With shaking hands and pounding hearts, the newly formed Blake’s Latin Elites awaited anxiously on the vast Stratmore stage for their results. “We went in there expecting nothing but third [place],” reveals co-captain, senior, Johana Medina. However, much to their surprise, on November 22nd, 2021, Blake’s Latin Elites (BLE) won second place at the Baila for Life (BFL) competition in the Junior Division. The group performed a two-minute dance routine, incorporating the styles of bachata, merengue, cumbia, and salsa, to a combination of songs.
To say that Blake Latin Elites’ journey to victory is an inspiring one would be an understatement. It may surprise some of our Bengals that BLE competed in their first ever competition with just weeks of practice! The group was formed after the Hispanic Leadership Club’s performance at the previous Hispanic Heritage Month celebration. Principal Bob Sinclair reached out to Medina as well as the BLE’s future sponsor, Spanish teacher, Madai Berrios, to personally ask them to create a Latin dance team at Blake. “Blake used to have a [Latin dance] team, but that no longer existed when I came here. I think it was pretty cool that me and Ms. Berrios were able to start this again,” professes Medina.
During their origination, BLE thought that they “weren’t going to go to November’s competition because [they] started [BLE] in October,” admits Medina. However, through the support of Sinclair, the group was able to enroll themselves into the BFL competition soon after their formation.
The road to competing was definitely not an easy one. BLE worked day in and day out to do their very best as the time to compete trickled down. “Before competitions, we’d meet right after school and we’d be here ‘till 5:30 practicing over and over,” says Medina. “We warmed up and went through the routine like a hundred times.” The group also struggled with recruiting enough members, funding, lack of a permanent practice space, as well as trying to find transportation for everyone.
Additionally, while the groups that BLE were competing with had experienced dancers as choreographers and several months of practice, “[BLE] had no experience, two weeks of practice, Dayri [fellow co-captain of BLE] and I as choreographers,” divulges Medina.
Medina, who had previously only done choreographies for quinceañeras (the celebration of a girl’s fifteenth birthday), constructed the routine used during the BFL competition; while Junior, Dayri Almonte, aided in teaching the routines to the rest of the group. Medina revealed that she and sponsor Berrios, were at practice every day, even on their days off, all to ensure BLE could perform to their fullest potential.
Despite complication after complication coming their way, BLE did not let that hinder their diligence and devotion to their vocation. In fact, it just inspired them to work even harder, which obviously, more than paid off in the end. Like, come on, a student-made choreography beating ones composed by professionals? If that’s not impressive, I don’t know what is.
The BFL competition will not be our last opportunity to see BLE in action. They are also planning to participate in a spring competition, which is “very different,” from BFL, says Medina. Not much more can be revealed about their spring competition, other than that they will be including cha-cha in their new routine. BLE are also planning to perform in an upcoming retreat held by the Minority Scholars Program, as well as in the “Cross Up Cancer” event happening soon. In preparation for those occasions, the group is working on improving their techniques and getting to know each other even better. “Practice does make perfect,” remarks Medina.
For those interested in joining BLE, there may be auditions for the spring competition, but if not, there definitely will be some next year during their interest meetings. Dancers of any level are welcome to join, but only if they are willing to perform. “Super great dancers, like, yeah, come join, it’ll be great for the team,” encourages Medina. “But, like, if you’re, like a beginner and you don’t know nothing about dancing, you can join, we can teach you … but that’s only if you want to get better to perform.” However, Medina does affirm that “as long as [you’re] committed and passionate, [you’re] gonna do great.”
Joining a group like BLE can be a large step out of many people’s comfort zones, but Medina concurs that “it’s not as scary as you think … it’s not intimidating,” and that BLE “will help Hispanics get out of their comfort zone and try something [new].”
Fellow BLE member, senior Natalie DeMarchi, also corroborates that notion, saying “[BLE] really opens you up to a lot of things that you probably would have never experienced before.” DeMarchi motivates “everyone who wants to try something new, who loves to dance, or who wants to be part of a team, [to] join this team.”
Not only does BLE give members new opportunities to grow as a person and dancer, both DeMarchi and Medina have revealed that they have both formulated strong friendships through joining BLE. “We are all one big family,” says DeMarchi. For members of the Blake Latino community who love to dance, BLE is a great way to improve your skills, as well as create solid friendships and long-lasting memories of your high school years. “You’re gonna look back at [joining BLE] and think, ‘Wow, I really did that, that was fun,’” says Medina.
BLE is truly an inspiration to not only the Latino community at Blake, but to Blake as a whole. “[BLE] started small and with nothing, and we ended up with second place in the county,” says DeMarchi. No matter what obstacles attempted to obstruct their journey, they have proved those with dedication and passion can overcome anything.