by Alessia Salimbene
Chita Rivera is often regarded as one of the best Broadway dancers of our time. With an awards ceremony named after her (The Chita Rivera Awards), she is celebrated as the ultimate Ensemblist.
When she was just 17, she made her chorus debut in Call Me Madam and everything started exploding from there as she began to wow audiences for years to come. While this ended her career as a professional ballerina, she moved on to star in shows we still hear about today. When West Side Story appeared on Broadway, Chita stepped out of the chorus, electrifying the audience with her performance of Anita.
Dance has always come first for Ms. Rivera and her outlook has never changed, “The spirit of dance is an amazing thing. When the body and the spirit meet, it's a good thing,” she says. At age 11, she started training to become ballerina and moved to receive a scholarship to the American School of Ballet from the incomparable George Balanchine. The amount of Broadway shows that that Chita was a part of, either starring or in the ensemble of, is more than you can count on your fingers. But no matter what, each show and each role always encompassed dancing. Even after she shattered her leg in a car accident, she showed a magic ability to recover and win a Tony soon after for Kiss of the Spider Woman.
In September of 2005, Chita Rivera: A Dancer’s Life opened and moved to Broadway in November. This show was created by Chita to detail her life as a dancer and all the things in which she had gone through in her career. With a book written by Terrence McNally, the show emphasized different parts of her life, on and off stage as well as the importance of dance throughout the entirety of her career.
Chita will forever be remembered as “the greatest musical dancer ever,” bringing recognition to dancers on stage everywhere and making sure that the ensemble is never forgotten. She says, “Many of the shows I danced in don't exist on film, but they do exist in the memories of those who were in the theater for that single moment in time. And nothing can replace that.” Those memories last every Ensemblist a lifetime. Recently, Chita she received an honorary Doctorate Degree from the University of Florida for her devotion to dance and theatre. The ultimate Ensemblist will continue to be honored by Ensemblists everywhere and honor those dancers who inspire her.