Her nickname was the “Pearl of Seville,” but she was known to audiences in Europe and America by the one-name moniker Carmencita.
This “Spanish Gypsy Dancer” first blew away audiences at the 1889 Exposition Universelle in Paris. A theatrical agent arranged for her to come to New York, making her debut at Niblo’s Garden on Prince Street later that year.
The New York Times wasn’t impressed with the musical Carmencita had been cast in. But they called out the “novelty and witchery” of her dance moves.
She developed a following, and by 1890 was appearing at Koster and Bial Music Hall on Sixth Avenue and 23rd Street.
Koster and Bial’s, in the middle of the lowlife Tenderloin district, was a leading vaudeville house that often showcased the kind of bawdy performers New Yorkers loved.
Carmencita was a sensation. “Some of her admirers feel that their enjoyment of her piquant dancing is increased by the sense that they are doing something naughty by going to a concert-hall,” stated The Illustrated American in 1890.
“This is true particularly of the female sex and of church-members.”
He painted a portrait of her (above) and titled in “La Carmencita.” William Merritt Chase and John Beckwith painted her as well.
Carmencita made a name for herself in another art form: she is considered the first female star to be filmed by Thomas Edison.
A clip of her in motion survives, giving us a glimpse at the dance moves that thrilled her fans and gave her such a following in the 1890s city.
[Second image: Metropolitan Museum of Art; Third image; NYPL Digital Collection]