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Utah Latino dancers get wave from Obama

Published January 22, 2013 9:56 am

Troupe • Last-minute invitation led to some creative travel and lodging solutions.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Washington • An eclectic Latino dance troupe from Sandy didn't perform one dance at the inaugural parade, they performed seven simultaneously, wearing the costumes of their ancestors representing their heritage and the state of Utah.

For their effort, they received a wave from President Barack Obama.

"He waved right at me," said Monica Bustillos, born in Bolivia, now living in Sandy. "It was something very special for me, because I love this country."

Bustillos was one of the 16 dancers with the Utah Hispanic Dance Alliance — the first Latino group to represent Utah in inaugural festivities. They performed dances from Mexico, Colombia, Chile, El Salvador, Argentina and Bolivia along the 1.5-mile parade route that stretched between the Capitol and the White House.

The invitation to dance in front of the president came as a surprise to artistic director Jessica Salazar and she welcomed the opportunity, even if it came late in the planning process and presented significant financial strains.

"We were so excited and honored to be chosen," Salazar said. "We were anxious to get our group there."

She received the call from inaugural planners a few days before Christmas and initially wondered if it was a hoax, said Steve Thorlakson, a dancer in the group and Bustillos' husband. How the group ended up on the list of performers is still a mystery.

Thorlakson said they never submitted an application and assumed they'd been endorsed by the Utah Arts Council. However, council Director Margaret Hunt says she didn't apply on the troupe's behalf. Aoife McCarthy, a spokeswoman for the Presidential Inaugural Committee, said she wasn't sure how the group was chosen.

Utah's representatives were not the only ones who were invited on short notice. The Nevada dance group Comparza Morelenze had little time to plan as did the Wind River Reservation dancers from Wyoming. It led to some financial difficulties and some creative travel arrangements.Thorlakson, Bustillos and 12 other members of the Utah group flew into New York City and took a bus to D.C. to cut down on costs. Some haven't even booked return flights yet. The Wind River dancers also bought one-way tickets, according to the Associated Press and Comparza Morelenze left without their D.J., forcing them to dance in the parade without music.

The Utah Hispanic Dance Alliance did get some unexpected support from some Utah expatriates.

Kent Burton, an environmental consultant and a "proud Beehive State-er," reached out to the group when he heard of their fundraising troubles through a friend in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He brought 14 of the dancers into his home in Arlington, Va..

"They're lovely people. They're festive in their demeanor and charming," Burton said. "It was hard for them to find a place to stay all together."

The group was thankful for the family's assistance, a heartwarming gesture that helped them overcome a series of challenges that ended once they joined the procession down Pennsylvania Avenue.

"To have such a big gift given to us, it doesn't come without sacrifice. It made it even more worth it," Thorlakson said. "We had to put our heads together and make it happen."

They had one last hurdle to overcome — the near-freezing temperatures.

Bustillos said she wore leggings, used handwarmers, and wrapped herself in a thick traditional Bolivian costume, but what kept her warm was doing what she came to do.

"The best way we kept warm," she said, "was by dancing."

eandrews@sltrib.com

Twitter: @emilytandrews —

Utah Hispanic Dance Alliance

• To view a video of the dance troupe in the inauguration parade, go to http://www.c-spanvideo.org/clip/4323248&newclip.