Pepita Soto

* 1830 (Seville) ???? (Unknown) Spain
Fields of activity: Flamenco and bolero dancing (Bolera School), performing art
Author: Kiko Mora


Josefa Soto Aranda, known in the world of performing arts as Pepita Soto, was born in Seville, today the capital of the Autonomous Region of Andalusia. From a wealthy family, Soto started private dance classes as a young girl, but the early death of her father led her to turn her talent as a dancer into a profitable profession. Despite opposition from her family, who disapproved of her entering a profession that was frowned upon in middle-class circles, she moved to Madrid and, afterwards, was a background dancer in the most important theatres of Paris and London, sharing the stage with the most renowned artists of the time: Maire Taglioni, Carlotta Grisi, Fanny Cerrito, Amalia Ferraris and Carolina Rosati.

Her breakthrough came when the actor and businessman James Henry Hackett hired her to perform in Niblo’s Garden in New York, in June 1852. There it was said that her dancing was “different to anything that has been seen in the theatres of this city…and of a higher level, although of a different nature, and more vivid and fascinating than the more artificial training in France and Italy”.

On her tour of the south between 1852 and 1853 she danced with one of the main North American masters of dance: George Washington Smith. Together, and with Lola Montes, they introduced “Bailable Español” (Spanish ballet), a large format show which combined recycled ballets with Spanish plots and composed of a number of pantomime style stage dances, using the same decoration and stereotypical characters.

Pepita Soto also took part as a dancer and pantomime actress in large operas; she performed ballroom dancing, arias and other popular songs. In California, after touring around Latin America, she was called “The world-renowned celebrity, the beautiful and fascinating Señorita P. Soto”. The critics, as well as highlighting her dramatic qualities, affirmed that “her movements are as elegant, and much more refined, than those of [Fanny] Ellssler, in addition to a perfect figure and a face full of expression and beauty”.

Trace of her is lost in New Orleans in 1859. It is possible that she travelled to Cuba again and settled somewhere in Latin America, but these are only speculations.


1845-1847: She is part of the corps de ballet of the Theatre of the Prince of Madrid (Teatro del Príncipe de Madrid).

1847-1851: She performs in the Varietès and Ópera theatres and in the Paris Royal Academy of Music (Academia Real de la Música de París) as well as in Her Majesty’s Theatre in London.

1852: With her sister and nephew she arrives in New York on June 2nd to perform in Niblo’s Garden two weeks later. She performs as part of a company called The Troupe of French and Spanish Dancers. While with this company, she introduces them to Spanish dances and boleros such as the jaleo de jerez, la manola, el zapateado, la cachucha and other dances linked to romantic ballet.

1852-1853: She tours the theatres of Philadelphia, Boston and Baltimore with this company, finishing in the famous and popular Bowery Theatre in New York.

1853-1854: After several shows in which she performed solo, she embarks on a long tour south, performing in the theatres of St. Louis, Louisville, Memphis, Mobile, New Orleans, Nashville, Charleston, Philadelphia and Washington DC.

1854-1855: After the tour she returns to New York to perform as the lead dancer in operatic shows in the Wallack’s, Broadway, Metropolitan and Academy of Music theatres.

1855-1857: She goes to Cuba to perform in the Villanueva Theatre and then embarks on a long tour through South America and Europe.

1858: She returns from South America to California State, where she performs, during the height of the gold rush, in San Francisco, Sacramento and Marysville.

1858-1859: Her period in the USA comes to an end with various performances in New York, Boston and Philadelphia.

Sources of information

  • Amberg G. Ballet in America. The Emergence of an American Art. New York: Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1949.

  • Bennahum N.D. Early Spanish Dancers on the New York Stage. N. Bennahum y K. M. Goldberg (ed.), 100 Hundred Years of Flamenco in New York. New York: New York Public Library, 2013.

  • Brown T.A. History of the American Stage. New York: Dick & Fitzgerald, 1870.

  • Clapp W.W. A Record of the Boston Stage. Boston and Cambridge: John Munroe and Company, 1853.

  • Hugues G. A History of the American Theatre. 1700-1950. New York: Samuel French, 1951.

  • Lumley B. Reminiscences of the Opera. London: Hurst & Blackett, 1864.

  • Ortiz Nuevo J.L. Tremendo asombro al peso. Vol. 2. Sevilla: Libros con Duende SL, 2012.

  • Steingress G. Y Carmen se fue a París. Un estudio sobre la construcción del género flamenco (1833-1865). Córdoba: Almuzara, 2006.