Placing third in its division at the World Latin Dance Cup in Medellin, Colombia in December, the Leones de Oro Latin Dance team from Archbishop Carroll High School returned to training with full force in the new year -- gearing up for a year full of competition and, hopefully, the next World Latin Dance Cup in 2021. 

Judith Condezo, the registrar and Latino liaison at Archbishop Carroll in Washington, D.C., is a former professional Latin dancer who owns her own dance company, Ritmo DMV. As coach for the team, she trains and choreographs the students, practicing as much as a typical sports team, she said. 

“These are not kids that have been classically trained,” Condezo said. “They started from scratch.” 

Coach Judith Condezo (left) is pictured with semifinalist duo Jennifer Cuadra and Michael Healy. (Courtesy photo) 

In April 2019 at the Baltimore Salsa Congress, Leones de Oro qualified for the World Latin Dance Cup which had been held in Orlando, Florida in years prior. But upon hearing their team qualified, Condezo and her students were told that the dance cup would be held in Medellin, Colombia in December. 

“We were stunned, happy, and worried,” she said. “But we had to go meet our families, and we would figure it out.” 

Because information was not released until August and additional documentation to be completed followed in the weeks after, the team did not receive final approval to begin preparation and fundraising for the trip until just four weeks before their departure. Not only did they have to find a way to raise funds and plan for the trip’s logistics, but the dance had to be choreographed, costumes prepared, and the students, who would have to miss their final exams in December, had to study and take the exams before departure. 

“We knew there was so much work to do, but that this will be totally worth it,” Condezo said. 

In the weeks prior to the dance cup, Leones de Oro rallied to start a Gofundme account which raised $1,798, where many in the local Washington Salsa community supported the team, and also hosted a food sale and performances at the Shrine of the Sacred Heart. Students and parents even came together to run concessions at a Redskins game. 

“These kids and their parents did that, plus their full time jobs, and school, and training,” Condezo said. “... They were the only youth team in D.C. to qualify straight to the finals. We weren’t going to let this opportunity pass by.”

With the continued generosity of an Archbishop Carroll Board member and other companies that sponsored the team, they were able to raise the costs for all but the flights and meals. 

“The people in the Latino community really came together to support the kids,” Condezo added. 

The team left for Colombia on Dec. 5, competing in five different categories of competition throughout the next 10 days. As the only youth team from the United States, they represented America and from a small Catholic school in Washington, Condezo said the experience was extremely “memorable” for the students. 

“These kids are troopers,” she said. “They’re the first group I’ve really seen take every obstacle thrown at them. They really pushed through everything… There’s a drive you can’t teach; it has to come from them.” 

Captains Katherine Rodriguez, a sophomore; Jennifer Cuadra, a junior; and Carlos Vasquez, a sophomore; shared their excitement over the whole experience and their determination to continue their team’s success. 

Rodriguez said that going forward they will be “pushing ourselves and teammates” to see “progress from everybody.” Going to Colombia, she added, was eye-opening, seeing different dancers and being particularly impressed with the team from Monaco. 

Encouraging the team to have a “better mindset by staying positive” is a top priority for Cuadra in the upcoming year, she said.

“Going to Columbia was a learning experience to see a different side of the dance culture,” Cuadra said.

For Vasquez, competing in Colombia gave him a picture of his hopes for the 2021 competition, where he said he hopes to be a solo competitor. 

This year, the team plans on competing once again at the Baltimore Salsa Conference in April where they hope to qualify for the 2021 World Latin Dance Cup.

“I think if we keep this progress, there will be more trophies in the future,” Condezo said.