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"the Queen of Ethnic Dance" ... La Meri

Stage Name

Birth Name

La Meri Russel Meriweather Hughes
"the Queen of Ethnic Dance" Russel M. (Dickie) Hughes
   US dancer, teacher, and writer. La Meri was one of the most versatile and dedicated of the American born Ethnological dancers. Was reported to have come from Texas, but it looks like Kentucky. She later moved to San Antonio, Texas at the age of twelve. Her initial dance training was in Spanish and Mexican dance from 1913 to 1920. She then studied Ballet at the Cecchetti school with Aaron Tomaroff, Ivan Tarasoff and Volinine from 1922 to 1925, and then modern with Michito Ito in New York in 1925. While in India she studied Bharata natyam from Papanasam Vadivelu and Kathak from Ram Dutt Tiwari.

   La Meri's first tour was in Rio Grande Valley, Texas in 1923 and by 1924 dancing in prologues to silent movies. By1925 she had built up an extensive lists of dates as a featured performer. With the outbreak of war, La Meri returned to New York and with Ruth St. Denis founded the 'School of Natya' in May of 1940-

1952 and in October of 1942, she founded the 'School of Ethnologic Dance Center,' and its performing ensemble of Exotic Ballet. Her first major work was ''Krishna Gopala,'' presented in 1940 with St. Denis and Hadassah as guest artists. She taught and performed with her dance company, the Five Natya's in the 1940's.

   La Meri created and recreated many Ethnic dances such as the Oriental dances, Chinese, Hindu, Burmese, Polynesian, Indian, Moroccan, Spanish, Guaba's Journey to Paradise, En Mai Hawaiinuikea, Hymns and Spirituals, El Amor Brujo etc. and Latin-American dances etc. Is said La Meri coined the term Ethnic dance. She used this vast knowledge of dance from around the world to create a unique dance experience for the audience. She would usually start of with the Spanish dances, do these for a bit, then switch to Interpretive dances, then move to the east with such as dances of the Japanese Geishas and the Court Dances of Javanese. Then onto the Mexican, Cuban, Peruvian and Argentine dances, etc. It was almost a lesson in dance history at the same time as well. Kinda similar in feel to Walt Disney's "Its a Small World Ride," taking you on a tour of exotic lands and places.

   Even tho La Meri's professional training was Spanish and Mexican (1913-1920,) she would become quite adept at learning many differnet dances. On her retirement in 1970, La Meri established Ethnic Dance Arts Inc. in Hyannis, Mass., where she presented an annual ethnic dance festival with awards. She taught widely and lectured on non-Western dance and wrote many books on dance. Her book ''Spanish Dancing,'' published in 1948, was considered by many to be the definitive text on Spanish dance. In 1972, La Meri received the Capezio Award.

   Lilan 'Lil' Hughes was La Meri's sister, she died of cancer in January of 1965. She is buried at Arlington Cemetery. La Meri died in a San Antonio, Texas Hospital in 1988, she was 89 years old.

Birth Place

Birth Date



Louisville, KY 5/13/1899 - 1/7/1988 Guido Carreras n/a

Dance Types


Her Dance Troupe

Ballet Keith Time (in Vaudeville) Edna Dieman
Chethatal- Al-Maharma? LA Argentinita Eleanor Oliver
Ethnic Maria Montero Lilan Hughes ( sister )
Flamenco Michito Ito Lillian Rollo
Gesture Dance Tarasoff Marilyn
Hindu Tomaroff Patricia Penn
Hula       Peter di Falco
Javanese Wajang Wong       Peter Girard
Moorish       Rebecca Harris
Natya       Renato Magni
Oriental       Richard Cressy
Spanish       Rudolf Yakovitch
            Sylvia ?

Night Clubs, Studios etc



Ethnologic Dance Center (NY) n/a 1940 - Krishna Gopala
Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival       1941 - El Amor Brujo
Natch School of Dance       1947 - Bach-Bharta
School of Natya       1947 - Devi Murti
        1947 - Scheherazade
          1949 - Night in Spain
        Swan Lake


Music Titles


n/a Go 'Way from My Window 1931 - Principles of the Dance ( La Meri)
            1935 - Dance as an Art Form
            6/1941 - Dance Magazine
            1942 - Gesture Language of the Hindu Dance ( La Meri)
            1942 - Spanish Dancing
            1949 - Dance Encyclopedia ( Chujoy)
            $1977 - Total Education in Ethnic Dance ( La Meri)
          1/21/1988 - N.Y. Times
          2005 - Life and Times of La Meri (Indira Gandhi)
            $ Dance Out The Answer ( La Meri)


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