After graduating from High School at 17, having taken solid courses in preparation for possible entry to College, I spent a full semester at Los Angeles City College to finish out the school year. My curriculum consisted of a number of Drama courses such as the Analysis of Dramatic construction. ( I had always been interested in plays since I was a Shakespearean student at the age of ten!) However, over the summer of 1939, I decided to leave academic studies and try to enter the entertainment world.
A family friend listened to my desire to become a professional dancer and was moved to act on my behalf. She approached an acquaintance, Olga Rosenthal, the secretary to an impresario and a prominent figure in the concert world, L. E. Behymer.
Mrs. Rosenthal used her influence to persuade the proprietor of La Golondrina Restaurant on Olvera Street in downtown Los Angeles to audition me as a dancer at her establishment.
An appointment was arranged with the lady, Senora Consuelo de Bonzo to see my work.
My parents, my cousin and I arrived at La Golondrina at the noon hour. Madame de Bonzo was about to depart for a luncheon date and appeared hurried and unaware that an interview had been confirmed.
My mother asked if she would be willing to see one dance as we had come especially for this meeting.
With my mother’s accompaniment at the piano playing the opening bars of Gitanerias by Lecuona, I put on my dancing shoes, adjusted my castanets and began to dance. As I finished, Madame de Bonzo sat down and asked that I continue. Apparently I impressed her enough to wish to see more of my work. She first commented I was “too young” to work in her restaurant because I appeared less mature than my actual age. She suggested we return the following week to talk.
At our next meeting, she expressed her interest in me and hired me to dance there at a small weekly salary plus my dinner.
On October 7th, 1939, I opened at La Golondrina as a solo Spanish Dancer. At first, I danced in the wine cellar below before the dinner hour. There had been a rehearsal of selections from my dance repertoire with the small band of musicians headed by Chito Montoya whose instrument was the ‘Cello. There was a pianist, an accordion player, and other players on trumpet, violin, and drums sometimes interchanging instruments. My father quickly made orchestrations for the combination and conducted them in a rehearsal before opening night.
The wine cellar had only a small wedge of a stage against a wall, and the first dance I did was a Pasodoble. This served as warm-up for the show above in the Fiesta Room.
After initial appearances by other performers, I made my entrance with Manzanilla, a sort of flamenco mixture of rhythms and was greeted with much applause from the dinner guests. I continued with two more dances, the Gitanerias with castanets and fan and encored with a Garrotin. The applause swelled and shouts of Ole! Viva tu madre! filled the room.
When I returned to the dressing room, my Mother stood in the doorway. “You were a sensation” she said. She seemed stunned. My engagement at the Restaurant was to last six months.
Consuelo de Bonzo had decided to give me a Spanish name. She translated Anice to Agnes and the Spanish equivalent, Ines. Because of my youth and petite figure, the diminutive of Inesita became my stage name and remained to the present day.
However, this was not the end of the story.
Mrs. Rosenthal sensed the popular response of the public to my dancing and subsequently invited touring artists to the Restaurant to see my performance. On one occasion, the Ballet de Monte Carlo attended by several members of the troupe who came to have dinner and enjoy the show. Alicia Markova was the prima ballerina at the time and she complimented me. She told me I was “wonderful”!! What a thrill to have the approval of such a great dance artist!
Senora De Bonzo herself arranged a special evening for me and presented a “concert” devoted to my dances. A lovely announcement was printed and distributed to her clientele. My first solo recital!
There was more to come. Later in November of that year, the great Spanish Dancer, La Argentinita and her ensemble were invited to have dinner following their concert appearance in Long Beach. They were on an extensive tour of the USA presented by Sol Hurok and a stop in Los Angeles. The five members, Argentinita herself and her sister, Pilar Lopez, the pianist Rogelio Machado, Carlos Montoya, the flamenco guitarist, and Antonio Triana, the male dancer were given a table for the dinner. La Golondrina was almost empty at midnight. I was asked to dance, almost as a “command performance”. The orchestra stuck up the first strains of my opening number and I began with castanets. The first number was received with enthusiasm and I proceeded to the Gitanerias with the fan. The final measures of the music ended with a Bulerias rhythm and the artists began to play Palmas (hand clapping) in time to my movements. It was so unexpected to experience such a response to my work! All in all I danced five selections for the group. Madame de Bonzo brought me to their table to meet them and they were amazed to discover my lack of Spanish. No eres Espanola? No. Pero tus padres? No. (I had already embarked on a study of the Spanish language with a young Mexican lady) However, my innate shyness prevented me from speaking.
In the midst of this touching scene, the staff at La Golondrina was moved to tears and related how they felt about their little Inesita receiving such a tribute from these Spanish artists from Spain!!
Surprisingly, this illustrious troupe of artists returned the following week once more to see me dance! At their concert in Los Angeles which I attended, Argentinita and the other artists all autographed the souvenir programs with wonderful praise afterwards when I went backstage to greet them! A marvelous tribute.
A popular actor, opera singer and personality, Fortunio Bonanova, a native of Mallorca, Spain, also attended at La Golondrina that evening. ( Some time later I appeared with him in concert in Los Angeles and in San Diego.)
He once told my mother that she should not let me get married!! Such were the expectations of a future for me in those early days.