During the formative period of professional work I met many dancers who helped me in various ways.
Even before I actually began to perform in public, these artists had a deep influence on me.
Apart from my contact with Janet Riesenfeld (Raquel Rojas), the initial meeting with Dolores Fernandez led to a long friendship until her death in 2009.
Along the way, other wonderful performers were mentors and contributed to my vision of the Spanish Dance.
Sometime around 1938, I visited Santa Barbara to see Raquel and Tarriba (whose association I have elaborated on previously). Several of these dancers were appearing at El Paseo, a famous restaurant in the heart of Santa Barbara and scene of many marvelous Spanish Days Fiesta celebrations.
On the bill, in addition to Raquel and Tarriba, was a lovely diminutive Spanish dance soloist known as Mariquita Flores and another dance team called Carla and Fernando.
In that era, the idea of a dance “team” consisting primarily of a female and male dancer was a popular conception to the general public. With the very early performances of the Castles and other couplings such as Veloz and Yolanda and of course the worldwide fame of Astaire and Rogers, the soloist was an anomaly.
Very likely, these impressions were rooted in a romantic ideal of sexual attraction and erotic desires, with less emphasis on the art of dancing itself.
It was rare therefore, to see a single performer in any form of dance, serious or popular catch the imagination of the public.
In my experience I was able to overcome this trend by whatever talent I possessed. This plus my youth, fresh physical appearance and obvious enjoyment made it possible to be a credit to any show I appeared in. There was much to learn, of course, and development came over years.
An incident however, in the beginning of my career, interrupted the solo work in a brief episode.
In 1941, I received a letter from Oscar Tarriba , dance partner to Janet. He told me that Janet (Raquel) was not feeling well and wished to give up dancing. Oscar implored me to dance with him and form a partnership. There were numerous letters and finally it was arranged that he come to Los Angeles and begin rehearsals for “our Act”. It was to prove productive in a way as I learned from him and some of the material served to enhance my repertoire. We looked good together and secretly I think that Oscar regarded me as more of a dancer than Raquel. Oscar was a strong dancer and had much knowledge. However, he too was a heavy drinker and marred to some extent the atmosphere under which we worked. I looked forward to this new phase in my development and it was exciting in some ways. We began work at La Golondrina restaurant while at the same time doubling at Grace Hayes Lodge. We also were able to get a booking in San Francisco at a popular Latin Club known as The Copacabana.
We performed there about a week when Tarriba received notice regarding a problem with his immigration papers and would have to return to Mexico. An article appeared in the San Francisco press about us and the difficulties involved. Finally after about three months of this partnership Oscar left for Mexico stopping along the way in Juarez to dance in a small establishment and earn enough to return to the Capital (Mexico City).
This interim was bizarre in retrospect as it proved I did not blend well as a team player even though almost every male dancer I met wanted to partner with me.
I had difficulty in adjusting to patterns that demanded team work. Something about my personality kept me from revealing the best of my talent.
The one exception was a concert appearance in San Diego for a club program featuring the well known Spanish opera singer Fortunio Bonanova with whom I had worked before on several occasions. During that engagement I seemed to blossom as a foil to Tarriba and it was praised in a review of the event in a favorable manner. In addition the Behymer Office reported that I was “an exciting new dancer” as they put it because of the male and female aspect which apparently appealed to the public more than a soloist. In one of our dances together, Oscar would pull my long air as I did a turn and the result was quite sensual. As a dance gesture it evidently conveyed a different feeling.
This experiment decided my future path. Grace Hayes herself disliked Tarriba. Grace cautioned me to “always stay a single, Inesita” as she regarded it a detriment to become half of a team rather than remaining a single artist.
I believe even today, the general public favors a romantic or sexual element in dancing. Notwithstanding the strongest impression of dance remains in a powerful figure male or female to present the highest quality of this art. Certainly in the Spanish idiom where pure flamenco is performed, the guitarist must follow the dancer’s lead. The flamenco performer is the conductor. An arrangement between two dancers cannot function in a traditional way. Therefore it is a set “routine” which is opposite to the solo form.
When the partnership dissolved I again resumed my single status and found myself again in various “gigs” in movies, more clubs, and vaudeville.
In the meantime, Dolores (whose name when I knew her at first was Doris) had gone off and joined Jose Fernandez in Mexico, became his partner and as far as I know, married him. Her career developed in different way as she readily fitted her personality into the partner role which I was unable or unwilling to do. I always enjoyed her company as I have preferred dancers as friends since a common thread of understanding existed among us.
When I decided to go to Spain, I found Dolores through the connection I had with Ken Later in New York and she directed me to El Estampio and the Pericets whose work gave me so much material.
Carla and Fernando were a very colorful couple and great performers in their own right. They had a marvelous act. Carla had a beautiful figure and her face although somewhat sharp due to a large aquiline nose had a special glamour. She was an American, but seemed to have a feeling for the Spanish style and used this to underline her strong personality. Fernando was the better dancer of the two and was able to create routines that set off the sexual magnetism between them. Like many of the people I knew during these years, they were hard drinkers and it was this addiction which was their downfall. They were big hearted. Carla was generous with help with my makeup and costuming. This occurred when I began to work professionally at La Golondrina on Olvera Street.
Some years later in New York I happened to run into Carla in a dance studio before leaving for Spain and she took me home with her as a guest overnight and made dinner for me. I suspect she sensed my loneliness and big-hearted as she was offered me solace in my solitary journey.
The other dancer acquaintance I mentioned was Mariquita Flores. Over some years I knew her in a casual way and always admired her spirit and dance style.
She was appearing in a Latin American night Club in downtown Los Angeles, some time in 1940 and was very popular. I received a call one day from some mutual friends that Mariquita had to go to New York for two weeks on a personal matter and wanted to have me sub for her at La Bamba. I consented and these acquaintances helped me prepare for the gig which included learning some Mexican dances to perform with two young Mexican male dancers. I quickly learned the material and the costume was altered for me to wear as I was a larger size than Mariquita. The show featured some of my own repertoire and I went over very well. The orchestra was an excellent band of Spanish speaking musicians led by a talented leader and pianist, Geri Galian. He incidentally was the husband of Dolores when she was still known as Doris. She subsequently left him to join Jose Fernandez and become part of the team Dolores and Jose Fernandez.
One of the dances which I performed was a creation of the brilliant dance artist, Carmelita Maracci with whom I had studied for some months. It had music by Turina and was an interpretation not really in Spanish style, but a piece that I made my own in a way that seemed to have dramatic effect. In later years I discovered it to be something quite different in structure than was projected by Maracci. At the time, it had an impact on the public. When Mariquita returned to claim her place at the Club the musicians told her that the dance should be hers. She approached me and my mother to have me teach this to her as it was “her dance” My mother refused as she believed that it would take something from me to allow Mariquita to perform it. In the ensuing years with more knowledge of Spanish forms. I realized that Maracci’s interpretation of the music was very personal to her own style and I doubt with hindsight Mariquita could have duplicated my presentation of it.
I saw Mariquita Flores again in San Francisco, and again our paths crossed in New York. I know she did admire me but rivalry exists in the dance world as well as in all the arts and we never were close. I did derive one item from her technique which served me well. A dance number with Spanish hack music which I learned somewhere featured a crawl on the knees across the floor during the middle of the dance and I used this to great effect. Once as I performed it in a concert the mostly Spanish speaking audience reacted with enormous applause when I employed this movement to a climactic finish. My mother heard the swell of enthusiasm of the public and marveled at this reaction.
In the present day, the performances of Spanish Dance known more popularly as “flamenco” as the standard appellation for all the dance art of Spain has undergone drastic changes in presentation and vision. The urgency and tensions of the rhythmic structure has evolved into a more dynamic experience through alterations of movement, musical elements and almost all delicacy has been abandoned to a startling technique which did not exist before. These advances are inevitable and we must move with the times. One should not live in the past but forge forward in any art form. To remember the past, and respect what came before is important. but to stay in one place is to atrophy.