The Latin American Dance (LAD) group is a student-led group that explores all genres of Latin American dance, such as Merengue, Bachata, Salsa and more. The group’s co-presidents, Kathy Bertrand Ortiz and Nataly Zarzuela, are current juniors and have been dancing with the group since their first year. Lesley Cando, a current first-year, has become highly involved in the group. When Zarzuela, Ortiz and Cando heard about LAD, they knew it would become integral to their Colgate experiences. Cando explains why LAD has been a key aspect of her initial year on campus.
“First semester, I went to the involvement fair and saw all the dance groups. LAD caught my eye because I grew up listening to Latin American music all my life and it was something I wanted to try out.” Cando said. “When I got there I really enjoyed the vibe and the atmosphere. It is just a place where I felt at home immediately. Now, when I feel homesick and go to the group and hear the songs, I feel like I am back with my family.”
Ortiz shares a similar sentiment that LAD connects her to her family and Latinx identity.
“Dancing was an art I inherited from my mom, dad, uncles, aunts and basically my whole family. It was done at every gathering and whenever and wherever music was heard. My favorite part about being in LAD is that I get to stay connected to my Latinx heritage through music and dance,” Ortiz said. “It is sometimes hard to find time to be yourself and honor your heritage in a predominantly white institution. Being in LAD has really allowed me to do that and to help others do the same through the collective collaboration of ideas and integration of new Latinx genres of music to allow all Latinx identities to feel represented.”
LAD is an outlet for students to express themselves in an accepting and fun environment. LAD includes two dance groups: A small and a large group. The large group is available to anyone who wants to join and dive into Latin American dance. The small group is more selective as it incorporates more challenging choreography and is a greater time commitment. Members of groups all have varying levels of dance experience prior to joining. Zarzuela explained that she had some dance experience from high school PE, while Ortiz explained previous experience dancing at quinceañeras, dance festival contests and other special occasions. Cando did not have any formal dance experience before joining LAD. The group draws students ranging from inexperienced to highly-skilled dancers.
This semester, the objective of the groups has been to incorporate genres of music from Latinx cultures they have not previously explored. Zarzuela explains the importance of this objective.
“One goal of the semester is bringing in new Latinx identities because there are so many different cultures within Latin America. This semester we wanted to bring in a new style to LAD so we are incorporating Brazilian dance into our performance. We wanted Brazilian identity to feel represented and celebrated. We are not Brazilian so we recognize that the choreography is our interpretation of Brazilian dance because there is a fine line between cultural appropriation and appreciation. We realize that it is important to change things up.”
LAD was one of the many dance groups that performed at Colgate’s Spring Dancefest event. Balancing daily rehearsals and preparing for finals has been challenging; however, Zarzuela, Ortiz and Cando were excited for the community to see the products of their hard work and watch the other groups perform.
“Seeing everyone in their outfits, excited and cheering for each other is something I look forward to every time we have Dancefest. Dancefest is more than a performance. I see it as a celebration of all the dance groups,” Zarzuela said.
In the future, LAD will continue to experiment with new styles and genres of dance. Because it is a student-led group, the members have the freedom to take their dances in any direction that speaks to them.
“I want LAD to be whatever the newer generations want or would like it to be. For me when I first started leading it, I wanted LAD to become a well-known dance group on campus and that we made sure to explore many of the wonderful genres of music that Latin America has to offer,” Ortiz said.
There’s no question that LAD has reached these heights under the leadership of Ortiz and Zarzuela.