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Remembering Chita Rivera, 1933–2024: “I Wouldn’t Commerce Being a Dancer for Something”

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Chita Rivera didn’t make steps look simple—she made them look highly effective. Even essentially the most refined isolation concerned her whole physique; even her stillness buzzed with power. Her whole dedication to motion gave her whole command of the stage.

The epitome of a triple risk, Rivera was a veritable Broadway legend, profitable a number of Tony Awards, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and a Kennedy Heart Honor. However she all the time described herself as a dancer first. (Her 2005 Broadway present was even titled Chita Rivera: The Dancer’s Life.) As she informed Dance Journal in 2004: “I wouldn’t commerce being a dancer for something.”

After radiating honest pleasure onstage for many years and provoking generations of dancers, she died shortly after her 91st birthday, on January 30, 2024, in New York Metropolis.

Rivera was born in Washington, DC, on January 23, 1933, as Dolores Conchita Figueroa del Rivero. She started dancing when her widowed mom enrolled her on the esteemed Jones-Haywood Dance Faculty to rein in her “tomboy” power. Quickly, Rivera was coaching on the Faculty of American Ballet on a scholarship provided by George Balanchine himself. Though she ended up making her profession in musical theater, that ballet background gave her motion a classical magnificence that might nonetheless be seen a long time later within the delicate strains of her fingertips and the open carriage of her higher physique.

A sepia-toned magazine cover featuring a photo of Rivera costumed as Anita from "West Side Story," doing her signature layout, head back and skirts flying. The old "Dance Magazine" logo is printed in green at the upper center.
Rivera’s first cowl of Dance Journal, November 1957

Upon graduating from highschool in 1951, Rivera booked her first performing job in a nationwide tour of Irving Berlin’s Name Me Madam. Lower than a 12 months later, she made her Broadway debut as a principal dancer in Guys and Dolls. However the position that made her a star got here in 1957 when, at age 24, she drew upon her Puerto Rican heritage as Anita in West Facet Story. Dance Journal put her on the quilt for the primary time that November. Inside the problem, author Leo Lerman declared, “Here’s a performer of huge individuality with a dance method fairly uniquely her personal.”

Her profession took off, and held regular. In 1961, she acquired her first Tony Award nomination for her portrayal of Rosie in Bye Bye Birdie; in 1976, she obtained one other for originating the position of Velma Kelly in Chicago. Rivera was fast to acknowledge that she drastically benefited from working with iconic choreographers like Jerome Robbins, Bob Fosse, Michael Kidd, and Gower Champion. They created the steps; she made them sizzle.

When a automotive crash in 1986 crushed her left leg, docs informed her she would by no means dance once more. They clearly didn’t know Rivera. Inside a 12 months, she was performing in cabarets, wowing audiences together with her signature irrepressible power (even when the kicks have been a bit decrease). She even returned to Broadway in 1993, within the title position of Kiss of the Spider Girl—for which she received a Tony for Finest Actress in a Musical. In whole, she appeared in additional than 20 Broadway productions over the course of seven a long time, receiving 10 Tony Award nominations and profitable three.

In 2017, when the Astaire Awards—which honor dance in theater and movie—wanted to be rebranded, they have been swiftly renamed the Chita Rivera Awards for Dance and Choreography. Immediately, a Chita Rivera Award is among the highest honors for a musical theater dancer or choreographer. On the crimson carpet earlier than the primary ceremony below Rivera’s title, former Dance Journal editor in chief Wendy Perron requested Rivera for her recommendation for younger dancers. Rivera responded: “Hold caring. Hold dancing. Hold working laborious. However most of all, preserve loving, loving to bop.”

Rivera’s personal love stayed sturdy till the tip. When her memoir was launched final 12 months, Rivera informed “CBS Sunday Morning”: “If I come again, I need to come again a dancer. That will probably be my second life.”

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