For three consecutive class periods on Wednesday morning, Lakeland College Spanish instructor Elizabeth Shumway's students convened on a makeshift dance floor – the school's basketball court.
Then they got their dance on. Paying homage to National Hispanic Heritage Month, which is from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, Shumway invited Milwaukee-based professional dancer and instructor Dennis Lopez to teach students in her beginning, intermediate and advanced Spanish classes. Lopez' hour-long sessions included popular dances such as Cha-Cha-Cha, Salsa and Bachata.
"Latin dance is an integral part of Hispanic culture," said Shumway. "Of course grammar and vocabulary are important, but this is a different form of communication and I wanted our students to experience this important piece of culture."
Lopez, who will perform with his band, Spanglish, during "Festive Fridays" on Friday night at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan, enthusiastically taught the dozens of Lakeland College Spanish students the basic footwork and movement of Latin dance. A native of Puerto Rico, Lopez smiled often as he explained how correct steps have the rhythm of a heartbeat. He said celebrating National Hispanic Heritage Month through dance is a great way for people to understand the culture.
"This type of dancing literally changes people's lives," Lopez said. "It's not only a hobby; it's a passion. It's a way to exercise and a great social outlet. It's something different to do than going to a nightclub and getting drunk. This brings people together. I have stood up in weddings for people who met through this type of dance."
Lakeland junior Catherine Benzie, from Iron Mountain, Mich., said she really enjoyed the lessons. So much so, in fact, that she plans to ask some friends if they'd like to learn more of this type of dancing together. "It was very different, and I've never really experienced anything like it before," Benzie said. "It was a lot of fun and I'd encourage anyone to try it."
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