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Cultures gather at Hispanic festival, salsa class

Salsa class

Isabelle Sabato, middle, guides Gabriela Soto and Omead Soumi through a spin at a salsa class Sept. 25 at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The class was part of this year’s Hispanic Heritage Month activities. (U.S. Air Force photo/Kevin Gaddie)

Salsa class

Isabelle Sabato, left, leads a group through basic steps at a salsa class Sept. 25 at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The class was part of this year’s Hispanic Heritage Month activities. (U.S. Air Force photo/Kevin Gaddie)

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- This year’s Hispanic Heritage Month activities began with a festival at the Air Force Enlisted Village Sept. 19.  The festival featured Hispanic food from the local community and Hispanic music.

The guest speaker was 1st Lt. Iraida Alvarez-Carrasquillo, a chaplain serving reserve duty at Tyndall AFB.  

She recalled the pain she experienced in Puerto Rico when Hurricane Maria devastated the island last September.

“The day before the hurricane, everything was fine,” she said.  “I stepped out of the house the next day and started crying because everything was gone.”

She encouraged the audience, which included people from Puerto Rico, Cuba, Mexico and the Dominican Republic, to draw strength from each other under a common theme.

“You are important,” she told the attendees.  “You may be from a different culture or have a different flag, but we speak the same language and we are all Hispanics.  We are family.  We need to heal by being together.”

The next event was a salsa class at the Fitness Annex Sept. 25.  There, Isabelle Sabato taught 11 participants basic dance moves.

“Everyone seemed to enjoy it and had a great time,” she said.  “I love teaching new dancers and growing our salsa community.”

Gabriela Soto said she’s salsa danced all her life with family and friends, but this was her first formal class.

“I found it so interesting to see how the dance can actually be broken down into counted steps, and how each partner is in sync with the other,” she said.  “It was different from seeing the salsa dancing at family parties, but at the same time it was similar.”

For Omead Soumi, who has enjoyed Latin dancing for about a year, the class was a great opportunity for the base community to come together and learn something new about Hispanic heritage.

“I liked meeting new people and I’m happy to help grow the local dance community,” he said. 

Col. Scott Dickson, 96th Test Wing vice commander, said everyone is welcome to participate in all special observance activities.

“No culture can live if it’s being exclusive,” he said.  “Whether it’s a culture from race, society, religion or profession like the Air Force, we all need to be inclusive.”