Together with his mother, Gianinni, now 21, was in Los Angeles, ready to conquer the world as a dancer. The two of them had prepared the adventure. His mother imposed one condition: she believed that he must have saved enough money to last a year before he left for Los Angeles.
Very wise, he now thinks. “In the US I had to start from scratch. Then you need time to make sure people know you and want to work with you. At first I did auditions, took classes and went to dances to build a network. ”
As the eldest of a single Surinamese mother with four sons in South Rotterdam (he sometimes saw his Cape Verdean father, but was often abroad), he received a strict upbringing. Stricter than the other children in the family, he thinks. “At the time I didn’t always understand that and I didn’t always like it, but thanks to her I have the discipline and perseverance that have brought me very far in my career.”
Role model for brothers
“There was no room for naughty behavior. My mother realized that I was the male role model for my brothers, because there was no father in the house. If I went down the wrong path, they might follow. She really wanted that. She checked my homework and quizzed me so I would get good grades, made sure I always spoke with two words and had respect for other people and let me babysit my brothers, who are 3, 6 and 8 years younger.”
“But at the same time it was a very loving upbringing. She was very involved and gave us a lot of attention. We were not well off, but if we wanted to play sports or take music lessons, my mother made sure that was possible. I played football, went skateboarding, when I wanted to learn to play the drums she bought me a drum set. Looking back, I am very grateful for the way my mother did it all.”
Gianinni was about 14 years old when he saw the video for It’s Like That by Run-DMC and Jason Nevins on a music channel. “A legendary hip-hop song, from the 80s.” He remembers it clearly: “There were breakdancers in the video. I thought that was really cool. They were wearing Adidas suits, and their whole style, presentation and energy… I fell in love immediately.”
He wasn’t thinking about becoming a professional dancer at the time, but he knew right away that this would be a lot of fun. “I started practicing in my attic room. YouTube didn’t exist yet, so I searched the Internet for videos and tried to imitate them – mainly hip hop and break dancing. I also looked into the history of dancing. Then I started participating in break dancing -battles and so I got more and more into it.” Laughing: “What also helped was that classmates thought it was really cool when I did a move in the auditorium. That attention was an extra motivation, yes.”
Tell a story
Through Lucia Marthas’ dance academy he learned to love all dance forms, including ballet. “They’re all about the same thing: the art of conveying emotions and telling a story. That’s what I love about them.”
In just a few years, he started dreaming bigger and bigger: from dance shows in the Netherlands – he reached the semi-finals of the first season of So You Think You Can Dance – to an international career. “I wanted to dance with the big stars, do what I had seen on TV in music videos. Dance at the Superbowl and the MTV Music Awards.”
So You Think You Can Dance
Dan Karaty, whom he had met during So You Think You Can Dance, wanted to help Gianinni with this and introduced him to an ‘agency’ in Los Angeles. And so the great adventure began. “After a few short stays in America, I packed my bags and moved.” Although that sounds a lot easier and more romantic than it was. “My mother came with me for the first three weeks. When she left, it hit me for a moment. I had a lot of support, but all in the Netherlands. In the US I was completely on my own.”
It was a time of trial and error, of discipline and perseverance. ‘Friendships’ that only revolved around what someone could gain from him professionally. Multiple rounds of auditions to still be eliminated from the last ten. Process it and give it everything he had the next day. “Blood, sweat and tears. Literally. I had to learn to deal with the rejection. The competition in the US is very fierce. I did auditions for Jennifer Lopez and Usher, and suddenly I was among the best dancers. But also: with 400 to 500 men, while they only needed ten. I often came far, but still fell away in the last laps.”
Learning to lose
The time difference with the Netherlands was extra difficult: the rejections often came at the end of the afternoon, when it was night in the Netherlands. “I wanted to call home; speak to my mother or friends. But for the first few hours I had to deal with it myself, until it was morning in the Netherlands and I could call.” How do you do that? “I had to remind myself that I had taken the step for a reason and I had to believe in myself. I believe: what is meant to be, will be. All I can do is give my best and it will eventually fall into place. A good athlete does not win every match, you have to learn how to lose well. Yes, then I gave myself a pep talk. Fortunately, I’m good at that.”
And then, after about five or six months, it happened: Gianinni was allowed to dance in the music video for Shakira’s Waka Waka. “It was one day’s work, and I can only be seen briefly in the background. But everything came together: the years of dream, all the months of no’s, and now there was a yes and I was dancing with someone I knew from TV “That felt so good. It gave my self-confidence a huge boost.”
Things took off from there. People started to recognize that cheerful, hardworking boy with the big head of curls and through his agency he was asked if he wanted to audition for the end of Rihanna’s tour. A dancer had dropped out and had to be replaced. About 100 men showed up, all for that one spot. “That was a real battle. After six or seven hours of dancing I was in the last three. I was completely exhausted, really exhausted. But I also felt: now I have to persevere. All those hours no longer mattered, because only the last round would be recorded and sent to Rihanna – and she would make the decision.”
‘Longest week of my life’
“The week between the audition and the moment we heard who it was, was the longest week of my life. I had my phone with me all the time and my heart skipped a beat with every message or call.” The redeeming call came when Gianinni was in the gym. “Congratulations, you’ve made it,” said the choreographer.
“I literally fell to my knees and could only say ‘yes, yes’. I had tears of joy. The other athletes must have thought: what is wrong with him? I couldn’t wait until I met everyone in the Netherlands. was able to call to share the good news. We went to Australia for a month for the last leg of Rihanna’s tour, performed at the NBA All Stars Game halftime show with Rihanna, Kanye and Drake, we did the VMA Awards. ‘You’ ‘ve done it’, all I could think was. Now my career has really started.”
And after several performances with major artists, almost a year ago there was Magic Mike Live: a large, daily sexy dance show in Las Vegas. Giannini, now 35 and probably near the end of his dancing career, was offered a major role in it. But he now also had a pregnant girlfriend in the Netherlands. “I had already bought a ticket to go to the Netherlands for the holidays, to Lizzi and my family. I had to think about that.”
What he also had to think about: whether he felt comfortable with the role. “During my solo act I am almost naked. It is a combination of dance and striptease, I had never done the latter before. But I feel good in my body, so I thought: let’s try this. The first show was of course just as scary.” But he says, laughing: “When I heard the cheering from the women in the audience – I can get used to that.”
Gianinni lives his dream in everything: he makes a living from dancing and performs in the biggest and most beautiful shows. And yet his dream has now changed with the arrival of five-month-old Nalaiya, who lives with her mother Lizzi in the Netherlands.
“It was not my intention to fall in love with a Dutch woman. I thought: my life is in the US. But it happened when she came to a Gianinni dance workshop in the Netherlands with her older daughter. “During corona, work was in the US was quiet for a while and I decided to come to the Netherlands. There I met her again. I asked her out on a date, asked if she wanted to move to the US if it came down to it – yes – and we started dating.”
Travel back and forth
The move has not yet taken place, although it is being discussed. “But the care in the Netherlands is simply better. Maternity care, the child health clinic – everything Nalaiya needs. And it was of course nicer and more familiar for my girlfriend to give birth in the Netherlands.” Gianinni was given two months off around Nalaiya’s birth: the last month of pregnancy and the first as a family. And since then he has been traveling back and forth and his girlfriend and daughter regularly come to the US. “Traveling is now really different than before,” he admits. “My family, what is dearest to me, is in the Netherlands. We FaceTime every day, but it is different. And for my girlfriend: she has to do it all alone when I am not there.”
Yet he chooses to stay in the US for the time being. “I am at the end of my career, 35 is already quite old for a dancer. I think I can continue dancing for another five years, if I really want to. But I don’t know whether I will do that. Until now, I haven’t had to take many people into account when making my career choices, but now with every decision I make I think: what is best for my family? I haven’t decided yet.”
“In addition to my dancing career, I write screenplays for films and direct. And I also have serious ambitions in that: I prefer to make big Hollywood films. At the same time, a creative career in the Netherlands is also a bright future. It would be ideal to combine it and with my family to travel back and forth, but we will see what the future brings. What is meant to be, will be.“
Every Sunday we publish an interview in text and photos of someone who does or has experienced something special. That can be a major event that the person deals with admirably. The Sunday interviews have in common that the story has a major influence on the life of the interviewee.
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