During my dance career, the subject of my stage wardrobe comes up. It is an interesting history. “Who makes your costumes?” The answer is: Many different people.
In my early stages of study, I had help from friends and acquaintances including a cousin who had some sewing skills. It was she who made my very first costume for study and practice. A white muslin traditional fitted gown with cap sleeves which served as a starter of sorts to offset the Spanish traditional movements I was learning. About the same time I was gifted with a rather spectacular dress of fine taffeta from Janet Riesenfeld (Raquel Rojas) in orange and dark blue ruffles which was really a professional costume from her collection. She was very generous always. Sometime later she also gave me a black and white polka dot Bata de Cola which was really closer to a Colin or media cola. Not yet knowing how to use a Bata I had it altered to eliminate the tail so I could use it as a standard flamenco costume. When I went to Mexico in 1940, where Janet was living I bought two of her flamenco dresses which were very effective, and she gave me a beautiful skirt as a bonus which I used with a gypsy blouse for years. It was a lovely combination.
While in Mexico, I also had two very elaborate gowns made by Marco of Mexico.This man was a designer of Spanish wardrobe and owned a factory. Those same dresses remain in my collection greatly refurbished but still retaining the original style. The astonishing fact is the small cost of these dresses. Today they would cost hundreds of dollars.
In the beginnings of my work I was given fabric to use by friends and fellow artists. One of the first seamstresses was the mother of one of the young girls at Michael Brigante’s studio. She fashioned a beautiful dress which was not really Spanish but was used for a dance made by Brigante with music written by my father called Moorish Serenade. The dance began in a chair and finished that way,
Along the way, I met a dancer of Mexican background who was very skilled with a sewing machine and he designed and executed many beautiful costumes for me over a period of several years. I still have photos of these creations and I always was praised for my theater wardrobe. The only instances in which I did not use my own costuming were in Here Come the Girls, the film which starred Bob Hope; in a production of Carmen in Kansas City, and in the production of California Fiesta in San Diego back in 1956.
When I went to Spain in 1953, I arranged to have a Bata de Cola made by a well-known modista, Encarna of Madrid. It was a white muslin traditional tail frock which I used for years. I had had one other bata made by the aforementioned lady back in my dancing school days. However, I never really used it but still have a beautiful photo of this dress. When I studied with Estampio in Madrid I learned the basic movements for using the cola but it was fairly simple in that era compared to the elaborate work that is common today.
At that time I also bought a traje corte, (male costume) a very special suit which I still have today. It was important to use in the Zapateado. It has been altered many times as my figure changed from year to year. Strangely, I tended to slim down as the years passed.
I also acquired while in Spain a number of accessories important for the Spanish dancer, hats, (a calañez) combs and other things such as a madronera, a sort of netting with chenille balls very common in the past.
Along the years I employed a Spanish-speaking lady, in Los Angeles who made copies of my costumes and repaired older ones. Subsequently, I also was able to hire the services of the wife of a flamenco singer in Paris where I appeared at the Catalan. She was adept enough to make several items for me needed for the Themes from Goya which I performed in Paris. In England I succeeded in finding two other seamstresses who fashioned accessories needed for the many varieties of costumes I used in the regional dances. In New York a traditional dress for the Aragonese Jota was made by the wife of a Spanish dance teacher and the special dress and accessories I needed for the Muiñiera done with Bagpipes and drums were made for me in Paris.
In New York when I made my concert debut at the famous 92nd Y, I needed a special kind of wardrobe to use in a dance for the music of Zapateado by Joaquin Turina and although I rented something appropriate, I soon was approached by a Spanish dancer with the name of Montenegro who offered to sell me a beautiful “vaquera” a sort of theatrical version of a women’s riding habit. I bought this from her for the sum of $65. And I still have it today. After some refurbishing it looks like new on stage and is very effective for certain dances.
In 1985 I remained in touch with a Madrileña, Maruja Martin Mayor, who was willing to help me acquire a new wardrobe of two bata de colas and a”campero”, a sort of riding habit in male style along with boots and shoes and hats as accessories for an elaborate program. In the last 15 years I have been fortunate to be able to use this stage wardrobe. The cost was understandably much higher than in years past but worth the money since now with the Web they are displayed over and over in videos and photos globally.
In 2010, a dancer friend of mine, Dolores Amore also known as Dolores Monterray, became very ill and died. Her partner of many years had her extensive wardrobe and I bought one of her batas from him for a substantial price but worth a great deal for its unusual design.
The shoes I wear are now from Spain and an important item. Not to mention all the smaller accessories used by the flamenco dancer such as combs, flowers, earrings and other paraphernalia.
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