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A Documentary on Rita Moreno's Life Is in the Works—with Lin-Manuel Miranda as an Exec Producer

Rita Moreno. The Heart Truth/Wikimedia Commons

A documentary about famed performer Rita Moreno is in the works for PBS' American Masters series, and with Lin-Manuel Miranda on board as an executive producer, we're doubly excited. Slated for a 2020 release, Rita Moreno: The Girl Who Decided to Go for It will delve into the life of the Puerto Rican actress, singer and dancer.

At 87, she's showing no signs of slowing down—for starters, her Netflix show, "One Day at a Time," was renewed by Pop TV earlier this summer. Moreno's response? To retweet this post of her—doing what else but—dancing.


While Moreno is best known for her role as Anita in the 1961 film version of West Side Story, her career has spanned television, film and Broadway alike. In celebration of the upcoming doc, we're sharing seven reasons she inspires us—and we hope they 'll be expanded on in The Girl Who Decided to Go for It.

1. She launched her career when she was only 11.

Moreno was a go-getter right from the start. When she was 11, she worked as a voiceover artist for Spanish versions of American movies. Then, at 13, she debuted on Broadway in a play called Skydrift.

2. After Moreno won an Oscar for Anita, she continued to be faced with stereotypical casting as a Hispanic woman, but she persevered—and even called it out. 

Moreno was the first Hispanic woman to win an Academy Award. But even after she took home the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance in West Side Story, she faced difficulties in her career. In 2008, she reflected on the experience, telling the Miami Herald:

"What is interesting to me is having the vision so early and yet feeling so inferior to everybody else in the business for years and years because I believed I had to be subservient to anybody who wasn't Latino. Before West Side Story I was always offered the stereotypical Latina roles. The Conchitas and Lolitas in westerns. I was always barefoot. It was humiliating, embarrassing stuff. But I did it because there was nothing else. After West Side Story, it was pretty much the same thing. A lot of gang stories."

3. She's one of only two people to EGOT and complete the Triple Crown of Acting. 

Moreno, along with Helen Hayes, is one of only two people ever to rack up the awards necessary for both an EGOT—that is, Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony—and what's known as the Triple Crown of Acting (an Ocsar, Emmy and Tony each in competitive acting categories). That doesn't even include the other major awards she's snagged, such as the Peabody Career Achievement Award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom and a Kennedy Center Honor.

4. Her first Emmy was for an appearance on "The Muppet Show."

A guest spot during a Season 1 episode of "The Muppet Show" in 1976 proved that Moreno could hold her own with the likes of Kermit, Animal and the gang. In the above dance scene, she partners a life-sized puppet, though she's most definitely not letting him lead her. Her humorous appearance earned her an Emmy Award for Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program.

5. You may recognize her voice from a famous 1990s cartoon.

Moreno voiced the character of Carmen Sandiego in the TV series "Where on Earth Is Carmen Sandiego?" from 1994–99. And, earlier this year, she returned to the franchise, voicing Cookie Booker in Netflix's "Carmen Sandiego" reboot.

6. She can rock the same dress 56 years later.

The award for Best Outfit Repeater of All Time easily goes to Moreno. For the 2018 Oscars, she rewore her gown from the 1962 awards. Back then, she was accepting her Oscar for West Side Story. Who wore it better: 1962 or 2018 Rita? The jury is still out.

7. She's currently filming a role in Steven Spielberg's upcoming West Side Story remake.

While Moreno is passing on her iconic Anita role to the inimitable Ariana DeBose, Moreno won't be absent from 2020's remake. She quipped on Instagram that "an 87 year old 'Anita' just won't do." Instead, she's been cast as Valentina, a corner store owner (originally written as Doc) whose role has been expanded. We can't wait to see Moreno back on the silver screen.

Broadway

We knew that Ivo van Hove and Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker's production of West Side Story would challenge our preconceived notions about the show.

But a recent Vogue story gives us a taste of just how nontraditional the Broadway revival will be. Most notably, van Hove is cutting "I Feel Pretty" and the "Somewhere" ballet, condensing the show into one act to better reflect the urgency of the 48-hour plot. (The choice has been approved by the West Side Story estate, including Sondheim, who has "long been uncomfortable" with some of the "I Feel Pretty" lyrics.)

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Ailey II artistic director Troy Powell teaching an Ailey Workshop at NYCDA. Courtesy NYCDA

Back in 2011 when Joe Lanteri first approached Katie Langan, chair of Marymount Manhattan College's dance department, about getting involved with New York City Dance Alliance, she was skeptical about the convention/competition world.

"But I was pleasantly surprised by the enormity of talent that was there," she says. "His goal was to start scholarship opportunities, and I said okay, I'm in."

Today, it's fair to say that Lanteri has far surpassed his goal of creating scholarship opportunities. But NYCDA has done so much more, bridging the gap between the convention world and the professional world by forging a wealth of partnerships with dance institutions from Marymount to The Ailey School to Complexions Contemporary Ballet and many more. There's a reason these companies and schools—some of whom otherwise may not see themselves as aligned with the convention/competition world—keep deepening their relationships with NYCDA.

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Jayme Thornton

It's a much-repeated part of Francesca Hayward's origin story that she discovered ballet at age 3, when her grandparents bought a video of The Nutcracker to keep her occupied and she immediately started dancing around the room. What's less well-known is that there was another video lined up next to The Nutcracker that Hayward liked to dance along to: Cats. "I really just did the White Cat bit and fast-forwarded the rest," she remembers. "I'd make my friends who came around be the other cats."

Twenty-four years later, she's not only become a Royal Ballet principal, but has been cast as Victoria the White Cat in Tom Hooper's new movie adaptation of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, out in theaters on December 20. "I remember the director telling me I'd got the part: 'Just to let you know you're the lead in a Hollywood film,' he said." Hayward laughs. "This is crazy!"

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Left: Hurricane Harvey damage in Houston Ballet's Dance Lab; Courtesy Harlequin. Right: The Dance Lab pre-Harvey; Nic Lehoux, Courtesy Houston Ballet.

"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.

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