Lopez, Encarnación (1898–1945)

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Lopez, Encarnación (1898–1945)

Argentinean dancer . Name variations: Encarnacion Lopez; known professionally as Argentinita. Born Encarnación Lopez on March 25, 1898, in Buenos Aires, Argentina; died on September 24, 1945, in New York City; daughter of Felix Lopez and Lominga Lopez; sister of Pilar Lopez (a dancer).

Regarded as one of the leading exponents of Spanish dance, Encarnación Lopez, professionally known as Argentinita, was one of the unique talents of her time. "Argentinita is no mere beater of heels and clicker of castanets," wrote dance critic John Martin in 1942, at the height of the dancer's popularity in America, "nor is she concerned with swinging a mean hip or tearing passion to tatters. She ranges easily over the wide area of a wonderfully spacious medium, dancing in the full sense of the word, making music with voice, heels, and castanets, acting with the flair of a true comedian."

Born in 1898 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, to Castilian parents, Lopez was raised in Madrid, Spain, where she studied dancing and acting from the age of seven. When she was a child, her schoolmates dubbed her Argentinita, "the little Argentinean," and she later adopted the nickname for the stage. She sometimes said that her

career began in a police station, where she and her brother once ended up after an impromptu dance recital in a local park, but by the time she was 15, Lopez was known throughout Spain as "Queen of the Dance." She was also a self-taught mime and singer, having spent some time with a popular Spanish acting company. At one point in her career, she had her own theatrical group which specialized in revivals of 19th-century plays.

After mastering Spanish dance, Lopez became interested in learning the Gypsy or "Flamenco" style of dance (from the province of Andalusia). To do so, she lived among Gypsies (Roma) until she had mastered the bulerias, alegrias, and tangos which comprise the Flamenco style. She also studied the sevellanas, or cuadro Flamenco—the individual variations of Flamenco that were performed in small cafes or in a cleared square of the town. Lopez once described Flamenco as utilizing all the elements of dance, "the feet, the head, the waist, static and dynamic rhythm." Although following well-defined rules, the dance is always open to individual interpretation. "The most difficult part of the bulerias and the alegrias is the desplante—a haughty gesture of defiance—and it is at the same time its principal attraction," she explained further. "The dancer gives warning of the coming desplante by tapping twice with her heel. Sometimes this tempo is only a zapateado—repeated stamp of the heel—or it may be shown by movements of the body. But the rhythm is always the same."

In 1927, Encarnación Lopez first introduced Flamenco to Madrid audiences, performed by her own troupe of gitanos. She subsequently toured in France, Mexico, Cuba, and Argentina, finally bringing the troupe to the United States in 1930, as part of the International Revue. Neither the dance, nor Lopez, who was often confused with the then-famous La Argentina (Antonia Mercé ), made much of an impression. According to The New York Times, the visit "resulted in unmerited disaster."

Returning to Spain, Lopez collaborated with poet-musician Federico Garcia Lorca to found the Madrid Ballet, for which she choreographed dances, utilizing original folk music that she and Lorca collected and recorded. The group had several successful years before the Civil War forced Lopez to leave Spain. She then embarked on a series of recitals, performing in Paris, Switzerland, Morocco, Algiers, and London, where she performed for Queen Mary of Teck and gave four concerts at the Aldwych Theater. In November 1938, she returned to the United States with a recital at the Majestic Theater in New York. On this occasion, she was greeted warmly by both audiences and critics. John Martin not only found her an extraordinary dancer, but a fine actress, particularly in her comic numbers. "With the economy of means which is characteristic of all she does, she is able by the slightest inflection, by the smallest flick of her hand or shrug of her shoulder, to establish a character or a mental attitude teeming with comment," he wrote. In a subsequent tour of the United States, Lopez won acclaim in every city she visited.

At the conclusion of the American tour, Lopez went to Paris, then on to Monte Carlo, where she collaborated with Léonide Massine and the Ballets Russes in the creation of Capriccio Espagnol, which had its American premiere in April 1940 at the Metropolitan Opera House. "It was an odd experience," wrote one critic, "to witness the lithe, spontaneous, improvisational quality of Argentinita's dancing surrounded by the academic virtuosity of the Russian group." Still, most of the reviews were favorable, and Argentinita's subsequent performances in the United States were extremely popular. Frequently appearing with her was her sister Pilar Lopez , who was première danseuse of the Madrid Ballet for four years, and was also noted for her comic sense.

Encarnación Lopez's last appearance in the United States was with the Ballet Theater in April 1945. She died on September 24 of that year, at age 47.


Chujoy, Anatole, and P.W. Manchester, eds. The Dance Encyclopedia. NY: Simon & Schuster, 1967.

Current Biography. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1942.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts