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Yolanda Móntes also known as ”Tongolele” or “La Tongolele” is an iconic burlesque dancer and actor of Mexican cinema. She was born in Spokane, Washington in 1932 on March 3rd. She is multiracial and is Mexican, Spanish (from her Father’s side), French and Tahitian (Mother’s side).
“Tongalele explained that her stage name recalled the Polynesian Island Tongo, but it’s rhythms evoked the sound of drums. Tongalele noted that because she became one of the greatest attractions in Havana’s well known tropicana, people from Miami and South America believed she is Cuban.” (from Queering Mestizaje: Transculturation And Performance by Alicia Arrizon pg. 108)
She was passionate about dance from a young age and became a professional dancer when she was only fifteen years old. In 1947, she made her debut as a dancer at the Tivoli Theater in Mexico.
Her work is seen as an iconic staple to the Golden Era of Mexican Cinema. She became well known in Cuba, South America, Mexico, Europe and the United States. She worked with well known actors such as Tin-Tan and Pedro Infante. She was a part of over 25 films including: Nocturne of Love (1947), El Rey Del Barrio (1949), King’s Neighborhood (1950) and Han Matado A Tongolele (1948) and many more. You can read an entire list of her work here.
Her work is best known from the 1940’s to 1980. She is to this day still performing on television and live at select clubs and events. Her style of dance was extremely energetic and her cultural background was infused in to it. Her dance was also developed by the women who she performed with and learned from along the way. One particular group being “Las Mulatas Del Fuego” a group of Afro-Cubanas who traveled Cuba and Mexico performing (pictured together in picture 5 of this photoset). Her performances inspired many “classical” burlesque numbers.
Below, two of her captivating and beautiful performances can be watched:
Clip from Rey Del Barrio (1949)
Continue to check back for this continuing series archiving in detail the history of pin ups & burlesque dancers of color! Women who are so often left out of the books, websites and other important documenting projects on pin up & burlesque history. As the series grows you can check out a list of them here.