Liliana Velasco was surprised when the annual Language Fair at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln was canceled this year.

For 14 years, the Columbus High School Spanish teacher has taken students to participate in the fair’s non-English performance competitions. These judged events in drama, music, folk dance, poetry and poster design allowed students a chance to work on their foreign language skills and learn about other cultures.

So, Velasco decided to organize one of her own. But, this rendition held on Wednesday at CHS would solely be performances in Spanish. More than 200 junior and seniors students came out for the competition from area high schools, including Syracuse, Platteview, Louisville, Columbus, Wilber-Clatonia, York, David City and Cornerstone Christian School in Bellevue.

“It’s a pretty cool event and that’s the reason why I didn't want it to go away, for it to not happen,” Velasco said. “For me, learning a language is more than just book work. It's taking it out of the classroom that makes it more useful.”

CHS junior Lexi Jeffryes performed in the poetry and folk dancing events. Before the competition, she explained her poem was based off of the tale of "Red Riding Hood" and that she planned on wearing a red cape and a basket to enhance the performance. For dancing, she was set to perform a Spanish dance called the flamenco.

“I’m a little nervous,” Jeffryes said about the competition. “I’m in a group with three other girls and our (dance) is a lot of stomping and a lot of clapping. It’s a lot of high energy, go go go all the time. It’s a lot of fun.

“... For me, the best part was not only learning about the dances and the poems you listen to (and) the plays you watch, but just seeing everybody, how they’ve worked so hard for this,” Jeffryes said. “And now it’s finally here and we get to do it.”

CHS senior Emma Benck also was set to perform in the dance event. Her group was prepared to do the merengue, a dance originating from the Dominican Republic.

“I’m excited more than anything. It’s a big honor to be able to do this,” Benck said about the dance. “This has been a whole new experience. Mrs. Velasco taught our group the whole dance … It’s been so fun learning it.”

Events were divided into two categories, one for Spanish learners and the other for heritage speakers. After competing, judges awarded competitors a white ribbon meaning very good, a grey ribbon meaning excellent or a maroon ribbon for superior, with only the top-three per room receiving this kind of ranking.

“There’s not a bad rating, for you to do anything, not in your target (foreign) language, it’s always something amazing to do,” Velasco said. “It’s simply an opportunity for students to use the language in a respectful way.”

Eric Schucht is a reporter for The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at eric.schucht@lee.net.

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