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Jazz Dancing Pioneer Eugene Louis Faccuito Has Died

Faccuito, a Broadway veteran, danced in films including An American in Paris and On The Town.

Jazz performer, teacher, and choreographer, Eugene Louis Faccuito, better known as Luigi Faccuito, has died.

Eugene Louis Faccuito, a jazz dancer, choreographer, and teacher, has died at the age of 90. Faccuito, who is perhaps better known as Luigi Faccuito, the nickname given him by Gene Kelly, died of cancer on Tuesday at his Manhattan home.

Faccuito was born in Steubenville, Ohio as the eighth of eleven children. After his father died when he was five years old, Faccuito began singing and dancing on street corners for money. At a young age, Faccuito began using his performance skills in talent competitions, and by ten, he was hired as the "shadow" in Ted Lewis' famous number, "Me and My Shadow." At thirteen, Faccuito replaced Dean Martin as the lead singer in a local twelve-man band called the Bernie Davis Orchestra.

Drafted into the U.S. Navy during World War II, Faccuito served in New Guinea and the Philippines until the war ended when he was 21. He then moved to Hollywood to pursue a career in dance and film. However, shortly thereafter, in 1946, Faccuito was a passenger in a car accident that caused a basal skull fracture and left him in a coma for over a month. Upon waking from the coma, Faccuito found he was paralyzed on the right side of his body and left side of his face.

Though doctors told Faccuito that he would never walk again, he went on to regain control of his body (his face remained paralyzed) through a series of self-designed stretches and eventually returned to daily dance training. He danced in the chorus of many Hollywood films, including "Annie Get Your Gun" and "An American in Paris" as well as on Broadway in "Happy Hunting," starring Ethel Merman.

In 1958, Faccuito assisted choreographer Onna White on the Broadway musical comedy Whoop-Up and in 1961 he worked as assistant choreographer on Broadway's Let It Ride!

In 1950, while still in L.A., Faccuito began leading dance classes based on his unique style of stretching and movement. After his move to the East Coast, he continued to teach and went on to have students including the likes of Alvin Ailey, Twyla Tharp, Donna McKechnie, and close friend Liza Minnelli.

It was as a teacher for Dance Caravan, a yearly summer dance convention troupe he worked with through 2009, that Faccuito's technique book, which systematized and cataloged jazz dance, began being used as the foundation for teaching the form across the United States.

Faccuito is survived by his sister, Norma Battista.