21. 1. 2021

English version | Joaquín Cortes & Mónica Moreno: The Mirror of Love

by Sara Andrade


Is there anything that reflects our essence better than family? Now that Joaquín Cortés and Mónica Moreno's family is growing, with a new element about to arrive, we spoke to the couple about reflection. Reflection in the sense of reflecting on: love, education, legacy, inheritance and family sharing. Photography by Pablo Zamora. Styling by Alba Melendo.

"It is another life, completely. I thank God, because it is a unique experience. I was told about it by my friends, and I was always like 'oh, yes, a kid, how beautiful, that's fine', but when I saw myself with the new born baby in my arms, I askedmyself 'what is this?' And now that he's a year old, I am in love. My life has totally changed, but for the better. Now that I have a son, I want to do even more great things. And I want him to know who his daddy is. I already have a long career and I wish he could still see me on stage and realize who I am, or who I was." A little over a year go, Joaquín Cortés said these words to GQ Portugal, publication for which he was the cover star for the November 2019 issue. Now, he opens his heart and soul again, this time for Vogue Portugal, in a double dose in every way: beside his better half, Mónica Moreno, with whom he expects his second child.

A story that seems perfect in every way, though it had a lot of intricacies and twists, as a good romance novel should have. The renowned dancer, born Joaquín Pedraja Reyes, in Cordoba, Andalusia, in 1969, stars on a side of history. The gypsy heritage he brings with him in the bloodstream, the flamenco in his heart - as well as in his legs and his slim and flexible body that has become his trademark. At almost 52 years old, based between Lisbon and Madrid, he carries around four decades as a dancer: at 14 he entered the National Ballet of Spain, at 19 he was already flying solo. The 90s were essential to establish Cortés as an essential name for dancing and time has not waned either his dedication or recognition. Fame brought him the inevitable ups and downs inherent in a life under the spotlight, but the future seems to have made up for it with a psychologist as a soul mate: Mónica Moreno, with whom he has been for nine years, is the co-protagonist of this story that is proof that love happens, but that it also needs time and work. All mirrors have another side: this is the one belonging to Joaquín, Mónica, Romeo and his younger brother, due to arrive in February.

How did you meet?  And when did each realize it was serious?  The "ok, I'm in love" moment?

Joaquín: We met in a very trendy place in Madrid. Many years ago. Mónica was a 20-year-old girl, more or less. I was 36. And was constantly traveling at the time. She was going to the bathroom and I had just arrived and as soon as we exchanged glances, we were bewitched. It was like a movie, in which everything stops or happens slowly around us. Except for the both of us.

Mónica: I remember that, at that moment, I didn't recognize him (as Joaquín Cortés), but we were looking at each other as if we knew each other from somewhere. As if we had already lived something, in another life... I will never forget that look from him, which looked at me from afar as if asking “who are you? I know you…?". Who would have thought that this man who looked at me like that, surrounded by a series of people, years later would be the father of my children? What happened next was he asked for my phone number. And I didn't know if I should give it to him. I felt it was like an imposition. Despite the insistence of his friends, because they were the ones who came up to me on his behalf, because he was overprotected, I didn't want to give him anything. It turns out that later on, when I was coming home, it was I who went directly into the booth where he was. And I gave him the phone number on a napkin and said "next time, ask for it yourself" and I left. The next day, he was already calling me, but I was slow to answer because he called from a private number and I hate that! [laughs] And then we met a few times for dinner, to have a drink, he invited me to Cannes (I didn't want to go, his world scared me, scared me how it would change my life, because of all the attention from the press ... his world intimidated me, I admit...) and so we went out for a few weeks.

Joaquín: Yes! And suddenly she disappeared, I didn't hear from her for five years!

Mónica: Yes! [laughs] I disappeared because, as I said, your world caused me anxiety, I was 21, I think, I was studying at university, I was not prepared. I felt overwhelmed and disappeared. I stopped answering the phone. I left him hanging... And I started a five-year relationship. And in those five years, I think Joaquín had three official relationships. And many others unofficial. [laughs] So, I'm glad I disappeared. A few years later, his mother passed away. And I tried to contact him, but he no longer had the same number. So I went to his house to offer him condolences, but he was in a relationship and didn't want to complicate his life any more.

Joaquín: When my mother passed away, I lost all my dreams. The light in my eyes went out. And I got rid of my cell phone. Well, actually, I broke it and didn't want to hear from anyone for a long time. I isolated myself. I suffered a lot.

Mónica: I thought about him a lot. And sometimes I wondered why I didn't give him a chance ... But I had no way of finding him. God only knew when we would cross paths again. I heard about him, but I couldn't communicate with him ... until one day. Casualties of life, one of my best friends saw Joaquín around and approached him to say "I'm a friend of Monica, the redhead, call her one day, she'll be happy." And he replied: "But she never answers my calls!" [laughs] The next day, when my friend called to apologize for giving him my number, I almost strangled her.Years went by without knowing about Joaquín. I had a boyfriend… and I didn't want to complicate my life.

Joaquín: I called her again to meet up. We were supposed to get together several times. But then she didn't want to, because she had a boyfriend and didn't want to hurt the other person. And I just wanted to have coffee with her! [laughs] But she didn't trust me that much...

Mónica: It's that a coffee with him can mean a photo in a magazine and cause unnecessary damage to the person with whom I was. In fact, that is the downside of being Joaquín Cortés.The press doesn't give you much space for privacy. So we didn't meet.

Joaquín: And, over time, it had been more than five years since the last time we met. She had just break up. I was in Madrid to debut a new show, Cale. And I happened to be working with a personal trainer who was training near Moni's parents' home. And I didn't know it.

Mónica: Yes, it's true! And a friend of mine told me that she had seen him around the neighborhood. And, I don't even know why, I felt I had to call him. We met. And we saw each other after such a long time apart. When I saw him, it felt like he was different. I suppose that everything that he had lived had changed him... I thought he was more vulnerable, closer ... I don't know why, but I felt an immense amount of tenderness on his part. We hugged, went for a few beers, spent the whole night talking and telling everything we had been through over the years ... and [it remained] until today. Right away, the feeling was that it had cost us deeply to be away from each other. Each time we wanted more and more to see each other. We started living together without even thinking about it. The early days were not easy. He was a person surrounded by women. He couldn't change overnight. And it was complicated. What matters is that I came from a relationship of five years and was not at all inclined to rush into another. I think it relaxed him a lot… It was like an “open” relationship, like friends more than anything. Until, as we had said, we began to realize that we missed each other very much. Six months later, I realized that what I was feeling was more than I could imagine and I could no longer endure a relationship in these terms. We had an argument.

Joaquín: We took some time apart to think. I couldn't change my lifestyle. I wanted to, but it wasn't easy. It agonized me to have something serious with someone, like that. But we realized that we wanted to see each other. Be together. In the end, you put everything on a scale. And what I asked was if I wanted to lose Moni. And no, I didn't want to lose her.

Do you believe that you pick up each other's habits when you become a couple? As if they became your mirror, in some details?

Joaquín: [laughs] Yes, it is true that when you live together you get habits from each other. It is true that as a couple we reflect a lot on each other. Monica barely drank coffee and became addicted to it; also the Mediterranean breakfast we make was something we started to love together. I started to like being closer to nature, something she loves, animals. It made me be more sociable and thoughtful, as she is. She is also very impulsive, but I am more [calm]. She taught me, or I learned, to be more empathetic to others.And in many situations, I speak like her![laughs] Or she like me...

Mónica: I didn't like the city at all. But I got a taste for the strolls in Baixa. Traveling and admiring the structures of the buildings, the architecture, the interior design. In fact, he is the best ambassador for Lisbon I know. He speaks of the city with such love, admiration, of the energy it has. From its precious decadence with all the history behind it, its colors ... I also got addicted to the world of fashion and now I am worse than him. [laughs] Sometimes we even dress in a similar way by accident. [laughs] What can be more mirror than that?!

Joaquín: What do I do now for my better half who didn't? [laughs] Everything! It changes your life a lot. It is best to find a balance that, in reality, did not cost us much because we like to have the same lifestyle. Although she is more nocturnal and I am daytime. On travel we have already decided that, if they are at dawn, I am in charge of everything. And if it’s to travel at night, she’s in control. [laughs]

Romeo, your first child, is almost two years old. Does having a child strengthen or puts a strain in a relationship? Or both?

Mónica: Having a child is the hardest test there is. Both as a human being and as a couple. It is something for which we are not prepared, we only get information on it. Nobody tells you how hard it is. Especially for women, what they feel, what they go through, what frustrates them... It is true that as the months and the years go by (two have passed) everything will fall into place. But the most serious discussions we've had in our relationship were because of Romeo. I think, above all, at the beginning, because you don't understand many things, the baby cries, you get nervous.You are tired, you get irritated by everything.You're irascible. On top of that, I decided to breastfeed exclusively, and this is very hard. I continued to breastfeed Romeo until a few months ago.The truth is that having a child changes the relationship completely until, little by little, you find a balance.

Joaquín: The hard thing for a man when he has a child is that suddenly it is as if he doesn't notice anything. He doesn't understand anything. I always said "men here are useless." How is it possible that she always knew what the baby needed and I didn't? It's as if women can read their children's thoughts, it's incredible. Then, it's difficult because your wife suddenly focuses so much on the baby (as is natural) that you feel like you don't exist. It is as if she were suddenly a stranger.You often want to help her and end up ruining everything.

Mónica: [laughs] It's just that the hormones, the tiredness, the responsibility that we feel makes us change a lot, it's true. But Joaquín is an incredible father. He changed his diapers from day one. He loves his son and Romeo loves him. I love to witness their love for each other. That, and the way he makes us laugh every day, makes up for everything else.

Are children a reflection of their parents or do they have their own personality? Or is it a bit of both?

Joaquín: Each child is born with their own personality. It is obvious that they come with their own character, even though the parents try to mold it. There is a lot of imitation. And now that Romeo is two years old, you have to be careful, because there is an overwhelming side to absorb everything we do and say to repeat it later.

Mónica: But there is a side, which must be genetic, that's scary. Because in some ways he looks like a reflection of me. He likes to sleep, it's very hard for him to wake up in the morning, he moves a lot in his sleep... If he wakes up suddenly, he gets in a very bad mood... And then, on the other hand, there is another part that is uncanny, which ishe is his father's absolute mirror.With the organization, cleaning. If he sees something on the floor, he says “litter” so you can pick it up and throw it away. If he sees a drop of water, he says "water, mommy", so I wipe it with a cloth. If he sees a hole in a sock, he'll tell you ... [laughs]! He's just as delicate about it as his father. You give him the toys and what he likes most is to tidy them up and then put them away. And apparently his father was the same, when he was little. And nobody taught him. At the nursery, he arranges everything with the teacher. I'm super disorganized. But Joaquín is not, and Romeo is the same. The truth is that they are identical. You laugh a lot when you see them together because you look at them and see each other's reflection.

You are waiting for your second child. Do you believe it will be easier or more difficult? Do you think you will match what you did with Romeo or change some things?

Joaquín: Hopefully, with the second child everything will be a reflection of the things we did well with Romeo. And change the ones we're not comfortable with. We have faith that it will be easier. Although we have been told that it is more strenuous.

Mónica: What I believe most is that we learn. And I think what we'll do better is what we talked about before, that we won't stress so much (even if it's difficult), but I believe that having some experience, the fears will not be felt intensely. Neither insecurities, nor will we isolate or upset each other so much when the baby cries. I hope. In fact, Romeo is in the tantrum phase. And we handle it well. Even though it’s very chaotic at times.

Is it difficult to find a balance between education and love for a child?

Joaquín: Yes, it's difficult, because I love Romeo a lot and sometimes I don't have that much patience and I get annoyed with him. And then I feel bad...

Mónica: For us, love is the most absolute basic foundation that exists.We want him to feel loved until he is fed up with kisses (he is also super affectionate) and to feel protected and at peace with us, safe. Sometimes, it's difficult because they also try you. I try not to scold him for every little thing, I try to change the subject, the game. You have to have a lot of imagination. I try to educate him in a positive way, without shouting or punishment. But if you do something that I consider to be truly serious, like wanting to go on the road when cars are passing by or, as before, wanting to drink a bottle of soap to make bubbles… Then I shout “Romeo, no” and as I rarely scold him, he immediately realizes he's doing something really bad. And stops doing it. I hope it's always that easy. Although I don't believe it very much. We'll see when the new baby is born.

What is on the other side of the mirror, what do people not see about Joaquín and Mónica?

Joaquín: Well, a normal family in many ways, because we have the same concerns for our children, the same fears, the same struggles... And, on the other hand, maybe a not so normal family, since we are nomadic, we travel around the world, we are the union of two races: the gypsy and the non-gypsy. Our children are mixed race. But therein lies the beauty of life. There is no distinction of race, sex or religion between people. Plus, two very crazy parents who do a lot of silly things with and for their son just to get a smile from him.

Joaquín, you have the Joaquín Cortés Gitana Foundation, in which you tries to change the way the gypsy community sees itself in society, especially with regard to children, ensuring that they receive an adequate education, raising awareness, and even changing mentalities within the community itself. Do you feel any restrictions because of the community and being part of it?

Joaquín: It is very unfair. But yes, it is true that there are many restrictions for being Gypsy. Although, fortunately, less and less. Since my people are fighting to break barriers in society and there are already many who are doctors, lawyers, etc ... What I would most like to change is precisely this. I would love to convince all gypsies that they should put their children in school. That is still frowned upon in some groups. Who knows, maybe because of the fear of losing their own idiosyncrasy or their own identity. But I don't think this is possible because your culture is engraved on your skin. They will not lose it. But they will help their children and the entire community a lot to pave the way. The basis of a country, of a community, is education and culture and without them there are no tools to face the world. What do I reflect on my culture? All of it. When I travel the world, I always say that I am the “universal gypsy”. There are many famous people who are and, out of shame, out of fear of what they might think of them, do not assume it, but to me, it makes me proud. It is an incredible ethnicity, full of mystique, music and magic with a huge connection to the family and the community. And with its own dialect. What more can you ask? [laughs] I love being a gypsy.

When Joaquín and Mónica look at themselves in the mirror, what do they see, metaphorically speaking?

Joaquín: I try not to look at myself too much because I'm ugly! [laughs] No, really, it's what you say, you see your doubts, insecurities, you get excited. If I have a show, I say motivating words to myself. I paint my eyes black as I speak to me as if on a battlefield. [laughs] The mirror says a lot to you just by [looking at] yourself in the eye. You can know how you feel.

Mónica: Yes, as Joaquín says, the face or the eyes are the mirror of the soul. It doesn't fail. If one day you are sad and you see yourself in the mirror, you see sadness reflected, just as you see euphoria. And, like Joaquín, I think that, even though it seems strange, it is good to look in the mirror and talk to you. To smile, to care for you, we cannot imagine the power of our words, spoken or thought, in our emotions. Much of the stress, fear or insecurity we experience is our words fault. And all these emotions are reflected in the mirror. If we can sometimes change something as simple as the face, we can influence what we feel at that moment. The most important thing is to look at yourself in the mirror with affection and care. And not always upset, critical with us or in a hurry. 

When your children grow up and look in the mirror, what do you expect them to see? What principles from Joaquín and Mónica would you like them to reflect on their parents when they grow up?

Joaquín: Love and respect for family, work. Let them know that in life it is necessary to fight for what you want ...

Mónica: To be humble. Let them learn to be happy with little, because in life you never know. And to be happy with the little things that in the end are the ones that most fill a person. May they be respected, but that they also respect others, especially themselves.

Joaquín, coinciding with your show in Madrid on December 23, Esencia, there is a kind of movement that started on Instagram - #VueltaaLaEsencia. Tell us a little about it and why you felt the need to create awareness around flamenco.Was it especially after this pandemic?

Joaquín: I have always been an ambassador for flamenco and I have struggled to bring my art and culture to the world. What happened now was something more profound. I spent the time of confinement in Lisbon. And compared to Madrid, it was much more bearable. In Spain, they had to be locked at home for weeks, months, without being able to see the sunlight. Something that seems horrible, especially to children. They let you walk the dogs, but not the kids, who need more natural light and the outdoors than anyone else. The people in Spain suffered a lot. Suddenly, during the confinement and afterwards (I was still in Lisbon), I started receiving phone calls from colleagues, who were in financial trouble, hearing of flamenco tablaos that had closed. Of the capacity limited to 25% in theaters... When I returned to Spain and saw the real pain that existed in my country, I was overcome by a huge sadness... You want to help and you don't know how. The government gave aid to different sectors, but only gave money to culture. And there are 700 thousand families that live from the shows in Spain. I “exploded” when I was precisely on a flight of a Spanish airline that had just returned from Lisbon. And we looked like ants. They say they clean the air every three seconds. But only in the flight, not when you arrive or when you land. They deceive us. I saw the supermarkets in Madrid full, with no safety distance. The subways, the buses... And I thought: why are there security measures for some and not for others? And that's when I started my claim. To show the world that you can go to the theater, so that you lose fear. That is safe. Furthermore, that we do comply with safety, distance and hygiene standards. On the other hand, as I said, [I wanted to] question the government about why some have to comply with the restriction measures and other sectors do not. But, above all, I wanted to return to the essence, to the human being, to what we are. The world is very touched. A lot of people suffered losses, there were many suicides (which are not talked about) and people need to be able to escape everything, to be able to fly, I think that art, music, dance, are one of the few things that can help us heal our soul, at this moment. And that is the only thing I want now. Being able to make people a little bit happier. I think we already deserve it. I'm throwing myself out there. I go without any safety net, neither economic nor institutional. But I saw myself in the obligation to fight to return culture to its place. Because so many people need it...

Translated from the original on Vogue Portugal's The Mirror issue, published january 2021.
Full credits and spread on the print issue.