Shall We Dance? A Conversation with Legendary Flamenco Dancer Joaquin Cortes

A while back, I told you about the first time I saw Joaquin Cortes dance on TV. I was 15, living in Rome, and I had a thought: “This is one of those great moments I’ll never forget.” And tonight, when I go see his show at the Beacon Theater here in NYC, I just know I’ll get those same butterflies. Dance has always been, and will always be, my first love.

Ask me if I thought I would ever get the chance to see Joaquin live, or even better, have a conversation with him, and I would’ve said, “Not in my wildest dreams.” Thankfully, I was wrong on both accounts!

Here, an excerpt of my conversation with Joaquin, who stopped by the Latina offices yesterday.

Is there some sort of ritual you do before you get onstage every time?
When I was younger, I used to do things like kiss the floor of the stage, but I don’t do that anymore.

Do you still get nervous after 20 years?
Every time. I still get that same rush, but that just means I’m alive and I love what I do, which I why I’m still here.

Losing your mom in 2006 must’ve been so hard. How did you find the strength to start dancing again?
I feel like I actually get my strength from her, like she’s always with me, watching.

Aside from dancing, how do you prep for the tours? Any special diets?
I’m a mess when it comes to food. I like everything that makes you fat. I’m obsessed with Italian food: pizza, pastas, sweets. I’m also addicted to french fries.

I can relate, especially with the fries! Do you have any memorable maestros who made you suffer?
Well, I had this one Belgian ballet teacher when I was 12 years old, who actually passed away recently. He would always come up to me and say, in a French accent, “Basura!” (Trash!) I would get so hurt and angry. But I think that’s exactly what he wanted: to make me so mad that I would prove him wrong.

What was your experience dancing with Jennifer Lopez like?
It was great. She had been a big fan for many years, so she called and said she would love it if I could dance with her for her first concert in Puerto Rico. We didn’t spend too much time preparing because I was really busy. But we prepped in Los Angeles and then we went to Puerto Rico. They love flamenco there, so they went crazy.

Were you impressed by her dancing skills?
Well, she’s not a formally trained flamenco dancer, but she did have the willingness to learn and do new things, which I admire.

Who would you love to dance with that you haven’t yet?
There are so many people. … At one point Michael Jackson and I were set to collaborate, but due to timing, it didn’t happen.

Shakira, perhaps?
Other people have told me that and they’ve talked to us about it, but she and I have never discussed it. Why not, though? I’d be open to it.

So what are the prerequisites to dance with you?
Well, there has to be some sort of chemistry on a fundamental level.

Do you think anyone will come close to what Paco de Lucia has done with flamenco in terms of the guitar?
It would be very hard to surpass him. It’s like saying we have another Michael Jackson. Here in the States, there are lots of kids trying to do what he does, but they don’t come close.

I met Alejandro Sanz about a year ago and he seemed very excited about doing an all-flamenco project.
He has a great love for what we do. His whole life, he grew up in the south of Spain with gitanos, so that’s where that comes from. He’s infused his pop with a lot of flamenco, songs like “Corazon Partio,”—that’s all flamenco. And that’s why he’s stood out.

Do you have to grow up with gypsies to have the soul of a gitano?
Not necessarily. Look at Paco de Lucia—he didn’t grow up with it and look at the legacy he’s created in terms of the flamenco guitar. You just have to have a great love and respect for it and be able to feel it.

Joaquin’s show is tonight, May 14, at the Beacon Theater in NYC. Titled Cale, it’s a career retrospective featuring 16 musicians and 10 dancers and the best pieces from 20 years of hit shows, such as Cibayi, Pasión Gitana, Soul, Live, De Amor y Odio and Mi Soledad.