One of the more colorful characters of the 19th century was Lola Montez (c. 1818-1861), who claimed to be a Spanish dancer, although she was actually Irish. She was best known for her “Spider Dance”, a sort of tarantella which involved shaking rubber tarantulas out of her clothing in such a way as to provide generous views of her person. Among other exploits, she became the mistress of King Ludwig I of Bavaria, who made her a countess; she was the virtual ruler of the country until she was ousted during the revolution of 1848.
During a rare quiet period in her life, Lola lived in the Gold Rush country of California. She gave dancing lessons to a miner’s daughter, Lotta Crabtree (1847-1924), who later became one of the greatest stars of the American stage.
Lola maintained a picturesque idyll and played with children. It was small Lotta Crabtree with her red hair, merry black eyes, and irrepressible laugh, who claimed her special interest. … Lola taught her to dance; and though that imperious spirit would never have admitted it, Lotta had a far truer sense of rhythm than Lola herself ever had.