Spanish culture celebrated at festival in Youngstown

YOUNGSTOWN – Ella Dill envisions herself one day becoming a lawyer, but for now, a verdict has already been rendered: She’s guilty of loving to dance.

“I began taking classes at Ballet Western Reserve when I was a freshman and when some people found out that I did dance, they encouraged me to join the (Spanish) club,” the Ursuline High School junior said. “They needed dancers, so I decided to join.”

After making the move to become part of the club, Dill happily made many additional moves as one of the performers in the seventh annual Fiesta de las Americas music, dance and cultural celebration Saturday afternoon at the Catholic school.

“I wanted to take the students to enjoy a cultural show,” Paulina Montaldo, Spanish Club adviser, said. “I want to teach the diversity of Spanish culture and expose them to different cultures, and have them learn dances to create awareness of tolerance and social justice.”

The two-hour gathering in the cafeteria featured 19 performances in which the dance students shared the stage with members of three professional dance organizations: the Cleveland Tango School, Abrepaso Flamenco of Cleveland and Danza Azteca Guadalupano, which formed in late 2017 in Youngstown and has members mostly from the Salem and Canton areas.

For her part, Dill, who is considering attending Kent State University with a desire to interpret American Sign Language, made her presence felt stage side by her performance with three other students on a selection called “Bamboleo” (wobble), a Flamenco dance based on various folkloric music traditions.

In addition, she was part of a bigger assembly of students who entertained a large audience of parents and others with their rendition of “La Vida es un Carnaval” (life is a carnival), a Latin salsa dance, the likes of which were initially made popular in the 1960s in New York City. They incorporate Cuban dances that include the mambo, Pachanga and rumba with swing, tap and other American dance forms.

Also during the gathering, a number of countries were represented through a variety of dance and art forms, such as the Joropo, a genre that originates in Venezuela and means “party.” The genre is used typically for dancing and playing music in certain parts of that country and Columbia.

Others included Sanjuanitos, which are indigenous forms of music and folkloric dance associated with Ecuador’s Andean mountain region; the Bachata, an authentic dance from the Dominican Republic that’s a basic sequence in an eight-count movement within a square; the Chilean Cueca, a mixed genre with various aspects of Afro-oriented music such as Zamacueca; and the Merengue, a type of Dominican music and dance that also is the Dominican Republic’s national dance.

Dill voiced what she hopes Saturday’s celebratory gathering will mean for her peers and others long after the stage in the cafeteria goes quiet.

“I hope the students take away the cultural aspect of it, and how many cultures speak Spanish, and see that they’re involving themselves in more than just a language,” she said.

Part of the proceeds from Saturday’s Fiesta de las Americas will be used to fund three scholarships for students in Ursuline High’s advanced-placement IV Spanish class who are to take the AP exam next month, said Montaldo, who also teaches Spanish at Youngstown State University.

The scholarships also are in memory of Jane Edwards, a former Ursuline High Spanish teacher who died in 2018; the late Cor Kester, who, along with his wife, Joyce, brought their alpacas to the event; and Mauricio Montaldo, Paulina’s father, who died in February 2023.

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