Back and forth they moved: one, two, three, pause, five, six, seven, spin — and the music was loud.
Jorge Vargas, 17, and Jessica Aguilar, 16, co-captains of Sabor Latino, the Latin dance club at Gaithersburg High School demonstrated dance moves for the students trying out for the school’s competition team after school on Sept. 6.
Gaithersburg is one of 14 Montgomery County Public Schools that has a Latin dance club, according to Ricardo Loaiza, executive director of the After School Dance Fund, a nonprofit created in 2010 when the high school Latin Dance program grew so large that the annual competition moved to The Music Center at Strathmore in North Bethesda.
Until 2010 the dance competitions were held at different high schools, starting with Seneca Valley High School in Germantown in 2000.
The two founders of the dance clubs were Paula Pero, foreign language resource teacher at Albert Einstein High School in Kensington, and Vilma Najera, foreign language resource teacher at Clarksburg High School, according to Loaiza.
“Vilma and I don’t have a dance background. Our background is in motivating students. We know that kids who are involved stay in school so we organized the competition,” Pero said.
Pero said the Latin dance teams are a grassroots activity, it is not a stipend position for sponsors. What makes her really proud is to see kids graduate and come back and help with instruction.
“It gives the students an extracurricular activity, they get to be more socially responsible, they develop teamwork and skills they can take to the workplace,” Loaiza said.
Since many more girls than boys competed for spots on the team, tryouts were held in shifts, with the male dancers switching partners to give everyone a chance to dance as part of a couple.
Current members of the club walked around the small dance studio, watching the dancers, sometimes offering a suggestion, sometimes taking over the lead.
Jorge and Jessica danced with each couple.
“We are looking to see if they understand the rhythm and the basic steps to see who can dance to the beat of the music and how quickly they learn,” said team sponsor Aranda Brown. Brown, who teaches ESOL biology, horticulture and environmental science, said she is learning as much about the team as the new students because this is her first year as team sponsor. Brown said she has a classical dance background, having studied tap and ballet as a young girl, but is the club’s sponsor because she is interested in encouraging students’ dancing and because they needed someone to fill the position.
Being a quick learner is a must for new members of the troupe because the 13th annual Montgomery County Public Schools Latin Dance Competition will be held Nov. 5 at Strathmore.
“It’s fun and you get to meet a lot of new people, make new friends and you get to dance. That’s the fun part,” said Josseline Morroquin, 18, a senior and two-year member of the team. “We do the competition in November and do presentations for the school for international night and the talent show.”
Photography teacher Nilda Keres was the team’s sponsor for the last three years, but now serves as sponsor of the cheerleading squad.
“It is great because they are learning the dances of their culture and they have somewhere to go after school instead of going home and doing nothing,” Keres said.
Dancers can choose to compete in different categories, including individual, couples, alumni or a parent/child divisions for each style of dance. The Gaithersburg team only plans on entering the group competition in November, she said. In order to compete in the group category students have to incorporate compulsory steps from the salsa, merengue, bachata and cha cha, Brown said.
At the end of the afternoon, two new couples and one female alternate were selected, bringing the team up to 13 members.
“We will have another tryout at the end of the season,” Brown said. “It will be a recreational program and the kids can get experience for next year.”