Remembering Spanish Dancer Teresa Viera Romero Torkanowsky

March 5, 2021

Spanish dancer Teresa Viera Romero died peacefully in New Orleans, at the home of her son, musician David Torkanowsky, on Saturday, February 27. She was born in 1929 and became an early traveler to America when her father was a leading executive for La Prensa Hispanic newspaper in New York City. Because the family spent time in both Madrid and New York, Teresa studied Spanish dance from an early age. While in New York at the age of 16, Teresa mingled with the variety of Spanish talent in New York—the likes of La Argentinita, Pilar López, José Greco, Rosario & Antonio, and Carmen Amaya, as well as guitarists Sabicas, Jeronimo Villarino and Carlos Montoya.

When nightclub and movie dancers Rosario & Antonio were preparing for their debut concert at Carnegie Hall, a 16-year-old Teresa was contracted to dance in their company. “Most dancers want their careers to end with a concert at Carnegie Hall. I was fortunate my career started at Carnegie Hall,” she recalled. Mexican-born Spanish dancer Luisillo Pérez Dávila (1928–2007) was appearing with his dance partner in Michael Todd’s Mexican Hayride at the Winter Garden Theatre. The production choreographer was ballet dancer Paul Haakon. When Luisillo’s partner decided to marry, he called on friend Antonio to help him find a new one. Teresa Viera Romero fit the requirements, and at the completion of her Carnegie Hall concert she became half of Teresa and Luisillo.

Both left for Mexico City to dance at the El Patio Nightclub, and soon after were awarded a contract to dance in Brazil and Argentina. While in Argentina, they crossed paths with friend Carmen Amaya, and she in turn invited them to join her company. For the next two-plus years, the couple toured with Amaya within Europe, to great acclaim. By 1950, now married, Teresa and Luisillo formed their own company and one year later they made their debut at the Théâtre Sarah Bernhardt in Paris and the Theatre Royal in England. After this, they were awarded a contract to tour all of Latin America.

In 1954–55 and 1955–56, the Teresa and Luisillo Ballets Espagnol appeared at the Mark Hellinger Theatre in New York, followed with transcontinental tours of the U.S. After 15 years of international tours, and a daughter, Maria, the relationship ended.

Teresa eventually married the Ballets Espagnol company orchestra conductor Werner Torkanowsky (1926–1992), who became maestro of the New Orleans Philharmonic Orchestra. Teresa organized her own company and danced occasionally with the late American Spanish dancer Luis Olivares. “She was a beautiful dancer,” recalled Olivares. “She knew the complete school of Spanish dance.” Teresa resided in New Orleans, where she taught Spanish dance and raised her family. After divorcing Werner Torkanowsky, Teresa Torkanowsky became the founding dance professor at the University of Maine, heading their dance department for 13 years. —Michael Miguel Bernal, author of The Golden Age of the Spanish Dance