Cindera Che: Aging Gracefully Can Bring You a Lifetime of Success

Before this interview, I researched Cindera Che by watching a scene from one of her short films, The Disappointment Tour. In it, Cindera portrays a woman much older than herself; a grandmother who shares her wisdom with her granddaughter. Her character talks about what the future holds and for a painful, split second, the camera captures Cindera’s gaze as her character reflects on her past with poignant intimacy. In our industry, it takes confidence to use age as a leverage for work instead of complaining about aging - a way of aging gracefully. By acknowledging and making use of tools developed in her past and present, Cindera displays her unique talents and puts her best-foot-forward. “I’m confident in who I am and what I have to offer.” And, with a strong understanding of self, she is better equipped to serve the job, regardless if she performs a forty-seven or even eighty-seven-year-old woman, and experiences her “logical” and creative path towards artistic expression.

The professional community has high standards and expectations from talent, and because of her brand of core-based confidence and ability to embrace change, Cindera rarely fails to deliver exceptional work. Her list of credits, which spans forty years of cultivating an industry presence in performances with Michael Jackson in Smooth Criminal, Cher, Stevie Wonder, Vincent Paterson, Michael Peters, Kenny Ortega, Marguerite Derricks, as well as appearances in film and television productions such as LaLaLand, Lethal Weapon, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Dancing With the Stars, and more… so much more, proves the quality of her endeavors.

Cindera playing Madame in Michael Jackson's Smooth Criminal music video
Cindera playing Madame in Michael Jackson's 'Smooth Criminal' music video

Born in Taiwan, Cindera began her dance and performance training at six years-old with a celebrity teacher who produced her own television variety show. By twelve years-old, Cindera was performing in different segments to back-up the show’s guest performers. “My teacher was really plugged in to the television stations and community, so I remember dancing on stage for industrials [as well as] concerts.” At an early age, she approached the responsibility by learning a large vocabulary of commercial movement in addition to traditional Chinese folk dance of manipulating long sleeves and fans.

Cindera’s dance studies intensified when, during her freshman year, her family moved to Fountain Valley, Orange County. She studied under Mona Frances of Newport Beach, School of Dance. And finally, the family moved again, this time to Torrance.

Through a persistent willingness to invest in her dreams and accepting challenges to achieve these goals, Cindera took her initial steps into the professional dance world by a bus ride to Los Angeles for classes. “My first jazz class was with Carol Connors. It took me two hours to get there by bus. I didn’t know that jazz was a technique. I just thought jazz was commercial attitude, pizzazz, and that’s it. So, in Carol’s class, going across the floor [progressions] with pas de bourrée, kick-ball-change, back turning pas de bourrée, and stretching jazz lines - It opened my eyes!” For Cindera, the light bulb was switched on, the need for learning a discipline was ignited. “I remember Carol traveling, taking the floor, using space. That’s what I remember.”

All of us have the opportunity to accept aging or any other transition as either difficult work or simply logical reality.

Cindera’s first professional job was a different kind of eye-opener -- that commercial dance was all about business. Billy Goodson noticed Cindera in Carol’s class and asked her to audition for Fantasy Island. After three days in the creative process, while on-set, “We showed it to the director, he yelled out, [demanding the dancers be sexier.] So, I learned my lesson right away – commercial dance is not about doing art, you do what they need.”

Further confirmation that in Hollywood, business supersedes artistic intentions, Cindera noted that after performing a lyrical routine at the opening of a new club in Los Angeles, there was no applause. “In the green room I asked, ‘What’s up with that?’ and someone told me ‘You’re here to entertain people, so don’t worry about getting anything from them.”

The next phase of Cindera’s career involved teaching. She was known for her demanding jazz classes which required her dancers to be self-motivated and disciplined. “At the beginning of my teaching career in the 80’s, I was a tyrant, a drill sergeant.” Cindera’s smile prepares us for irony. “I’ve been making rounds apologizing…” she shares a glimpse of her professional focus, “…because now, I’m working for my students. They’re my choreographers, my agents.”

Cindera Che © M Palma Photography
Cindera Che © M Palma Photography

Throughout the 90’s, Cindera dabbled in acting but not until 2010 could she call herself a serious student of acting; a discipline as emotionally rigorous as any given dance form. At first, “I didn’t get it.” Eventually, time and experience contributed to the coming-of-age in her acting. “…and [through] all the spiritual work, I learned about empathy. I learned about nurturing. And of course, [through] having a child, I learned to be kinder and not judge so harshly, [but] to embrace the process… I got it because I had something to get, I had me. Before, I didn’t have me, I was grasping from outside [of myself].”

What strikes me most profoundly in working and auditioning alongside Cindera, is her use of self to book roles in an impressively unheard of, broad age-range category. One that spans forty-year-olds to ninety-year-olds. She’s aging well without really aging and uses age to her advantage! It’s not just her grey wig prop and the decades of preparation behind her, but also her willingness, “...to do what they need.”

“The first [acting job] I booked was to play an eighty-year-old Last Empress of China. For my ego, I’m playing an Empress and I’m the lead! So, that overshadowed the fact that I’m playing an old woman – really old – ancient! It was an interesting way to [move] into my acting career because after that, I’ve always played older ladies. I’m always the grandma.”

In our industry, it takes confidence to use age as a leverage for work instead of complaining about aging

Cindera emphatically embraces change and transitions as part of the on-going process for artistic endeavors as seen in her short film, ABC’s “Fresh Off the Boat”. She plays three sisters, ages eighty-seven to ninety-seven for a short film. “I asked to keep the wig. I really like[d] the look. I’ve embraced playing older and I’m confident in who I am and what I have to offer. I don’t care all my roles are grandmothers because I’m not doing it for vanity.” In our industry, aging gracefully is not an easy choice. But Cindera is an example of how accepting change can offer a more liberating experience and be used to her advantage. 

All of us have the opportunity to accept aging or any other transition as either difficult work or simply logical reality. “I like the word logical because earlier we talked about one foot in front of the other. Just walk the path. Make choices and move forward.” Cindera asked me if she was being too esoteric. I welcomed her thoughts; “As I grow older, there’s less noise. Make a choice, go, make another choice, go. Should I, could I, what if? No. [stop thinking] Just make a choice and go.”

Cindera Che © M Palma Photography
Cindera Che © M Palma Photography

“In the 80’s, I did all those [music] videos and fe[lt] really sexy. You go through make-up and hair and that’s part of the fun [of] being in the industry. But now, at this day and age, I’m just doing my work. I’m doing interesting work, and getting paid for it.” And by putting her best foot forward, Cindera demonstrates a mature understanding of self: “Vanity is not part of the equation anymore.”

But what about the dancers, even in their thirties, who feel thrown away by the industry? Cindera’s philosophy involves the impossibly simple task of knowing yourself to better serve the jobs ahead. “Choose your issues to worry about. Choose the age appropriate issue to worry about. In your twenties, worry about the latest fashion. When you’re fifty, you may want to concern yourself with a good warm up before the audition, keeping your body strong, keeping your energy up, and taking care of yourself. If you’re fifty, don’t pick up the twenty-year-old’s problem. It’s not your age appropriate problem anymore. Deal with the [issue] you can control and fix it.”

Just walk the path. Make choices and move forward

I trust that the tools we invest our lives in developing, will be used to demonstrate our truths. We only have ourselves as the instrument to work through the process of our creativity. Cindera connects with the understanding that, “Whatever I need to perform or express or give, because a performance is the giving of the gift that I was blessed with, to whatever I have to give for, is truth. So, I have to be responsible and sure that what I’m giving out; in a relationship, the community, family, acting or a dance job, [is my] truth. When I find the truth, I will be giving out a flashlight.”

Our industry is about business, but for Cindera Che, it’s also a creative process where diligence gives exposition to her truth. “Everything is based on my tools. I’m a hoarder for tools!” And with her keen sense, maturity, and self-acceptance, Cindera has endeavored a seamlessly interwoven and gratifying career in dancing, acting, and teaching.

About the author

Laura Fremont’s Dancing Ahead interviews dancers who have gone before, either leaping down a traditional path or twirling along a road less traveled. For more than thirty years, Laura’s dance work as a performer, choreographer, and educator has connected her to an industry of talented and passionate fellow professionals in film, television, and stage. These closely held associations offer rich insight to our newer generation of dancers, to help guide their success, give support, and offer confirmation for their dance journey.