My best teacher

I lived with my grandparents in Madrid when I was very young, and my first school was on the corner of the street where we lived. I only went there for one year and I remember being happy. It was in an ordinary, small house and didn't feel much like school, although the teachers could be strict. When I was six I moved to the much bigger Gregorio Maranon school on Calle Argumosa, in the city's old quarter. I enjoyed studying history, geography and maths, but literature and languages were a nightmare for me.

As far as I was concerned, there were very good teachers and very bad ones. I enjoyed maths because the teacher made it fun and didn't get tough with us. But I didn't get on well with an elderly female science teacher who was always severe and generally disliked. I can't remember any of those teachers' names now and it seems a long way in the past.

When I was 12, I was asked to appear in a children's television programme as part of a young dance troupe performing modern dance. By this time I had become passionate about dance and it was my overwhelming interest in life. My biggest influence and best teacher was my uncle, the professional flamenco dancer, Cristobal Reyes. I had watched him and spent time with him from a very early age and he always fired me with enthusiasm. One of the most important things I learned from him is that you can never work too hard. Although dance is an art that comes from within, and in many ways cannot be learnt, there is always room for improvement.

Once the television work started, Gregorio Maranon school had to be flexible about my attendance; the headmaster was very understanding about giving me time off. He recognised that dance was something I had to pursue and I think he realised he couldn't stop me even if he wanted to. Even at that age I didn't like to think of my life being mapped out through school and academic studies. There was so much going on outside school hours, and this was more important to me.

By the age of 13 I was studying with the National Spanish Ballet in Madrid, and still working in television. Any normal school routine had completely disappeared and my parents hired a private tutor to cover the general syllabus up to the age of 14.

I don't think I was a very good pupil as my life was taking on lots of new, unexpected directions and academic lessons seemed a chore. The sessions with the tutor tended to be quite intensive as we had a lot to cram in in a short space of time. Generally he got a blank from me and it must have been a chore for him as well. I don't remember him ever complaining, though.

After the age of 14 my schoolwork effectively came to an end and I didn't have the time to think about it. If I had neglected languages, dance seemed a more important way of communicating. I worked very hard studying Spanish dance with the national ballet, and the two dance teachers to whom I owe the most are Victoria Eugenia and Maria Magdalena. Both were totally dedicated to their art and determined to get the best out of their pupils. I was very impatient to learn everything as quickly as possible and they responded by giving me a lot of time and attention.

Although we worked a lot on traditional styles, they always encouraged me to experiment with new ideas. Every waking moment was now taken up with dance. Not only was I studying and performing with the national ballet, but I was also having lessons outside the normal timetable. It was very hard work but also exciting, because I never knew what was going to happen next. Performing with the company helped me to build up stamina and also taught me to collaborate with other dancers.

By my early 20s I knew that eventually I must launch my own company. The new show has taken up all my time this year and it is the most exciting project I have worked on. I am the director and the choreographer and have put the whole concept together. Like all my shows it blends a lot of different styles, but the essence is always flamenco. I will be performing around the world for the rest of this year, and after that I don't know. My life is improvised as I go along, and that's the way I like it.

Flamenco dancer Joaquin Cortes was talking to Karen Faux


1969 Born in Cordoba, Spain.

1981 Appears as part of a dance troupe on Spanish children's television.

1982 Joins National Spanish Ballet, based in Madrid.

1983 Performs as soloist with the national ballet and tours worldwide.

1992 Forms own company, Joaquin Cortes Ballet Flamenco.

1993 Tours with his first show, Cibayi.

1995 Acting debut in Pedro Almod"var's film The Flower of My Secret; his second show, Gypsy Passion, opens in Madrid.

1999 Moves to New York and performs at the Grammy Awards in Los Angeles; third show, Soul, opens in Barcelona October 16, 2002 Joaqu!n Cortes Live opens in Birmingham

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