PILSEN — South Siders Jessica Romero and Jackie Gaytan grew up dancing competitively — but one part always bothered them about the experience: the pricey competition fees.
In an effort to make the sport more accessible, the dance instructors teamed up to launch 8Teenth Hip-Hop crew out of the Steadfast Dance Center, 1860 S. Blue Island Ave., to make sure other South Side teens can experience the exhilaration of competitive dance without the prohibitive cost.
“We really wanted to start something that is affordable for youth on the South Side,” Gaytan said. ” … Dance competition teams are extremely expensive. ”
Launched in fall 2020, the co-ed competitive dance team offers students ages 13-18 technical hip-hop skills, artistic development and the chance to to compete as a team — all at an affordable cost, the co-founders said. The group’s name is a nod to Pilsen’s main thoroughfare, 18th Street.
Growing up in Brighton Park, Romero said she had few opportunities for competitive dance. And one competition could cost $600-$800 alone, Gaytan remembered.
8Teenth Hip-Hop crew dancers pay a fraction of that — a $100 upfront registration fee and $10 per month for the duration of the season. The co-founders will also work with families who need additional help, Gaytan said, and they ultimately hope to get sponsors so the cost is free to participants.
“We didn’t want “transportation and finances to block or inhibit [teens] from participating in this dance crew,” said Gaytan, a 29-year-old Pilsen resident.
The inaugural dance crew consists of 15 youths with varying levels of dance experience. They rehearse weekly out of the Steadfast Dance Center for free.
Set to launch early last spring, Gaytan and Romero’s initial plans were delayed by the pandemic. But as the pandemic wore on and civil unrest after police shootings upended the summer, Gaytan and Romero decided to move forward with their plan to give youth a positive outlet during a stressful time.
The dance crew is not only a creative outlet for youth, but it “gives kids a sense of responsibility,” said 27-year-old Romero, who lives in West Lawn.
“It’s something that keeps them accountable. It’s not just a one-person show. There’s a lot of people that are relying on you to help your team succeed,” she said.
Since the group launched last fall, Gaytan said parents and youth “have responded so well” amid coronavirus restrictions and uncertainty. So far, The group has participated in one dance competition so far, and will compete in another in suburban Schaumburg on Friday.
Over hours of practice and competition, the dance crew grew to become a nurturing community, Romero said.
For 18-year-old dancer Mia Gonzalez, the team is like a family.
“We’re always there to lift each other up and catch each other when we fall. We are always supporting one another,” she said.
Gonzalez has danced since she was a toddler, but the 8Teenth Hip-Hop crew gave her a first shot at dancing as part of a competitive team.
“I’ve learned a lot about self-growth and self motivation…With 8Teenth, I’m able to grow and learn more about myself as a dancer,” Gonzalez said.
Romero said she hopes the team shows the teens “where you can go with a lot of hard work.”
“More kids in these communities need to be exposed to this,” she said. “It’s a whole different world than just coming to dance class.”
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