Consuela Moravkova (born Consuela Morávková), 1944
Consuela Moravkova was born in Chrudim in eastern Bohemia in 1944. Her father, Ferdinand, owned a goldsmith business while her mother, Růžena, was an administrator. Consuela had two sisters and one brother, all of whom had names inspired by her grandfather’s (Emanuel Morávek) international travels as a composer and conductor. Influenced by her parents, who taught ballroom dancing, and her grandfather, Consuela showed an artistic bent from an early age and says she was often ‘singing all over the house.’ When Consuela’s father’s business was nationalized and he was arrested, she was not allowed to continue her education and was sent to train in a factory for three years. While there Consuela was active in an amateur theatre organization, which she says was a ‘beautiful time.’ After her work in the factory, Consuela acted in the České Budějovice theatre for a few years and then moved to Prague where she applied to a performing arts academy that did not accept her because she lacked a high school diploma. With her performing experience and some music training, Consuela became a professional actress and worked in movies, television, radio and theatre.
In 1979, Consuela and her husband traveled to Britain with a state-sponsored program to learn English. Instead of returning to Czechoslovakia, they were sponsored by a cousin who lived in the United States and moved to New York City. Consuela says that she loved the ‘energy’ of the city, and she quickly found a job at a hospital cafeteria. She also began teaching yoga, a practice that she had first taken up as a teenager. Although Consuela had a role in an off-Broadway production of Oedipus, she decided not to pursue acting as a career, in part because of the language barrier. She did, however, do some acting and poetry readings with the local Czech community for a time. Today, Consuela is a yoga instructor with the New York Health and Racquet Club (where she has been teaching for over 30 years) and also works with private clients. She lives in Manhattan.
Consuela found musical inspiration from her artistic parents and grandfather
“When we were children growing up – I was maybe three, four or five – he [Consuela’s grandfather] always, before we went to sleep, played the cello, and so beautifully. I’ll never forget that. I never slept right away; I was listening because I loved music right from the beginning. My mother remembered me always singing all over the house. I was singing all songs and, because my parents were actually masters of ballroom dancing, they were teachers. Very known in the whole area where we lived. In all the villages and the towns around my parents were teaching hundreds of young people ballroom dancing. And that was my inspiration, because I listened to the music my parents listened to on the gramophone.”
While working in a factory, Consuela joined an amateur theatre
“My artistic development was wonderful and successful because I was in an amateur group of people who were interested in acting and singing and dancing, and there I was on the top because I could play, and that somehow took a little brush off the stress which I was living with normally. These people supported me. There were families who sort of adopted me for that time being and helped me psychologically through and even led me, because I was in the factory so I couldn’t develop in reading certain literature. The factory school was focused just on physical work, not so much on psychologically or intellectually developing. So these families helped me so much. There were two families which were like a miracle coming into my life; they were part of the group of the amateur theatre. We were really on the top. We won many rewards for amateur theatre, and that was such a beautiful time.”
Always conscious of health practices, Consuela says her first attempt at vegetarianism was unsuccessful
“I was actually as young as when I studied yoga, when I was 16, and then I changed and I had to eat meat because in Czechoslovakia there were not so many vegetables and fruit, in the wintertime especially. So we had only carrots; we had cabbage and nothing else practically. It was not around, so I ate a lot of grains and sprouts and so on, but then I had to eat meat because in the theatre, and especially if you live such a rich style of living – acting and theatre and TV – then you have to eat something, so I became again a meat eater. When I came to the United States, I had free everything, so everything was available and I started [taking advantage of] the freedom of choice. So I became vegetarian, vegan.”
In 1979, Consuela and her husband were sponsored by a cousin and moved to New York City
“The energy of the city is so high so it was actually pleasant, because I was mostly in Prague in my acting life, so I like big cities because there is a lot happening and the energy is very high. It’s so active; there’s no couch-potato stuff. People are not lazy here; at least, you see the energy’s really high. That was actually pleasant. But to go through the immigration was not so pleasant, because we came to New York City in an unusual way because of our sponsor, the cousin. So we got to the city and they checked us all the time. I thought that everyone will open their arms and hug us, just welcome us, but they checked us, by chance, if we are not maybe spies or some negative energy or whatever. So that was not so pleasant and, also, waiting for the papers and going to the immigration [office] was not a pleasant time. But otherwise we were really lucky.”
Consuela recalls landing her first job in the United States
“There was suddenly so many people on First Avenue, close to Sloan Kettering hospital, and we didn’t know what was going on so we asked people and they said ‘The Pope is in the city,’ so we were watching. We had never seen the Pope before, so we were watching: ‘Whoa, the Pope,’ and we spoke Czech. And suddenly somebody said ‘Oh, you speak Czech!’ She spoke Czech too, and it was this lady, Alice Brown, and she said ‘I work at the hospital here, Sloan Kettering.’ I said ‘We are looking for some jobs,’ and she helped us to get there. My husband, as a doctor, got a job in the computer center where they collect all the information about the patients, procedures and results and everything. So he learned very quickly on the computer how to do that, so he worked in that center. And me, I didn’t have qualifications for anything except the theatre, but I am handy so I took anything. And she helped us to get the first jobs there. So I worked in the restaurant in the hospital.”
Category: New York City, Oral History