With performance season in full swing, Qué Rico is feeling the pressure to succeed.
The biggest competition of the semester is just over a month away, and UNC-Chapel Hill’s only Latin dance team has performances planned in the meantime. It's Hispanic Heritage Month, which brings with it a crazy performance schedule and a chance to share Hispanic cultures.
Thomas Thielen, co-director of Que Rico, said the team is a subgroup of the Carolina Hispanic Association, or CHispA. Both Que Rico and CHispA have the same goal of sharing Hispanic cultures and spreading awareness of issues affecting the Latinx community, Thielen said.
While Que Rico performs to Latin music and their dances have roots in Latinx cultures, the team is not restricted to people of Latinx heritage. Thielen said the club’s membership is diverse.
“Dancing should be very inclusive of everyone,” Thielen said. “It shouldn’t be set to people of the Latinx community.”
There are 21 members of Que Rico, he said. Though it is a competitive dance team, it's also become a family that bonds outside of the team’s thrice-weekly rehearsals.
“We do compete, but this is also an area to have fun,” he said. “The fun factor can never be taken out of it, because I feel like dancing without fun is not dancing at all.”
Que Rico has two upcoming performances within a week of each other. They're performing at Afro-Latino Night at North Carolina Central University on Oct. 7 and at Carnaval, CHispA’s Hispanic Heritage Month celebration on Oct. 15.
Every fall for the past few years, Que Rico has participated in the competition “So You Think You Can Dance: Latin Edition” at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. Domenica Paredes, the choreographer for Que Rico, said the team has won third and second place in the past two years, and it has a chance at winning first place at this year's competition, which will be held on Nov. 18.
Paredes is a sophomore, and she has been dancing with Que Rico for two years. She was born in Ecuador but has lived in Miami her whole life. She said she started dancing as a child, and she considers it the best way of expressing the cultures she grew up with.
Although Que Rico mostly performs salsa routines and some bachata, Paredes said other cultures are represented through their dance routines. This semester, Que Rico is incorporating two types of Cuban dance into its repertoire: “guaguancó,” a type of rumba and “rueda,” a salsa round dance.
“The Hispanic culture is so diverse, and there are so many different parts to it that it’s difficult to put everything in, but we try,” Paredes said.
Que Rico welcomes dancers of all levels and experiences, she said. Paredes tries to challenge all of her dancers and emphasizes technique in her routines.
“We focus on breaking it down, making it simple, practicing a ton so that even if you’re a new dancer or a dancer coming in with previous experience, you’ll still be able to get the moves down,” she said.
Marco Chumbimuni is a junior, and this is his first semester dancing for Que Rico. He said his Latinx heritage influenced his decision to join the team, as he wanted to be able to dance with his family.
He recently traveled to Peru to visit family, he said, and he saw hardship and poverty in the area where his mother is from. But where he saw desperate circumstances, his family saw opportunities to find joy in life’s simple moments.
“What’s amazing is that when we get together and we just start dancing, cumbia or huayño or whatever comes up, then in those moments of dancing you just forget about everything,” he said.
Que Rico has given him an opportunity to explore his heritage, Chumbimuni said. He thinks the club brings the Latinx community at UNC-CH closer together and helps dancers recognize different aspects of their cultural identities.
“Learning about how to dance, it gives me a connection to the music that I’ve listened to all my life,” he said. “It gives the genre a little bit more meaning, and with the genre, the culture; and with the culture, my identity.”
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