Juan Carlos Copes

Real name: Copes, Juan Carlos
Dancer and coreographer
(31 May 1931 - )
Place of birth:
Buenos Aires Argentina
By
Javier Firpo

is feet, like wings, remind us of Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly, two kings of musical comedies. For Juan Carlos Copes, they were his paradigm, his masters, his models.

The dancer, eyebrows knit together, hair slicked back, glossy with hair cream, and wearing an impeccably ironed suit is sitting on the stage border, a symbol of his autobiographical musical, Copes tango Copes, where he makes a synthesis of his 50 year long career.

He appears together with his daughter Johanna, the "Copes Tango Danza" ballet group and tango singer Maria Graña. The musical shows the dancer's artistic development from his early start dancing at Atlanta football club, his participation in dancing contests in the Luna Park sports center, his trips through the American continent, his meetings with masters Piazzolla, Troilo or Pugliese, and even international celebrities such as Baryshnikov, Liza Minelli or his very much admired Gene Kelly, who in Copes's words: «he was my idol, the person who gave the key to what I had to do, the one who made the deepest impression on me». Suddenly, he becomes silent. He sits quietly, staring blankly ahead, probably flying back to the moment he met Kelly in Broadway back in 1985, after his presentation of Tango Argentino. An anecdote comes to his mind: «One evening, after the show, Gene's daughter approached and told me her father was not very well, but he wanted me to go to his place in Los Angeles the following day. I almost fainted. I felt thrilled, just like him in "Singing in the Rain"».

Copes has put up innumerable shows, but butterflies are still there in his stomach, before each performance. «They are ageless. The older you are, the deeper the fear to go wrong». He doesn't want to appear arrogant, which he certainly is not, and is deeply concerned about the fact that for the first time his name is the name of the show. «Even though I've already accepted it, it sounds like a trademark, as if it meant something beyond the words», explains the dancer.

Copes knows that in Argentina he is "the" tango dancer, but he vigorously rejects the nickname. «It's too old and conservative to say such a thing. It takes two to tango, and a lot of passion. The rest is mere technique and it comes alone».

Endowed with a profound energy, Copes looks like a man without age, but he does not deny his age. Quite the contrary: «I was born on May 31, 1931. It's in every dictionary», he comments with a smile.

A pro tango dancer, as he likes to introduce himself, he has been awarded many important prizes such as the Toronto and New York Awards, the Argentine ACE, for "Entre Borges y Piazzolla", and the American Choreography Award for the best choreography for a film called "Tango" (directed by Carlos Saura).

«Many people believe that legs and feet are most important when dancing. I don't think so. I believe it all starts above, in the mind, and it goes down to the heart. The feet are just the consequence», is the explanation that this 70 year old Porteño gives when he describes how to dance tango. And it surely is like that, for Copes's legs and feet have a very exclusive language capable of drawing silent shapes that reveal what words fail to do.

«It's the only dance that gives full vent to imagination and creativity to tell in only three minutes a story of love or hate. But it's a portion of time that makes you forget about all problems whatsoever, if there is a close body connection». This is what he feels when he dances the tango, which certainly has some other virtues. «I believe its virtues are many, but if I had to mention one, I'd say it is its capacity to adapt itself to any time».

Many years have gone by since the time a thin young man dazzled the girls in Mataderos and Villa Pueyrredón, two traditional Porteño quarters. At that time, in 1951, this young man who doubted between taking up tango or electronic engineering won