A native New Mexican, María Benítez is one of the founders of the Institute for Spanish arts, she is best known for the dance company co-founded with her husband Cecilio: María Benítez Teatro Flamenco.
María was born in the town of Taos, located in northern New Mexico. Her mother, Geraldine Harvey and father Josue Diaz met at a small college in South Dakota, shortly after her father’s arrival there from Puerto Rico. Geraldine Harvey, a descendant of the Chippewa, Ojibwe, and Oneida Nations became an accomplished educator and was the first Native American to earn a Masters Degree in Education from the University of Wisconsin. When María was just a young girl, her parents separated and she was raised by her mother on various Indian reservations where her mother taught.
Geraldine encouraged María to study ballet when she was young, hoping that María would develop poise and grace. When her ballet teacher, the only dance instructor in the small town of Taos moved, her friend from ballet class, Cecilia Torres, went to California to study flamenco, with the famous Cansino family.
When Cecilia returned to Taos, María, now fifteen, took private lessons in flamenco with her. Feeling drawn to the dramatic and creative energy of the flamenco art form, María left home at the age of 18 to pursue further dance study in Spain. She studied with some of the best Spanish dance instructors of the time. At the Spanish school of dance, Amor de Dios, Maria studied classical arms, castanets, and placement of body movement under instructor Victoria Eugenia who was later appointed one of three directors of the Ballet Nacional de España.
María also trained with Pedro Azorín for jota dance, Mercedes and Albano for flamenco dance, and years later she studied with Ciro, Trini de España, and Mario Maya in Madrid. She joined the María Rosa Spanish Dance Company, one of the most prominent dance companies in Madrid, and began touring throughout Spain, Portugal, North Africa, and South America. María’s dance experience, exceptional style, and elegance led her to musical theater where she was a featured soloist with the Paquita Rico Company led by Spanish singer Paquita Rico. While in Spain, María also performed numerous times on Spanish television, and worked with some of Spain’s most highly respected choreographers including Alberto Lorca and Victoria Eugenia. During this time she met Cecilio Benítez who worked in the technical side of the performing arts. In 1966, the couple married and relocated to Taos, New Mexico where their son Francisco was born in 1967.
In 1969, the Benítez family left northern New Mexico to teach at the Verde Valley School in Sedona, Arizona for four years. In the early 1970s María and Cecilio established a nonprofit corporation, the Maria Benitez Spanish Dance Company, later changing the name to the Institute for Spanish Arts (ISA) to reflect a broader commitment.
Here is the look and the follow up to part 1 of Maria Benitez: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow!