Interview: Cesar G Salinas
Edited by: 
Kaitlyn Soloway

Q: How did you begin dancing?

I first started dancing when I was five years old. I was born in Portland, Oregon and we moved to East Palo Alto, California. There, they had a high crime rate. I was an inner city kid. My mom would work at a Boys and Girls Club of America. I would go there after school and be looked after. Eventually, my mom said you need to find something to do. I tried a couple of sports but didn’t like them and then finally got into a dance class. At the Zohar School of Dance, I met the teacher and the director, Ehud Krauss. He saw me and said I had natural talent, asked me to come dance at his school and offered me a full scholarship. I began in ballet and jazz. He also had a program called “IndepenDANCE” that was for inner city kids to get off the streets and in the studio. It was very culturally diverse, which I loved. Little did I know, Ehud trained with Gus Girodano in New York City, and I learned a lot of classic styles of jazz there. I then went to the San Francisco School of Ballet for a summer on full scholarship. I didn't love ballet as much as I did jazz and modern. I think it was because I felt more natural in modern or jazz being latino. My parents moved us back to Oregon. There, I met Deborah Higginbotham with Willamette Ballet Academy. Since I could not afford dance classes, she gave me a scholarship to the school. Alas, I feel in love with ballet again. I have always been super fortunate to receive these scholarships. It is a little different being a boy. There is more of a need for boys in dance schools so I was super fortunate to be given these opportunities. I went back to my ballet roots and fell in love with it, but something was missing. I trained there until I was a senior in high school. I did musicals as well and choreographed for some of the high school musicals at Canby High School (which was not as diverse as I when I lived in California) which was another part of me I got to explore and experiment with. I found out I loved choreographing as well.

Q: What has dance taught you that you have applied to your everyday life and how you engage in the world?

Dance has taught me to be a better human. I am definitely kinder and more patient because I have had to take the time to learn my craft and every day I am still learning. It has taught me to open up my eyes and my heart to a lot of what people are lacking. I find the void in others and the parts that may not be comfortable in people. A lot of people say, “Cesar you are a light because of your smile and being” and I think dance has done that for me. You don't go into dance because it will make you rich. Artistic Director of Giordano Dance Chicago,  Nan Girordano says “I'm not rich in wealth, I'm rich in life”. What I  was given I am now paying forward and giving that back. I make sure whoever I come into contact with I help them understand the joy of dance. Now more than ever we are looking for the arts. It is like the depression ages. We are the healers. Coming out of this people look to us to help them forget and remember why they love life and it's as simple as moving in your seat. I used to say anyone who has legs can dance, but that’s not true. I say if you have a desire to dance when the music plays, anyone can be a dancer.

Q: Has dance helped you overcome any hardships in your life?

Yes, many hardships. I would not be where I am if I did not have dance in my life. My father was in the military and was very strict on us. Dance was a kind of, “oh ya you can do it”, but never as a career path. When I went to college I was on my own. I moved myself into college by myself to SUNY at Buffalo and I remember saying, I am 18 years old and everyone and their families are moving them in and I am alone. It was a very tough point in my life because I felt lonely. But I also never felt more free. My parents did not approve of dance as a career, they had many reservations.  My father had a hard time with me being gay. I did not tell my father until later in college. Even though I did not feel the support that I needed at that time, I knew dance was a dream and it was in me from early on in life. I knew it would be a part of me forever. I never looked back and I am so thankful for amazing mentors, teachers and angels that came into my life to tell me I am okay, that I am enough and that I am on the right path. Had it not been for them I don't know where I would be. I have made many sacrifices to be an artist. I've missed many milestones in life such as family gatherings, funerals, weddings to make sure dance became number one.

Q: What other interests and passions do you have outside of dance that influence and inspire your artistry?

I love teaching, it is my number one thing I love to do. I could teach a rock. It is one of those things that I feel I was called to do. I love the relationship between the student and teacher, how the information is transferred and the process. I love development, nurturing and the journey. I love being able to give back what was given to me. Specifically, I am honored to teach the Giordano technique which I teach alongside Nan. She and I are a great team! She has taught me so much and I I know and has given me my career. I am one of the last generations to be around when Gus Giordano was alive. I am helping to keep his legacy alive in the dance world because there is so much that is being forgotten, specifically in jazz. We must keep that legacy and history alive and I am honored to be a part of that.

I also love fashion and creating hair and makeup. I also love to travel. When I was done dancing with Giordano, I decided to be a cruise ship dancer. I always said I would never do that, but never say never! I went to forty different countries and I got to see the world. I became an aerialist which I never thought I would do in a million years. I was afraid of heights. I went through the training to do it and sure enough I ended up being one of the lead aerialists in my show. It was so freeing. I enjoyed dancing in the sky. It was a whole different way of being and of moving. Even though I don't do it now, it was a cool time in my life.

Q: How can dance be a platform for social justice issues?

Dance can be a platform for social justice issues because it is far reaching and is very tangible. The audience looks to dance to see how they can be guided through these issues and problems. It is an art form. People can find a lot of ways to say what they need to say through dance and hopefully grab the attention of people who otherwise may not look to dance. I think it is so important right now for dance to continue to explore different ways and beings. At Giordano we are very much about leaving our audiences with feeling something. It doesn't need to be political, but we want you to see beauty and energy and feel that.

Q: How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected you as a performing artist?

It has affected me a lot as an individual teacher and choreographer. All of my gigs were cancelled and now moving into the summer huge dance festivals have been cancelled. At Giordano, our spring season and home season have been cancelled. In the nonprofit world, we were hit even harder. Our money for the company comes from individuals, grants, corporations and events we put on. Luckily, we just had our gala in February and we also had workshops in Atlanta and Boston. Our dancers are scraping by and finding different platforms to teach online. We are looking at different avenues for the dance company to receive small business and federal help. We are applying for everything out there to keep us alive. We went from being alive and thriving, to simply surviving. We have been around for 57 years. For a mid-size arts organization, that is a very long time. I don't know where we will go, but we will not just lay down - we can't. We have to find creative ways to survive. We have been in talks every day with what we will do next. We are currently working on a certification program where teachers can get certified in Giordano technique. We also are filming and creating online tutorial videos where people certified in basic levels will be able to access. We are trying to get this all out to our teachers. This is one example of how we are finding ways to generate income. I would say for me right now so much money has been lost in all the work I had ahead of myself and definitely within the company.

Q: What social changes and responsibilities have you seen people making during the pandemic? Do you think the pandemic will make us a more socially conscious society?

It is very interesting how everyone is handling it. Some are taking the positive side of it and not letting it affect them. All of us in our company have chosen to do so. I love the outcome of people who have continued to push class online for others to take advantage of. I know I am doing that a lot. I am having this debate with myself where dance is not a free thing. I see so many people taking free classes and of course we need to take care of our community. However, we spend our lives creating the work and it is sacred. So even if it's a donation based thing, I think people are finding they need to make a living as well. Art is free until it builds momentum and gives you inspiration and those who take part should be giving back as well.

Last week Nan and I taught a company class for the dancers. It was the first time we all got together. We have been mass communicating with them through email and other ways. We make sure everyone is ok and check in and let them know we are there for them. To build excitement, we opened up to the Giordano certified teachers and have weekly classes for them. The dancers are obviously invited for that so it creates weekly class for the company dancers as well.

Q: Using the idea of “worldmaking” how do you imagine the performing arts world after the pandemic? (Worldmaking: How you can re-imagine the world in your own terms, the way you want it to be. Using this tool one can construct new worlds and write themselves into narratives that have excluded them and systems that have disabled them.)

In an ideal world, after all of this is done, I imagine there should be more federal aid given to nonprofits and dance companies to help regenerate this world, a boost of life is what we will need. We need to get people into the theaters and back to remembering why we all commune together. That through the worst times we are in this together and art frees us and moves us. I think there needs to be big dance festivals and artists coming together and supporting one another. Together we will be stronger. The more we uplift one another the better and stronger we will all be able to build.

Nan Giordano had an idea that wouldn't it be cool to do a company class with different companies. She reached out to Glenn [Hubbard Street Dance Chicago] and we had Giordano come to Lou Conte [dance studio] and we had company class together. Glenn taught a barre and Nan taught a Giordano technique, it was a great day of two companies coming together and dancing and creating energy and uplifting one another. It was so magical, I will never forget that.

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