The Pilsen dance team thrived during the pandemic, giving children on the South Side a positive outlet during a stressful time


PILSEN – South Siders Jessica Romero and Jackie Gaytan grew up dancing competitively – but one part has always bothered them about the experience: the expensive competition fees.

In order to make sport more accessible, dance teachers have teamed up to launch 8Teenth Hip-Hop crew outside of the Steadfast Dance Center, 1860 S. Blue Island Ave., to ensure other South Side teens can experience the exhilaration of competitive dancing without the prohibitive cost.

“We really wanted to start something that was affordable for young people on the south side,” Gaytan said. ”… Competition dance teams are extremely expensive. “

Launched in the fall of 2020, the competitive mixed dance team provides students aged 13-18 with technical hip-hop skills, artistic development, and the opportunity to compete as a team, all at an affordable cost. said the co-founders. The name of the group is a nod to Pilsen’s main thoroughfare, 18th Street.

Growing up in Brighton Park, Romero said she had few opportunities for competitive dancing. And a single competition could cost anywhere from $ 600 to $ 800, Gaytan recalls.

The dancers of the 8Teenth Hip-Hop team pay a fraction of that – an initial registration fee of $ 100 and $ 10 per month for the duration of the season. The co-founders will also work with families who need extra help, Gaytan said, and they ultimately hope to secure sponsors so that the cost is free for participants.

“We did not want” transport and finance to block or inhibit [teens] to participate in this dance team, ”said Gaytan, a 29-year-old resident of Pilsen.

The inaugural dance team consists of 15 young people with different levels of dance experience. They rehearse weekly for free at the Steadfast Dance Center.

Jessica Romero and Jackie Gaytan created the 8Teenth Hip-Hop crew in Pilsen so that teens can experience competitive dancing without the prohibitive cost.

Scheduled to be launched in early last spring, Gaytan and Romero’s initial plans have been delayed by the pandemic. But as the pandemic progressed and civil unrest after police fire rocked the summer, Gaytan and Romero decided to move forward with their plan to give young people a positive outlet during a stressful time. .

The dance team is not only a creative outlet for young people, but it “gives children a sense of responsibility,” said Romero, 27, who lives in West Lawn.

“It’s something that holds them accountable. It’s not just a one-person show. There are a lot of people who depend on you to help your team succeed, ”she said.

Since the group’s launch last fall, Gaytan has said parents and young people have “responded so well” amid restrictions and uncertainty over coronavirus. So far, the group has participated in one dance competition so far and will participate in another in the outskirts of Schaumburg on Friday.

The 8Teenth Hip-Hop team posts for a photo in Pilsen.

Over the hours of practice and competition, the dance team has become a rewarding community, said Romero.

For 18-year-old dancer Mia Gonzalez, the team is like family.

“We’re always there to lift ourselves up and catch ourselves up when we fall. We always support each other, ”she said.

Gonzalez has been dancing since she was little, but the 8Teenth Hip-Hop team gave her a first chance to dance as part of a competitive team.

“I learned a lot about personal growth and personal motivation… With 8Teenth, I am able to grow and learn more about myself as a dancer,” Gonzalez said.

Romero said she hopes the team will show teens “where you can go with a lot of hard work.”

“More children in these communities need to be exposed to this,” she said. “It’s a whole different world just coming to a dance class.

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