Rediscovering La Presy, San Antonio's gift to flamenco
Published: January 9, 2013
Early dancing partner and eventual boyfriend Manolo Valente claims to have taught La Presy her first basic footwork (zapateado).
"I'm the one who didn't want to teach her, but she was very persistent and kept asking me," said Valente, who spent three years as a member of the company of legendary El Greco (José Greco, an influential Italian-American dancer and choreographer who died in 2000). Valente taught her some basic zapateado and asked her to practice for "two to four weeks." Two weeks later, La Presy called back.
"I went to see her and I was spellbound," said Valente. "Her feet were like machine guns, I couldn't believe it. She had learned everything. Those feet spoke to you. She had the unbelievable gift of a photographic memory."
But if Valente taught her the basics, it was Teresa Champion (El Curro's wife) who became La Presy's first full-time flamenco teacher. As was the case with every person interviewed for this story (both here and in Spain), Teresa Champion is still amazed by La Presy's capacity to absorb information.
"She was very good as a girl and incredibly talented as a dancer," Teresa Champion said. "It was as if she had a photo camera in her brain. We would teach her a step, and she'd never forget it."
Between the late '60s and early '70s, La Presy danced regularly in San Antonio at places like Six Flags, the Arneson Theater, and El Poco Loco on North Presa. In 1973, she joined the Ciro company in New Orleans' Chateau Flamenco (Ciro Diezhandino being a world-renowned U.S.-based Spanish dancer and choreographer). She began receiving offers to dance around the country; her career was on the rise. Then, tragedy struck.
On Easter Day in 1975, on the night she would replace dancer Morayma Muñoz at a show at New York's Chateau Madrid, the cab they were riding in was hit head-on and both Muñoz and La Presy flew out the back window. Muñoz died at the scene and La Presy was sent to Bellevue Hospital.
"[La Presy's] heart stopped at the emergency room a couple of times and she had to be revived," said sister Gladys Donovan. "She was told she could never dance or walk properly again," said Gladys.
But La Presy was tough and wouldn't take no for an answer. A year after the accident she was dancing again, and in 1979 she visited Granada, Spain. She fell in love with the place, returned briefly to the States, and then she was gone. Only this time, her look changed.
"After the accident, she started wearing pants [to hide the scars from the accident]," said Josie Champion. "She never wore dresses or skirts again. A very powerful feminine/masculine look."
"Nobody wanted her to go and live there by herself, but she was headstrong and that's what she wanted to do," said Debra Archuleta, her niece.
In the early '80s, La Presy in Granada was like a fish in the water. Right from the start, she was able to blend in — she had the chops, and she had the looks. Her family confirmed the fact that she had some Comanche Indian blood in her, but not nearly as much as she claimed.
> Email Enrique Lopetegui