Where would some of music’s greats be without Laurieann Gibson? The Emmy-nominated creative director and choreographer has worked with a who’s who of icons from the past and present, including Michael Jackson and Janet Jackson, as well as Beyoncé, Missy Elliott, Nicki Minaj, Lady Gaga, and more. She’s helped them put together world-renowned tours and aided in turning some into superstars as newer acts. And while many were first introduced to Gibson as the choreographer for Diddy’s wildly popular iterations of Making the Band (she’s the creative director for the upcoming reboot by the way), she’s been at this for far longer than many realize. Her journey, and the lessons learned from going from a young dancer trying to make it in New York to an in-demand visionary, is shared in her motivational debut book, Dance Your Dance: 8 Steps to Unleash Your Passion and Live Your Dream, out now. We spoke with Gibson about how her faith got her to this point in her career, how her life inspired Honey (which she choreographed and appeared in), and the actual deep origins behind her famous “Boomcack” saying.
MadameNoire: After more than 20 years in the industry, would you say that you’re still learning?
Laurieann Gibson: Yes. One-hundred percent still becoming, still learning me, which is a beautiful part of it. And I’m still learning valuable tools and lessons in the business and to always better my business. I think that’s one thing I do love, is learning.
What’s the most significant lesson you’ve learned recently?
That I have to pray more. Every lesson is significant for me. It’s hard to say, “Oh, this lesson” because I live from a place of passion and hope. I live in my dreams and I live in the “yes.” In my book, I talk about “staying in your yes.” So every day I’m learning a new lesson because I’m becoming. And yesterday’s version got me to today, so it’s hard for me to just say one thing specifically.
Faith shows up as a recurrent theme in Dance Your Dance. The reader can see how important spirituality is in your journey.
I think that there is a faith that one needs on your journey to becoming your dream because it’s about being able to believe in that feeling, that vision that only you have at one point in time until it happens. And that faith sustains you when it doesn’t look like you are who you know you are. Or when you face an oppressive person or you’re being ridiculed. Or you’re facing being fired or the door closing, or racism, sexism. It’s faith that keeps telling you to keep going. It’s faith that’s allowed me to deny the opinion of others and eventually produce my gift, ability, and capability. It’s faith when you don’t have enough need to push through the idea of lack and make the right choice that unlocks the overflow. It is God who gave me the gift without a shadow of a doubt. I understand that. I know that. I’m a full believer, so my relationship with Christ and my relationship with spirits is powerful because it’s truly part of who I am. Mind, body, and spirit. They all work together. Healthy diet, working out, it’s a lifestyle and sometimes it’s a little uncomfortable for people to talk about the spirit inside of you. That’s the will, that’s the desire. So for me, faith is what sustains me. I can’t talk about any success or any overcoming of any challenge, or the ability to create a vision for any artist when no one believed in them, when they didn’t have a record deal, and to carry that vision through when nobody believed? That’s faith. To teach someone without fame, or notoriety. Without the “right” hair color, without the “right” dance steps and believe in them? That’s faith. I got a lot of challenges and trials early on in my career because I did have such strong faith. And I think I was challenged for a purpose and as a result of those challenges, I was able to produce Steps and the revelation of those challenges allowed me to write them a certain way so that the reader would be inspired to learn that that same thing is in them in a different and unique way. So it’s not only inspiring you but it’s producing something in you as you read it and take the journey.
You speak on your mother’s dreams of becoming a fashion designer and the fact that people told her that she couldn’t do it and how it wasn’t a “real job.” Black parents — particularly of Caribbean lineage — have the tendency to be almost too pragmatic when it comes to career choices. Would you say that was part of your motivation to write the book?
That was a big part of why I wrote the book and the passion in me is to inspire a narrative change. I believe my mother went through that period of being blocked and oppressed because there was purpose in her having me and there was the understanding that when I was a little girl in a crawlspace full of Barbies or when I was dancing out of a cardboard box, she understood not to oppress that. She understood not to speak against the ability of that and the power of that. If my mom had done that, there might not have been some of the biggest icons in the world without this little girl’s ability to have vision and create. So I think it is important that I get that message out to our young brown and Black, and our Caribbean girls and our families that are still a bit old-fashioned thinking that these kinds of gifts can’t pay you or it’s not a “real” job. Like any profession, when you’re really in your purpose and passionate to do it, it takes work. And I think that we’re coming out of those old stages and those old formulas. I mean, Kamala Harris is vice president. All Black women are capable of being present in all genres. And all gifts are legitimate in purpose to survive. It’s in my steps to learn how to embrace your gifts and take the journey when everybody else, including your family, doesn’t think it’s a “real” job. I included that relationship with my mother to inspire parents to understand that you may have a child whose greatness you may not understand, but you are encouraged to guide it, not oppress it.
You’re going to be on the Making the Band reboot but some of us remember that you were on the very first season of the franchise. What would you say are the differences between the first Band and the most recent?
I think it’s generational. The talent is amazing and I think we have to change the narrative of the process. It’s not overnight. This generation likes to take a title and put it on themselves after six months.
Your name has become synonymous with “boomkack,” which is really like a tool for dancers and choreographers to punctuate the count, right? So, have you trademarked it yet? Or are you looking into it?
We have, yes. I always wanted to be dance and I always wanted people to feel something when they thought of me. That’s what motivates me. So, Boomkack. It’s a feeling. It’s your heart and your soul connecting. It’s your “why.” Boomkack. When that “thing” is telling you that you can’t, it’s a feeling. It’s “fight back.” It’s you becoming the best version of yourself because sometimes you wake up and your thoughts are like, “I can’t do this. I’m fooling myself. She’s better than me.” And you just gotta be like, “Boomkack on that sh-t! What I’m gonna do is tell that thought to leave this arena immediately because it’s trying to take me down.” It’s the inspiration for changing the narrative. When I wake up and I’m like, “Oh my God… Why don’t people know what I am? Why is it so difficult for people to understand?” And I’m like, “Boomkack! I’m a just keep rolling. I’m a just keep pressing. Here we go. From the top! Back to the studio!” I talk to myself like that because I refuse to let that thought be the reason I didn’t chase my dreams.
There’s so much that’s happened with you since Honey. Did you ever think about extending the film with another chapter?
Oh yeah! But I feel like Honey was the beginning of my career and the inspiration of my life. I’m excited because I just sold a scripted show that’s based on my life. There are a lot of elements as to why Honey should just be Honey. There’s more to come. And that’s like the book. When you can identify why no one may have known that I was the inspiration for this or that I choreographed it and it’s such a good movie, but it was just the beginning of my choreographic years and Jessica Alba wasn’t a dancer and it was so challenging, beyond comprehension. There was no social media so there was no outlet. I wanted to tell my story to inspire other Black girls that there’s a Black woman behind this whole movie — or behind this artist, this lead actress — who’s intimidating to her and to the movie, and so you’re kinda pushed to the side because “Oh. You’re not supposed to say that.” The actress is supposed to get all the credit but it’s not about credit. “It’s about survival. I need another job [laughs].” I think Honey’s great but because of that challenge I was able to endure, build and deepen my ability as a choreographer and now I will get the opportunity to do a show about my life and fill in the gaps and have it be bigger than ever.
Dance Your Dance: 8 Steps to Unleash Your Passion and Live Your Dream is available now.