by Oscar Nieto
Miss Montes (1918 – 2008) had a stellar career and was one of the United States’ best-known Spanish dancers. Her career spanned the greater part of the 20th Century. She was the first American Spanish dancer to work with the legendary Gypsy flamenco dancer Carmen Amaya. Her first husband and influential dance partner was the Spaniard Antonio Triana, who was considered one of the innovators of Spanish dance in the early part of the 20th century. With Mr. Triana she appeared in films such as “The Gay Señiorita”, “The Lady and the Monster” and “The Bridge Over San Luis Rey”. Her second marriage was to Spaniard Luis Eguizabal who escaped from the Spanish Civil War. They made their home in Los Angeles, and Mr. Eguizabal worked with the international sales group at the cosmetic company Max Factor until he retired.
Born in New York City, February 5th, 1918 as Gertrude Tashma, as a minor she enlisted her father’s assistance to change her name to Chita Tashma. She trained at the ballet school associated with the Metropolitan Opera and transitioned to Spanish dance lessons with Madam Viola, who also taught one of this country’s most famous Spanish dancers, Jose Greco. Her first performances were in nightclubs in New York City in the Greenwich Village. During her time with the Amaya family, she adopted the professional name Lola Montes. She started her own Spanish dance company in 1955. In 1974, the Lola Montes Foundation for Dances of Spain and The Americas was established, dedicating itself to preserving the cultural heritage of Hispanic dance and music. The company toured the Pacific Coast, then across this country and into Canada and Mexico. They were the first Spanish Dance Company to concertize in Hawaii, Alaska and the Northwest Territories of Canada.
Miss Montes was a member of the NEA, the California Arts Council, Cal State Long Beach Dance Advisory Board, Viva Los Artistas Awards, and a member of the Olympics Organizing committee for Hispanic Dance, including president of LADA (Los Angeles Area Dance Alliance – 1985) to name a few. Her company also toured Los Angeles and Orange County area schools under the Cultural Awareness Program for over 15 years.
Miss Montes received numerous professional and civic awards during her seven decades of active dancing and teaching; but perhaps the award of which she was most proud, was the Commendation from Los Angeles County in November, 1999: “In recognition of dedicated service to the affairs of the community and for the civic pride demonstrated by numerous contributions for the benefit of all the citizens of Los Angeles County.
s/ Michael Antonovich”
She mentored many young dancers from the Los Angeles area who have gone on to have their own careers in film and dance. Her influence is being felt to this day in many parts of the United States, Canada and Spain. Her company toured with the Columbia Artist Management Company for twenty-two years, bringing Spanish dances to the world. She leaves behind a great legacy of Spanish and flamenco dance. A documentary of her life and career is presently in production.
Development of Spanish dance in Southern California and Lola’s contribution
Like a beacon beckoning lost ships on a stormy sea, Lola Montes shines through the darkest part of ignorance. And looking for calmer shores, dancers came to her. Beautiful and bold her light signaled a new age in Spanish dance in Southern California. Her dances were born here, in America, filtered through an American mind and thrust upon American feet. Her dancers came from all over L.A., but some, especially from East L.A., the Barrio, looking for that light. Lola Montes gave it to them.
To learn their culture they did not have to travel to Spain, to Mexico, to South or Central America. It was all right there in Los Angeles with Lola. And the light shown brightly.
Before she became a legend, she toured with a legend, Carmen Amaya, the famous flamenco dancer. And touring, eventually led Lola to the city of orange groves and movie stars. Lola stayed. She wanted to start her own dance company. And whatever Lola wants Lola gets.
Starting small and growing was the key. So, with six dancers, a full heart, and raw talent, they set out to bring Spanish dance to a sleeping world. She woke us up. On the early tours, everyone in the company did something. Lola’s reasoning – I can hire someone to drive the car, run the lights, and stage-manage, or – I can put another dancer on the stage. The company opted for more dancers on the stage. So everyone shared in the duties. What a training ground!
For twenty-two years her company grew and toured with the Columbia Artist Management Company, bringing Spanish dances to the world. Through the work that Lola did she inspired other dancers to pursue their dreams of having their own Spanish dance companies.