Gilbert, a poet, performer, mentor, educator, and businessman, owned Stepping Tones Ltd., which produced more than 1,000 "graded" dances for teachers and students. His codified syllabi for tap and jazz made a major impact on the way these forms were taught internationally. Gilbert created songs and dances, recorded them with vocal instruction and written notes, and marketed them as records, tapes, CDs, and videos. His many videos and dance notes are available at the New York Public Library, for the Performing Arts.
Born Allesandro Zicari in upstate New York, Gilbert learned to tap dance on the streets and danced with his brothers, Charlie and Pat (Rico), and his sister, Rose, in nightclubs and theaters until World War II, when he served in the Army Air Corps and performed for the troops. After his 1945 discharge he moved to Hollywood and danced in The Jolson Story. But his real love lay in making classes fun at Al Gilbert's Hollywood Theatrical Dance School.
Gilbert taught internationally at private studios and major dance conventions such as Dance Masters of America, Dance Educators of America, and Dance Olympus. He also created the Al Gilbert Dance Seminars and wrote Al Gilbert's Tap Dictionary: Encyclopedia of Tap Terminology and Related Information. His knowledge, energy, and generosity distinguished his educational work; he could simplify steps and motivate students while clarifying technique for teachers.
Oklahoma City University presented him with the Living Treasure in American Dance Award. He was also honored by many dance organizations for his tireless efforts to improve the teaching of American dance. He produced five concerts at Pepperdine University to showcase emerging choreographers and dance companies. A member of Oklahoma City University's School of American Dance & Arts Management Executive Advisory Board, he taught annually at the campus. During his last visit, he said that despite his failing health, he loved what he was doing, because "teachers live through their students." Gilbert's immeasurable influence will live on through his students and their students.
A celebration of his life took place in May.