Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Cortez's Discoveries

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Cortez's Discoveries

Article excerpt

Hernando Cortez's charity group, Dancers Responding to AIDS, keeps vaulting for a good cause after nine years

Twelve years ago Hernando Cortez was helping a fellow dancer who was terminally ill with AIDS pack his clothes and return to his hometown. Cortez, then a star dancer with the Paul Taylor Dance Company, had to fight back not only tears of sadness but tears of rage. "He was forced to move from New York back to Peoria because there wasn't a support system set up," says Cortez. "He had no money. When you stop dancing you stop making your income. And it just got me so mad that he couldn't stay here."

While other arts groups had established resources for people with AIDS, "the dance community hadn't gotten it together," Cortez explains. "And we were really hard-hit." In 1991, out of his Chelsea living room, Cortez mobilized dancers to sell T-shirts commemorating dancers who had died. That same year he and over 100 other fund-raising dancers stole the thunder from sequined drag queens at the New York Lesbian and Gay Pride March as they leaped and kicked in a phalanx down Fifth Avenue.

"I remember those dancers coming down the street and knocking the crowd on their ass," says Rodger McFarlane, one of the godfathers of AIDS activism. McFarlane immediately asked Cortez to come under the umbrella of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, which he directed, and Dancers Responding to AIDS--best known for its annual summer fund-raiser on Fire Island--was born.

McFarlane explains why Cortez has been so successful at his mission: "All AIDS activism occurs because one person steps out of their prescribed role. Hernando saw his civic responsibility and definition of himself as greater than a dancer. He provided a real service to his artistic family." Besides, McFarlane adds with droll irony, "He's dumb, he's ugly, and completely devoid of charm."

Television and Broadway star Bebe Neuwirth, who has hosted several benefits for DRA, praises what Cortez has created: "Dancers express in a physical way," she says. "Dancers respond to music, dancers respond to space, dancers respond to their emotions, dancers respond to their environment. It's only natural that they would respond to AIDS through their art form and creativity. Because of Hernando's beauty, optimism, grace, and spirit, that response of the dancers continues to go in a direction that can be most constructive."

Cortez, who won a special Dance Magazine award in 1997 for instituting DRA, is now 35. …

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