Each time the Cardinals Dance Team members from Eisenhower High School performed their routine this year, they hoped others listened to their message about overcoming challenges.
With Common and John Legend's "Glory" playing as they performed the Oscar award-winning song from the civil rights movie "Selma," the passion for the message showed on their faces and in their moves.
It was that same passion that recently helped the team win a national title at the Dance Team Union competition in Orlando, they said.
It is the first time in about 30 years a team from Eisenhower in Blue Island has won a national title in any sport.
"It's historic," said Eisenhower Athletic Director Jim Weber.
Add in that none of the Cardinal Dance Team members had any formal dance training before high school and the team's win takes on added meaning, Weber said during an assembly Thursday morning recognizing the national champions.
"They make athletics artistry and they take art and make it athletic," Weber said.
The team took first in the small varsity hip hop division at the competition and was named overall best hip hop team and awarded best choreography at the national competition held Feb. 3-5 in Orlando. Earlier this year, Head Coach Marion Castillo was named coach of the year in dance by the National Federation of High Schools.Alicia Fabbre / Daily Southtown Eisenhower High School recently celebrated winning a national dance competition. Eisenhower High School recently celebrated winning a national dance competition. (Alicia Fabbre / Daily Southtown)
The team also performed well in other competitions throughout its season, including second place in the IHSA Class AA division in January, just missing the state title by .22 points.
Team captains Alycia Miller and Cristian Carrillo said the message about overcoming the odds was a driving force behind their routine in the national competition.
"The message itself made us take the dance more seriously," said Carrillo, a sophomore. He added the team was "trying to portray what the world needs to know."
"No matter how broke, what our race is or where we come from, you can achieve the most impossible things," Carrillo said. "Nobody can hold you down if you're really working for something you want."
Miller, a senior, said she hoped the routine let others know they aren't alone.
"There are people who understand what they're going through," she said. "We're here to show that you can do anything."
As the team began working on a routine for the 2016-17 season, choreographer Lindsey Lococo said she used the students' desire to "have a voice" as an inspiration. She said she knew people would either love or hate the routine — that there would be no in-between — but was willing to take the risk because of the message. Throughout the season, coaches and team members focused on the message instead of winning trophies.
"These kids live this every day and our goal was to affect one person in the audience, that they might change the way they treat others," Castillo said. "We often forget that our youth have voices too, and they wanted theirs heard."
Coaches noted many of the students can relate to the message of their routine because they live it.
Junior Dakota Jackson said Common's rap "embodies" him and gives the feeling that he's not alone and urges a societal change.
The song is from the 2014 film "Selma," which portrays the 1965 Selma to Montgomery marches.
"It's a wonderful way to give a visual on how we, as a society, need to fix our judgmental ways and learn how to work together," Jackson said.
Other members of the Cardinals dance team are Nuria Castaneda, Jamesha Cole, Daniela Espana, Brian Ford, Alejandra Ibarra, Kimberly Ibarra, Jymia Jones, Amairany Lara, Aylin Sanchez, Kiarri Smith, Dejanira Torres and assistant coach Crystal Castillo.
Alicia Fabbre is a freelance reporter for the Daily Southtown.
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