. Her suit is far from complete, but she’s carefully building it. The first piece was put in place when she was about 22 and in love. “I don’t mean love, like, puppy love. I mean love, like, it’s wrong and it makes no sense. It was like a connection of a lifetime, I didn’t even understand what hit me,” Gibson says as she steps away from the editing bay where she’s working on an upcoming Lady Gaga video. “It was a good place and it was also a dark place. It was something I didn’t want to forget. So I had to get a tattoo. It was like a battle cry.”
Over the 20 years that followed, she collected pieces with each battle victory that arose, from becoming director of choreography for Motown and Bad Boy Records to the formation of her creative company, ROM Works. Even now as she celebrates her newest TV show, Born to Dance, Gibson is adding to the shield on her left arm. “I’m connected to my tattoos, so I know that for me I don’t really have a choice,” she says. “It’s a call to get that part of my armor. I need that on my arm now so that I can continue feeling like I can handle what’s about to happen.”
Gibson is about to test warriors of her creation, to see if one newcomer has what it takes to be a professional dancer while under the lights and cameras of Born to Dance. “It’s about whether or not I can teach her in a short amount of time what she needs to know about herself and her gift, and her ability,” Gibson says with sheer determination. “That no one can bring her down, or stop her or prevent her from fighting to fulfill her dream. This show goes against the grain of everything people think a dancer should be, and you see what a real dancer is.”