Katherine Anderson del Rivero noticed her 11 year old daughter, Conchita, was a tomboy. To tone down her rambunctiousness, she enrolled her in the Jones-Hayward School of Ballet, a school run by an impressive pair of women, Doris Jones and Claire Haywood. When Conchita turned 15, a teacher from George Balanchine's School of American Ballet visited their studio. She was one of two students picked to audition in New York, and was accepted on scholarship based on her audition.
Two years later, Conchita accompanied a friend to auditions for a national tour of Call Me Madam, for support. Conchita ended up landing the role, thus beginning one of the most prolific and important careers in Broadway history.
Chita Rivera's career has been all about defying the odds. 1950's America, it was hard for most audiences to accept seeing a non-white leading lady in their shows, that is until they saw her dance.
And what started with a national tour has turned into a career consisting of 10 Tony nominations, at least one in each of the last six decades, two wins and a slew of prestigious honors such as the Kennedy Center Honors and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
But beyond the awards, Rivera's greatest contribution to the American theatre is blazing a trail for the thousands upon thousands of Hispanic performers who have followed in her footsteps. Sure, someone else could've broken through the color barriers, but they wouldn't have been inspired by Rivera who attacked every performance with an explosiveness rarely seen on Broadway before her.
With the announcement that The Visit, will be closing tomorrow night, it's been widely thought, reported, speculated without confirmation that this will be the last time Chita Rivera takes a bow on a Broadway stage. If that's the case, I hope the audience gives her a standing ovation and never sits down.
There is a certain tenacity with a Chita Rivera performance. She takes hold of you and doesn't let go until the final bow. Having seen her in four separate productions, each one is uniquely spellbinding.
And if we're talking about tenacity and guts, this is one of my favorite Chita Rivera stories"
"In 1986, she broke her leg in almost 20 places, in a car accident on the Upper West Side. She was starring in the Jerry Herman musical Jerry’s Girls at the time, and was replaced by no less than seven different dancers, one for each of the numbers—seven 20-somethings to fill in for one 53-year-old." - Vanity Fair
For stories like this and everything else,
Thank you Chita Rivera.