During Hispanic Heritage Month, celebrated September 15 - October 15, we honor the contributions of Hispanic dancers to our shared dance heritage. Here are a few inspiring dancers, born in September and October, who spent their careers living in or touring in the United States. Their perseverance inspired others to dance.
La Argentina (born September 4, 1890)
Antonia Mercé y Luque, also known as La Argentina, initially studied ballet, but when she turned 14, she began studying Spanish dances and is credited with formalizing traditional folk techniques and regional dances. She was beloved by Kazuo Ohno (1906-2010), an early Butoh dancer, who dedicated a solo to her memory.
Rosie Perez (born September 6, 1964)
Actor Rosie Perez might be best known for her distinctive voice, but she was a dancer on Soul Train in the early 1980s before being discovered by director Spike Lee. Perez choreographed dance videos for Janet Jackson (1966-) and Diana Ross and she choreographed and danced in routines for The Fly Girls on the TV show In Living Color in the early 1990s.
Pilar Rioja (born September 13, 1932)
The daughter of Spanish immigrants, dancer Pilar Rioja grew up in Mexico and learned traditional Mexican and Spanish dances as a youth. She began presenting dance concerts in 1947 and in 1950 she moved to Mexico City to study professionally and continued visiting Spain to study flamenco in the 1960s. She met influential dance teacher Manolo Vargas in 1970 and in 1972, she danced in the opera Carmen accompanied by singer Placido Domingo, cementing her reputation as “The Queen of Flamenco”. Rioja toured internationally well into her seventies, getting better and better with age.
Amalia Hernández (born September 19, 1919)
Dancer and choreographer Amalia Hernández was instrumental in the presentation and preservation of Mexican folklóric dance. Early in her career, she studied ballet with Nellie Campobello (1900-1986) at the National School of Dance in Mexico City, but Hernández was captivated by the breadth and variety of traditional Mexican folk dances and indigenous dances inspired by Mesoamerican cultures. She founded Ballet Folklórico de México in 1952 and an invitation to perform on TV two years later brought her company national recognition and support from the Department of Tourism. The company has represented Mexican folk dance in North America and on international tours and they still perform weekly at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City.
Edward Villella (born October 1, 1936)
Ballet dancer Edward Villella (1936-) danced with the New York City Ballet from 1960-1979. During his dancing career he performed in several of Balanchine’s televised ballets including Harlequinade (1975) and The Nutcracker, and he also appeared with partner Patricia McBride (1942) on multiple episodes of The Ed Sullivan Show, making him a well-known personality to TV audiences in the 1960s. Villella founded and ran the Miami City Ballet from 1985-2012 and was both a Kennedy Center Honoree and a National Medal for the Arts recipient in 1997.
Follow along during September and October to enjoy more dancer birthdays at the Today in Dance project and tune in to the Today in Dance podcast to hear artist interviews and learn about exciting dance projects and initiatives.
Dawn Davis Loring co-authored Dance Appreciation (2021) and wrote the ancillary materials for Dance Cultures Around the World (2023). Loring teaches Dance Appreciation and World dance at Austin Community College in Texas.