Interview with Cesar
by Tasleem Rajwani
It was an honour to be
able to sit down and talk to Cesar Coelho after his tango
workshops in Manhattan. Despite having given an intense
set of classes during the day, and needing to rest for a photo
shoot early the next morning, Cesar gave up his time to walk
over to a coffee shop nearby and share his insights and thoughts.
The passion and openness with which he spoke was much appreciated.
Cesar has an extensive
background in tango, ballet and jazz. He is well known
for his precision and energy on stage particularly as the
lead in the Broadway show 'Forever Tango'. Cesar proves
to be a talented dance teacher at such a young age, driving
his students to understand more than just the steps to the
'He is amazing,' commented
one of his students, 'I take his classes every time he is
in town, and each time I work with him, my dancing progresses
so much further.'
Tasleem- I find it very effective
the way you focus so much on the fundamentals in your workshops,
rather than overloading students with a bunch of fancy steps. It
made me want to learn more. Can you explain your reasoning
Cesar- Well, tango is more than a dance. It’s
a culture. We use the dance as an excuse to express what we are
bringing and taking from our country, from our experiences. That’s
why I really pay attention to the fundamentals.
In the very beginning, tango started as an excuse
to be related with a woman- as a meeting, not as a dance. The dance
came after. That’s why I’m always pushing the fundamentals
onto the students.
T- I understand you come from a family of dancers.
Considering this, along with your view of tango as more than just
steps, do you think it’s possible for someone who doesn’t
have that background to learn it, to REALLY learn tango?
C- First, you need to understand why you are
dancing. That’s why I talk a lot in the class, because
people come to the class as an excuse to have fun. They don’t
really know what they are doing, or what tango really is.
That’s what I am always trying to explain to the students.
It’s really a serious dance. It IS serious. It’s
not about having fun. But once you understand the dance, you
can get pleasure from it, not fun, but pleasure. It’s
not about the movement. It’s more than the movement.
The movement comes, and is born, from the essence. And the
essence is a way of life, I mean, the way that Argentine people
live. That’s why the lyrics are the way they are. That’s
why the music is the way it is. You have to understand that
before you can really learn tango.
T- You use a lot of analogies or visualizations
to help explain the feeling behind the dance, especially the
connections between the dancers and the music. You’ve
said things like, "You have to breathe as one,"
or "the couple is like the bandoneon" (the instrument
often used in tango music). Could you talk a little
C- Yes, well, we have a pattern- the music.
And we are two people dancing. But you have a pyramid
with the music. First we need to synchronize the level
of energy that we have as a couple. If one person has
more energy than the other person, the meeting is going to
be impossible. So that’s why I say, "Breathe.
Find yourself. Meet the energies. Equalize the
energy." And then we are going to be able to share
it. Once we start to share and we equalize the energy,
the music will own us. We really need to relax.
Then the music will take control of us as a couple.
It’s very hard to achieve that.
T- Coming from a family of dancers, was it
already an expectation that you would become a dancer? Or
was it something that you chose in the beginning?
C- Good question (smiles). No, I didn’t
choose this in the beginning. No, no, especially not tango.
My father introduced me to tango. I was very young.
That’s why I didn’t choose tango then. I
used to play basketball. I used to play sports.
That’s what I related to. Tango was too serious
for me at that age. I was fifteen years old. It
was too serious and I didn’t understand how to relate
with a woman, or how to even relate with a person.
But once I started to understand
how to relate, how to socialize, with different people, I started
to understand tango. That’s the way I really got deeper
into tango and I started to like it, to pay attention to it.
But no, it wasn’t my choice.
But it’s true that it’s like a drug.
Once you understand it, you will never leave it. You will
never quit. You will take some distance. Sometimes you
will get tired, you will get fed up, but then it’s going to
be there. And tango will wait for you, because tango is expression.
It’s going to be there, always. Even if you go away,
it will be waiting.
T- Is it difficult to teach this dance, especially
if what you are trying to teach is more than just the dance
C-Tango as a dance is about body language.
It’s very interesting to feel the energies of different people.
But sometimes, because of that, you get tired, like I was tonight.
I wasn’t strong enough to support all the energy that people
required around me. It can be tiring if you are giving your
energy, but you are not receiving enough back. Maybe you noticed
T- Yes, you said something about that to the class,
briefly. And I heard you say more about it later on.
C- Yes. It’s really hard to teach. It requires
a LOT of energy. And it depends on how you WANT to teach.
Like I said to the class, I could have taught them many fancy steps-
ganchos and turns and all that. It would actually be easier
for me. But I want them to learn what is really important
about tango, what tango is really about. But if they don’t
give me the same energy, then it’s tiring. I like teaching
but it is hard. If people are really listening, then it is
T- I was telling a friend of mine about tango. He
loves dancing. He does a lot of salsa dancing. I know
he would really enjoy tango, but he’s turned off of it because
he feels like the age group for tango is a lot older. You are very
young, but it seems like tango is more geared towards an older crowd,
or attracts an older crowd, especially in North America. Do you
C- Yes, but it’s changing. It IS changing.
T- You think so?
C- Yes. It’s changing a lot.
And you have to remember that tango is
a cultural thing. You need certain experiences to understand
tango, and some of that comes with age. You cannot understand
sadness if you’ve never been sad before. If you’re
a child and you’ve never been sad inside, it’s
hard to understand. That’s an example. It’s
the same thing with happiness, with hope, with love, with
winning and losing. And tango is about expressing yourself,
your experience. It’s about that. It’s the directions
that you take in life. But if you are too young to have
those experiences, then it’s hard to express in the
Nowadays, a lot of young people
get into tango. But in the beginning, maybe you are attracted
by the embrace. You don’t realize what the embrace means.
But you start to learn that it’s more than just touching or
an embrace. As you grow, you learn. It’s the same thing
as when your taste changes. In the beginning, you might eat
something simple like hot dogs. And when you get older, you
might not eat hot dogs anymore. Now you like a good plate of some
other kind of food.
In the same way, you can be attracted by the
dance first. But then you start to understand what tango really
is, and after some time, something deeper will attract you.
T- It’s interesting for me to look at the history
of tango compared to what you are teaching about it now. Tango
was associated with brothels and was seen as a very seductive dance.
But when YOU’RE teaching, you talk so much about respecting
your partner, and finding yourself, centering yourself, gaining
confidence. Can you explain this difference between the past and
present of tango?
C- It’s the human race. It breaks
up, or breaks apart. The dance too-the tango, the music, everything-
it breaks apart, or some of it does. We take the elements, we polish
them, and we improve our language. Tango is a language, and
it has changed in some ways over time. We are not used to
talking the same way we used to talk. It’s the same
thing with the dance. But the PASSION is still there. The
PURPOSE is still there. The ROOT is still there. The essence,
the ESSENCE- that’s what is important. We don’t lose
that. We can’t. And then we learn to take it further.
But society changes. And tango changes
with the society. Sometimes it changes for the good. Sometimes
it changes in a bad way. That’s why I’m attached
to the root. I’m attached to the root because I don’t
like the way that society runs, just runs with things. I don’t
want that for tango. Everybody is crazy running. No,
no. We want tango to help us find ourselves again.
T- I never got a chance to see the show Forever Tango.
But I did see Volver al Sur, which you performed in recently.
I just thought it was amazing. And I read some of the articles
that were written about it and your other performances. One
writer in particular commented on how the common saying "It
takes two to tango," doesn’t seem to apply to you. He
said that when you perform, it’s like you are dancing not
just with your partner, it’s like you’re dancing with
the whole audience as well. I could feel that when I was watching
you on stage. You make the audience feel what you are feeling.
Are you attempting to do that when you are on stage? Are you aware
of the energy of the audience when you are performing or are you
completely in your own world?
C- Good. Another good question. It’s very
difficult for a professional dancer to really be inside- inside
of the couple, inside of yourself- when you have thousands of people
looking at you. That’s when I say that tango belongs
to three. Why? Well because the leader is always in the future.
He’s thinking one millisecond in the future about what
he’s going to lead, and thinking about the steps he’s
going to take, and how he’s going to lead his partner.
The follower is in the present, because she follows, feels and she
steps in the present. And the third person- the one watching
or the audience- is in the past. The audience watches all
that has gone on. They are not invited. They spy on the couple.
They ARE spying on the couple. But you have to wake their
interest TO spy. If you don’t wake their interest, they are
not going to want to spy. So they are not going to watch the
movement. But they really want to get IN to the couple. But
they are not invited.
T- Is there something you do differently
on stage to obtain that or to create that?
C-It’s really hard to achieve that
point. It’s really hard to achieve it. It’s
a level of energy and feeling in the soul, and it’s
really hard. You won’t always achieve it. It all
depends on your partner- how you match energies with her.
If you match, and the music matches, the atmosphere matches,
then that interest, the audience’s interest, will be
born. They will want to spy. They want to get
into it, but they are not invited because it’s OUR world.
But we have to create that interest.
T- What do you do to keep developing your skills?
C- Tango is born in the soul. But
we are using the tool that is the body. And we need
to improve that tool to let the soul express. If our
soul is free, but our tool is rough, it doesn’t match.
So I have to take my tool- my body- further, to let my soul
go further. But it’s not that I release all that,
and do it by myself or keep it for myself. All that
I have, I also give to my partner. All that I achieve,
all that I have, I give to my partner. We need that
in order to dance tango together. That’s
what I push forward in my students, to really take the steps
further. Then you will be able to cut them, or to make the
space smaller. To make it more intimate. But you
need to sharpen the tool.
T- Do you have a certain number of hours or
time that you set aside to develop that?
C- I do at least one class a day, any kind
of technique- ballet, jazz, anything. I need to discover,
and I need to fill up my soul with different energies and
to exercise my muscles.
T- You were saying that you were going back
to Argentina after this? And then you’re going to Paris?
How do you feel about all the traveling you do?
C- I’m traveling all the time. This
is my job and I need to do it. If you gave me the choice,
I would stay in my country. I would come here just to
visit. And I would teach, when I feel like teaching.
What happens when you spend a lot of time in the same city?
You start to know the bad things about that city. And
you start to become PART of the city.
If you become part of the city,
in certain ways, it’s good. But as an artist, it’s
bad, because you’re not going to be original anymore.
That’s why you have to come back to the root, the essence
of the tango. If I stay here, I will become like "them".
And it’s not helpful for them if I become like them.
I have to bring something new to my students, to the people, every
time I come back here. I do love the city, but I need to refresh
myself all the time.
T- Is Argentina always going to be home to you?
C-YES….Uh, no. Uhm, I’m not
sure. I’m not sure.
But I am sure that tango is with me. I
learn from it. And I know that tango is going to be waiting there.
It’s not going to leave me. Me neither- I mean, I’m
not going to leave it either. I don’t know. For the
moment I am,…how do you say it? When you travel around all
the time? Gypsy?
T- Oh yes! A gypsy! (laughs).
C- Yes, a gypsy. I’m traveling around all
the time, and learning so much about different cultures. And
it’s very interesting. In certain ways, this is very related
to tango. The experiences, what I am experiencing, are the link
to tango. Everyone lives this, everyone lives before the tango
dance. Like the people spying into the tango. Even the music
you prefer- it all depends on the colour of your soul. What
you lived in your life before- your interpretation of the music
will depend on this, you will match it to your experiences in life.
Maybe I love Piazolla, maybe you don’t. It all depends
on you. What you did before in your life.
T- Whether you are teaching or performing tango,
what do you hope to leave your students or audience with? What’s
the main message you’d like to leave them with?
C- As I said before, tango is much more than
a dance. We are taking the steps as an excuse to express our
feelings, TO CHAT. The steps are just simple words.
And we use the words to express ourselves, to build sentences.
They are words. And depending on how we use the words we are going
to express ourselves in different ways.
But, this is without talking. It’s a language
without talking. That’s always what I’m trying
to say. And every time we have an encounter we can use the
language to just have fun and talk about whatever, or we can go
deeper. With tango, it is deeper. It is a language
that is deeper.
I hope you understand. It’s very
difficult for me to explain in English.
T- Actually, I was about to say that I can’t
believe that even in your workshop you were apologizing for your
English. You express yourself very poetically. It’s
very hard to do that in a second language, but you express yourself
well. I understand what you’re saying because of your
words, but more than that, it’s because of the FEELING behind
your words. There’s an energy that you project, even without
C- That is tango (smiles). That’s
why I said in class that tango is not steps. It’s ONE
step that never ends. Once you start, it NEVER ends. You never
quit your energy. It’s there. It’s alive. Even
if you are quiet, it’s there. It’s an ongoing energy
between us. Sometimes we can be looking at each other, and
we don’t even say a word. But a look says much more
than a hundred words. In tango, a pause means much more than
a hundred steps. You have tango instructors, tango dancers
and tango artists. How they dance and teach depends on what
they are pushing forward. I want people to understand what
tango really means. It is so much more than people than think.