An Interview with Cesar Henriquez (LA)

Johnny: First and foremost thank you for giving LVM an opportunity to interview you. You have performed with Salsa Brava and you are probably one of the most popular social dancers on the West Coast Scene. But what might be more impressive is how you achieved so much success and notoriety on the scene at such a young age. For those who may not know you, how did you get into salsa and how old were you when you started performing?

Cesar: Well, I was actually brought into this scene by my mother. A lot of people I have spoken to about this subject all tell me that their parents used to dance when they were younger, and felt it is a great scene for their children to be in. My story is a little different though.

My mother actually had to force me to go to my first class. I wanted nothing to do with dancing at the time. I was an ignorant 14 year old boy, not knowing what I was trying to steer away from.

She finally convinced me to go to the class, which I refused to participate in when we arrived. I was sitting on the side, pretending to be extremely irritated. I was watching how my father couldn’t pick up the steps, and it was irritating me more. My mom came over to me and asked me to help him understand. Because I was so annoyed that he wasn’t getting it, I got up and started teaching him.

I had been watching the teacher, and comparing to what my dad was doing, so I knew what he was doing wrong when I got up. Finally my father started understanding, and I decided to go sit back down. As I was about to sit, a girl from the class went and grabbed me and pulled me back up. She said, we need guys over here, would you like to help us out? I have a hard time saying no, especially to beautiful women, haha, so I got up and took the class. After that first one, I didn’t miss ONE weekend of those classes for a VERY long time.

Johnny: I remember watching you and Jamie from Caribbean Soul, dancing on imambo back when it was black and red. Nevertheless, your creative style and complex moves really stood out. I studied that clip and learned a lot of moves that I still use today. The crazy part is that I think you were only 15 or 16. What contributes to your extreme talent for salsa? Do you have experience with other types of dance?

Cesar: I think my love for the whole scene is what makes me dance the way I do. I love the people, the music, the actual dance, and the trips, for obvious reasons. :)

I think part of it comes from me being raised as an only child. I love being around people, and I believe that comes fro me being alone at home everyday of my childhood. I like people. I like being around them. I am truly happy when I am dancing. I get to be around friends, and I get to express myself in ways that I had not experienced before this dance. Yet I am STILL finding new ways to show my emotions and feelings through dance.

Returning to your question, salsa is the first and only dance I have ever taken classes for. I knew nothing about dancing before it, and I have never taken any other classes. I do however, see in my near future, some classes of capoeira, hip-hop, jazz, and tap. I want to learn those, because I believe they will all strengthen my salsa.

I have also started taking actual lessons to play the congas. I have been learning on my own for about 2 years, just listening to salsa music, and playing that I hear, or watching live bands, and watching their hand movement. It’s actually a great instrument, and I recently bought myself some LP’s, performance series. I’m very happy about that. :)

Johnny: Unfortunately, the group you previously performed with, Salsa Brava, disbanded. So what are some of your performance plans in the near future?

Cesar: I have recently started planning something with two of my closest friends in life. We have many, many plans in mind, but the ones meant for the nearest future are as follows:

a) We plan on starting a team together, the three of us. It will at first, consist of just us three; Iriyali Herrarte, Tony Calles, and myself. We all have very different styles of dancing, which is a great attribute to the company, as we are not fixated on one single form of seeing/hearing the routine/music, respectively.

b) Not too far after that starts, we plan on beginning an actual dance company, with a few more members. While we still will be performing as the group of three, we will also have our focuses on the team. We will all be traveling to different congresses, performing and such.

I plan to make these teams a requirement in every congress. :)

Johnny: What is the most interesting thing about you outside of salsa dancing?

Cesar: Interesting? I guess I would have to say my love for computers, and all electronics in general. I have a knack for computers. I learn very quickly, as in salsa, and I love to figure out things I don’t know about them.

I am working towards getting, eventually, my master’s degree at least, in computer sciences. I still have not decided if I would like to be a technician, or more of a programmer or web designer.

I love electronics, again because I have a knack for them. I don’t need instruction manuals to know how to use them. I just figure them out. haha It’s always fun to get something new, and be able to enjoy it that way. To give you an example, when I got my palm pilot, I was hooked.

I loved figuring out what other features it has, and learning about how it works, without needing the instructions. Every time I get a new cell phone, I don’t put it down for the first few days, because I love to find out everything about it.

Johnny: Is it true that you graduated from High School in 2 years? (Can you talk a little bit about that)

Cesar: How funny, I didn’t know this was information other people knew. haha. Yes this is true. Well, 1.5 years, to be exact. I was not happy in high school, and I felt like I was regressing. I could not catch a break from the teachers, and I cannot, absolutely cannot stand someone being on my back about completing things. If I know I have to do them, I will do them, whether it’s on that person’s schedule, or mine.

Obviously, this wasn’t hitting the teachers too well, and it affected me. So I decided to leave. I found out about a test that kids in California can take. It is called the High School Proficiency Examination.

If you would like more information on it, go to www.CHSPE.com it’s a great opportunity for bright kids to take, as long as they use it correctly. I graduated high school halfway through my Junior year. I decided I did not want to be there. So I took the test. I received the pass notice, and the graduation certificate in the mail a few weeks later, and I left. Had my last week in school, saying bye to the people I actually liked, and I was gone. I started going to college, working towards finishing my General Ed. classes. All at 16.

Johnny: Who are some of your favorites salsa dancers under the age of 21?

Cesar: Oh wow, that’s interesting. I would DEFENITELY have to say, one of my best friends, Tony Calles. One of the members of the group I will be creating.

Besides him, I would have to say Emily Alabi, and her brother, which I think is not 21 yet. Then there’s my friend Natasha Tia from Orange County. Danced with The White Boy Wonders in San Diego for a while. And there’s this one girl…..

She used to dance for a team in NY.I can’t remember what it’s called. They did a routine to the song “Timbalero” by El Gran Combo. Her name is Wally. Wally Lantigua. I don’t think she dances anymore, and I only saw her dance once, but I LOVED how she danced. I thought she was amazing! I think that’s it.

Johnny: Who would say has inspired you the most as a salsa dancer?

Cesar: I would have to say Luis Vazquez. His motivation, high spirits, up-beat ideas, and constant joking kept me in a happy place. I think it started from when we first met. I watched the video my dad took of the audition I did for Salsa Brava. MAN was I horrible. haha.

Point is, I was watching his reactions to what I was doing. I’m not saying I was doing anything impressive, because at the time, I really wasn’t, but he kept telling the members judging me to watch my timing. How I never got off, and how I would change if the music changed. All that stuff. From then, until the company dissolved, and maybe even after that, he has inspired me to be better. His fresh ideas for routines, and choreographies never ceased to amaze me.

After him, my other best friend, Iriyali Herrarte. I don’t know if you know her, or of her, but this girl is an AMAZING dancer. She’s never taken any lessons, but if you watch this girl, she moves in ways you thought people never could. I remember I used to tell her she had no spine. haha. It’s funny because she’s a very daring, strong willed person.

Johnny: Any additional comments:

Cesar: First and foremost, I wanted to thank you for giving me this opportunity. It really means a lot to me. And I appreciate your compliment about the video with Jamie. She’s a great dancer as well, and a wonderful person.

Also, I’ve been thinking about some things while I’ve been answering these questions, and it’s brought back some memories I hadn’t thought about in a very long time. Thank you for that. It brings me back to a place I hadn’t been in, in about a year and a half.

Third, I just wanted to mention something someone told me once, about this dance….

“If you’ve never danced, you’ve never enjoyed yourself, and life… I dance in mind, spirit, and body, and no one can ever take away from me, the fulfilling feeling I get after I have completed something in this scene that I’ve wanted to do for a long time.”

I will leave the author anonymous, but let’s just say he was a good friend of mine.

I hope people understand the importance of dancing for the enjoyment of ones-self. There are people out in the scene, who will also remain anonymous, that are out there on the dance floor battling to get the most attention. I think we should be out there to enjoy what we do.

To fulfill our desire to express ourselves through this dance and music. Not to compete with each other as to who has the most cameras pointing at him, or who has the biggest circle of people watching them. We should be out there having fun. Making ourselves happy, while at the same time, enjoying our dance partner’s happiness. Dance for ourselves. Nothing more, nothing less.

Cesar Henriquez