By Lacie Blankenship
Performing choreography in front of an audience of strangers is a vulnerable way for people to connect with themselves, their community, and different cultures. Christal Hector (BS’19, MBA’23) and Julián-Ernesto Gonzalez (MBA’23) overcame the nerves of performing and connecting with their roots through Café con Leche, an annual spring dance showcase organized by the Vanderbilt Association of Latin American Students (ALAS).
Café con Leche features routines from groups of students performing Latin choreography, including salsa, bachata, merengue, and reggaeton. Participating students sign up to dance in advance and spend months preparing for the showcase.
“I was born in Mexico, and participating in Café con Leche was a great way for me to get back into my roots and engage with the community,” says Gonzalez. “When I was young, my parents used to take me to a park with live music, and it was so important to learn how to dance. As an immigrant, touching base with something like this was extremely motivating.”
Hector, a seasoned dancer, choreographed a bachata routine to be performed at the 2022 Café con Leche. She led 30 participating students in developing their bachata dance technique while juggling the course load of an MBA candidate and working as CEO for the startup TuneHatch, Inc., an online marketplace for live music.
“Dance is a way to connect without words,” says Hector. “It was so fulfilling to create our routine and watch our dancers reap the fruits of their hard work on show night!”
Gonzalez, an Army Veteran and Bass Military Scholar, also saw participating in Café con Leche as an opportunity to represent Veterans in a community event.
“I was happy to get up on stage, dance and perform for people, and show that Veterans too can take part in community events unique to different cultures, like this,” says Gonzalez.
Dance experience was not required to participate, and all Vanderbilt students (undergraduate and graduate) were welcome to join a dance group. The spring showcase was open to the community.
“Having students share with me how nervous they were about participating and in the end, being so happy they did it, makes me so proud,” says Hector. “This shows us that we can work through our fears, insecurities, and perceived limitations, and be stronger on the other side of it.”
Students interested in participating in the 2023 Café con Leche should stay tuned for ALAS announcements after Mod 2.
“Participating in events like Café con Leche helps me feel at home at Vanderbilt,” says Hector. “It’s so fulfilling to share something I am incredibly passionate about and see that passion blossom in others!”