Laurieann Gibson is a name that you should know by now. The Toronto native has a dance and choreography resumé as long as the line at a Pink Tartan sample sale, having worked with boldface names like Diddy, Michael Jackson and Katy Perry. If that doesn’t jog your memory, this might: Gibson is Lady Gaga’s creative director. She choreographed all of Lady Gaga’s videos and directed both the controversial “Judas” video and HBO’s Monster Ball concert event.

After her humble beginnings as a Canada’s Wonderland stage performer, Gibson is now stepping into the spotlight in her own right this month for BET’s Born to Dance, in which she takes 20 aspiring dancers to Atlanta for performance boot camp. “I don’t want people to be like ‘Who’s Laurieann Gibson?’ No, I want to have the power to give back at a colossal rate,” she says. And how she wants to contribute has a definite Gaga positivity pop ring to it: She says that art has the power to make people believe in themselves: “My weapon, as I call it, is dance.”

It’s a tool she harnessed after seeing Alvin Ailey’s legendary dance company perform in Toronto when she was a teen. It left such an impression on her that she saved up some money and, at 17, jumped on a Greyhound bus bound for New York to study at the dancer’s academy.

Gibson was the inspiration for Jessica Alba’s character in the dance flick Honey, but she’s far from sweet. “I feel like a warrior leader,” she explains— fitting, since she gives off a Mad Max vibe with her partially shaved head and thigh-high boots. But she’s still conflicted about her reputation for being tough and demanding. (She never hesitated to throw down with Diddy on ABC/MTV’s Making the Band or let her dancers know that they weren’t making the cut on E!’s The Dance Scene.) “If I were a man, they’d say ‘He’s a genius!’” says Gibson. “To help build the number one artist, Gaga—if I did all that as a dude, they’d be all over me right now. Instead, it’s ‘She’s tough; she’s crazy.’”

Not surprisingly, though, that same fire has cemented Gibson’s relationship with Lady Gaga. “She was this artist who had been rejected by other labels, and I was a creative director and choreographer who had also been rejected and was trying to do something different,” she says. “Now that it stands where it stands, I’m incredibly proud.”