The Dance

This school was recently privileged in seeing a vital part of the Hispanic culture – stomping.

The lights go out. Tension builds. Freshmen, sophomores, juniors, seniors are all screaming into the darkness. And then, light. On the court stand seven boys, all dressed in big belts, blue jeans, tejanas and sombreros, and of course, stomping boots. 

The gift of the Hispanic culture is one that this school is still slowly unwrapping. Recently, a group of boys shared their culture with the school in a pep rally through a dance form known as stomping. “When Fr. Friend told us about it, we were down to do it,” said senior Julian Gutierrez. “We knew that it would be really fun to put our Mexican culture out there.”

Fr. Patrick Friend, who came up with the idea for the dance, said that the boys showed no doubt in their ability to perform, even in front of a roaring crowd of 800. “If they had any hesitation, they did not let me know,” said Fr. Friend. “They took that challenge by the horns and honestly did it better than I could have imagined.”

As evidenced by the student body’s response, the dance was more than just a skit. “The dance was a platform for the culture to be seen and celebrated,” said Fr. Friend. “The place went freaking wild. Those guys weren’t being silly or trying to make guys laugh, they were sharing their culture, and people freaking loved it.”

To Guttierez, this dance showed sides of his culture that he thought many people did not know about. “Most people know about our culture through the food, not so much the dancing,” said Guttierez. “With a lot of Mexicans coming into the United States and becoming legal to make a future for themselves, I think it was really important to put this dance out there for the Mount St. Mary cheerleaders, the teachers, and the whole school. I think it really meant a lot to all of the Mexicans in the school.”

The Hispanic culture, though small, is a powerful part of this school. Emmanuel Guerrero, a senior who took part in the dance, saw how valuable this dance was. “It was a step up for the school to allow [a platform] for more students to show their culture and origins. I think it was something good for other students to see what Hispanic people like to do.”

For some, stomping is more than just a fun thing to do; it is a way to get through life. Sophomore Juan Ventura competes in stomping competitions and performs at parties with his stomping team. “For me, stomping is a way to relieve stress,” said Ventura. “You just stop thinking about a lot of things and just focus on that.”

Along with the dance, Guttierez taught the school about the Hispanic culture through a household tradition. On January 6, the day of the Epiphany, he brought several boxes of sweet bread to share with his classmates. “When I brought the Rosca, I wanted [the school] to taste our sweet bread. We call it pan.” The bread is cooked in an oval shape and has tiny plastic babies on the inside. According to tradition, those who find one of the babies in their slice have to make tamales for their family. 

The Hispanic population of Catholic High constitutes 10% of the total student populatio and is still growing. According to the 2019 Arkansas census, the highest percentage of babies born in this state last year were of Hispanic origin. 

Gutierrez understands that although it was not the intention, this dance may lead to the growing Hispanic community coming into the hallways of this school. “I think the dance will bring confidence to them and let them know that they are accepted in Catholic High,” said Guttierez. “Once you are a brother of this school, you’re going to be accepted and you’re going to have lifelong friends; it doesn’t matter what race you are.”

The deafening roar of the crowd still echoes throughout the school. Not an echo from sound, but one from memory. “I’ve been here working here for 34 years,” said Mr. Tom Handloser. “And I have almost never heard the gym that loud.”

With the excitement almost too much to handle, the dance neared its end. But, a dance that caused such an exhilaration could only be ended with a thrill that matched it as a whole. The boys danced in a wide semi-circle around half court, leaving space in the middle for the grand finale. Gutierrez stomped his way forward, cartwheeled, and did the splits to the final beat drop.  Gutierrez said, “You feel like you’re in your own world when you dance. Dancing is freeing, and it helps me to be myself.”

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