The classic I Love Lucy might never have been made if not for a high-energy conga line decades before.
Desi Arnaz, according to his daughter Lucie, introduced the conga dance to the United States. You know the conga: It’s a line dance with a very simple, yet intoxicating kind of march to it. 1-2-3-kick. And 1-2-3-kick. Cubans danced the conga in the streets.
And here’s how the eventual star of I Love Lucy taught it to Americans:
Desi Arnaz came to the United States back in the early 1930s. That’s when his family fled Cuba and settled in south Florida. Famous bandleader Xavier Cugat discovered Arnaz, who entertained audiences by singing and playing his conga drum. Arnaz eventually moved to New York where he opened his own club.
Lucie Arnaz filled in the details in a 2011 interview.
“He actually introduced the conga dance to the United States out of desperation one night,” Lucie Arnaz said. “That really was his ticket. He became quite famous for that and playing the conga drum and doing the conga dance in this conga line. Then he went back to New York and named the club La Conga. And he was playing at La Conga in New York when he was (discovered).
The I Love Lucy Stars Met on the Set of Too Many Girls
As Lucie Arnaz tells it, the songwriting team of Rodgers and Hart saw her dad one night and cast him in the Broadway production of Too Many Girls. The play became a movie. Lucille Ball was the lead, playing an heiress who attends college in New Mexico. Arnaz is one of her bodyguards. And in the movie, he performs the conga dance.
In real life, Lucy and Desi fell in love on set. They eloped in November, 1940.
I Love Lucy came along 11 years later. Desi Arnaz played himself — a bandleader from Cuba married to Lucy. Art imitated life. Also in 1951, Lucy and Desi became the proud parents of their first child, daughter Lucie.
Long after I Love Lucy left the airwaves, Arnaz returned to the city that helped launch his career. He hosted Saturday Night Live in 1976. And he made the episode an instant classic. By then, Arnaz was 58. But he could’ve been a teenager, as he sang his best-known songs Cuban Pete and Babalu. And he ended the show by leading the entire cast in a conga line through the studio.
La Conga came to life again, if only for one night.