An Interview with Jose Cuevas (Chicago) by Johnny Johnson

Johnny: First and Foremost, thank you for granting La Voz del Mambo this interview. You may not know it, but you were very inspirational in my quest towards learning Mambo. You are practically a modern mambo legend in the city of Chicago and have made a tremendous contribution towards the flourishing mambo scene that currently exists there.

Jose: First let me start of by congratulating you for your successful website. I wish you much success in your future endeavors. I am humbled and thankful for time you have taken to grant me this Interview.

Johnny: Who are some of the most inspiration dancers and instructors that you have come across throughout your dance career?

Jose: Gloria Farr – From Chicago IL; All three Vazquez brothers – Fransisco, Johnny, Luis – From LA; Frankie Martinez – Abaqua – from New York City; Eddie and Maria Torres – From New York City;

Johnny: You currently perform with Los Caballeros de la Salsa, which consists of you and Mr. Robert Excell Tate. You guys have gained world-renown recognition for your energetic and creative mambo routines. How did you guys form this group?

Jose: I ran into excell at a gig that my female dance partner (Nadya Cortes) at the time, invited me to. He had asked nadya to dance and that’s when I noticed his dance style. After he finished dancing with her I took over and he went to sit at the bar. I approached him and complimented him on his dance style and we started talking about the chicago dance scene and how the dancers I hung out with procrastinated about getting a group together. He laughed and told me the same thing, so we decided to take upon ourselves to get together and start working on something.

When we finished our piece we performed it at the Presidental Towers and Cultural Expressions fell in love with the piece and surprised us by inviting us to go with them and perform as our own duo at the 2000 International Puerto Rico Salsa Congress. Excell and I were surprised and accepted the offer and that’s were it all started.

Johnny: Can you describe how this experience has affected your outlook on salsa in general?

Jose: If this experience has taught me something, I can say that it has totally slapt me in the face and made me realize that salsa is not a latin thing. I have been amazed and proud at how salsa has been embraced by people of all races. I get a kick out of watching people of other races get down on the dance floor, because it shows everyone that anyone can embrace it.

Jose: What is your most memorable performance with Los Caballeros de la Salsa?

Johnny: I have to say it was in the 2001 New York Salsa Congress. That night they had us wait a while before we went up to perform because we had to perform at the second half of the show and the crowd was getting tired because the award ceremonies took a little longer than expected, but finally they called Excel and I up and we let them have it.

It was funny cause as Excel and I were dancing we saw the faces of all the of the organizers and they were looking at us funny but with big smiles on their faces and in the middle of the routine Excel and I gave each other a look like “Are we doing something wrong”, but we kept dancing and finished the routine.

When we finished and we came up from bowing down the light hit our faces and we couldn’t see that good because it was so bright, but when my eyes slowly came to focus I was amazed. We got a standing ovation and all the top dancers including Felipe Polanco, Eddie Torres stood up and clapped. I felt like I was at the Olympics and Excel and I had won the gold medal. That night believe it or not was the night that we put Chicago on the map in the mambo scene.

Johnny: You also perform salsa routines with Madeline. Have you guys performed outside of Chicago? If not are there any plans to travel with this duo?

Jose: Not really, I would like to but it really depends on her. Madeline is a mother of four now and she is a dedicated mother so it will depend on her schedule. It’s really sad because she is one of Chicago’s best female dancers. This woman can adapt and learn any dance style she wants. She can do it all from House, break-dance, salsa, bachata, merengue, you name it she can learn it and do it well. This woman is known for having one of the fiercest hips in the dance scene, one look at her and you will be hypnotized.

Johnny: Chicago has a strong foundation in house music. During your performance with Madeline you guys portrayed a combination of both mambo and house dancing. Has house music had any influence on the way you dance mambo? Would you like to see the two styles combined more often during instruction?

Jose: Yes it has, a lot of house music dance moves have intense footwork, which help you develop good foot speed. It also has a lot of body rolls which are used in flexing which is a kind of break-dancing style of dance that it used frequently in dancing to house music.

Johnny: In addition to your performance experiences, you also are a very know social dancer throughout the city. I have seen you dance in many contests around Chicago. One of my all-time favorite mambo duos in Chicago was definitely you and Nadia Cortez. You guys had awesome chemistry on the dance floor. Although you guys have gone your separate ways, are there any plans of performing or competing with Nadia in the future?

Jose: I really can’t answer that, I guess it depends on our schedules. She is really busy with her nursing career. We have agreed on working with each other in the future so only time will tell. Nadya has been out of the dancing scene for a bit, but you will still see her social dancing from time to time and she still rocks it like she always has, being the first Chicago female dancer to rock it like the New York females, I don’t think she will stop dancing any time soon. Don’t be surprised if you see her doing her thing any time soon.

Johnny: Although I have never taken your class, I have always been interested in your style of dancing salsa, especially your footwork. Do you currently have any public salsa classes in Chicago? If not, Why?

Jose: I did teach several classes at Latin Rhythms dance studio a couple of times, and I do teach workshops when ever I get booked to perform out of town. Things have gotten a little to busy for me and I really can’t teach group classes because I don’t have the time for it. I do teach privates from time to time.

Johnny: Who are some of your favorite dancers and groups within Chicago and beyond?

Jose: Favorite Dancer: Gloria Farr. This lady is one of Chicago’s hidden mambo and Latin Jazz treasures and I was able to find her through my good friend and dance partner Robert Excell Tate who introduce me to her back in the year 2000.

This lady is one of Chicago’s true mambo divas. At 70 years of age this lady can still move her feet with lightning precision. She was the one who inspired Excel and I to do that fast Tito Puente Piece that we do where at the end I hit excel over the head and he goes down into a split and I do that back flip. We lovingly call that piece 123 -567 mambo.

The top Dance teams in Chicago to me are: Latin Ryhthms, Los Soneros and Jovenes del swing, Descarga Caribe and Pasos Latinos , and Group 180 if they are still together.

Favorite National Dance Duos and Teams: Abacua, Los Rumberos, Salsa Brava, Tropical Gem, Carebean Soul, Eddie Torres Dancers, Nelson Torres troop, Santo Rico, Carisma Dancers. Sean’s Troop if he still has one, the Famous Mambo Paledium Legends, Jay and Candy, Tito and Tamara, liquid silver and crazy Addie.

Johnny: Where would you like to see salsa in Chicago 5 years from now?

Jose: I would like to see it recognized just like ballroom dancing. The competitions should be televised nationally, participants should gain world recognition and the prizes should consists of thousands of dollars.

Johnny: Any additional comments:

Jose: If you decide to learn to dance this type of music don’t do it only for the girls. Immerse your self in the culture and the history and you would get a lot more out of it. Those who learn to dance, learn how to dance both on 1 and 2, you will understand the music better and you will have more fun and last but not least, for those who think that know it all, please remember that everything on this earth evolves, so always be aware that it will be just a matter of time before someone else will come along and teach you a thing or two.

Jose Cuevas