Spanish Institute makes you feel like dancing |

Spanish Institute makes you feel like dancing

William Ferchland, Tahoe Daily Tribune
Dan Thrift/Tahoe Daily TribuneHelen Yost, from Angels Camp, gets a personal tango lesson from instructor Victor Reyes on Wednesday during the Lake Tahoe Community College ninth annual Intensive Spanish Summer Institute.

In the G-3 temporary classroom at Lake Tahoe Community College, Victor Reyes, dressed sharp as cheddar, was teaching the art of tango.

“Uno, dos, tres,” he counted to a group of mostly female students. “Always the left leg.


The class is part of the weeklong LTCC Intensive Spanish Summer Institute that transforms the campus into a well-oiled, educational but entertaining boot camp for people interested in Spanish and the Latin culture.

Helen Yost, from Angels Camp, decided to take the Latin American dance class with her daughter.

“You see tango and it looks so beautiful and dramatic,” Yost said. “It’s the end of the day so it’s nice to do something physical and not have to think in Spanish.”

Just then, Reyes revealed a new twist in the dance, telling them to turn slightly and “put your arm up. Think like you’re Al Pacino.”

Tucked inside the main college building where paper signs encouraged students to speak Spanish, Socorro Wackenhut taught a handful of students Mexican art primarily found on (ITAL)fruteros(ITAL), or plates.

Using (ITAL) “leche condensada azucarada, platos de carton desechables and color para comida” (ITAL) — sweet condensed milk, disposable paper plates and food coloring — students made their own artwork.

One student was Bubba Romagnolo, an eighth-grader at South Tahoe Middle School. Bubba painted a green sun design on a white paper plate for a classroom in his mother’s preschool.

His eyes glistened under a black visor when he spoke about a future class he was taking on Cuban desserts.

“It’s good,” he said. “I tried it before. We get to learn how to make the dish and it’s really good.”

In 1994, Sue O’Connor and Diane Rosner hosted the first ISSI at the college. An unexpected 165 students signed up that first year. O’Connor said 570 students are enrolled in this year’s program.

“We could add more if we had more space and personnel,” she said. “We literally turn away hundreds of people.”

The institute employs more than 70 native Spanish speakers, mostly from the community, who teach more than 100 cultural breakout sessions, grammar classes and conversation groups. Classes range from religion, literature and computer work to art, dance and food.

Students, based on their knowledge of Spanish, are assigned to one of seven levels. Kim Davis, a 14-year-old from Soquel, Calif., is a high beginner. Bubba, in his fifth year at the institute, is a low advanced.

“We try to make it a Spanish immersion program so that everybody’s surrounded by Spanish,” O’Connor said.

Part of the entertainment portion of the institute included raffle prizes. A trip to Europe and scholarships to the Universidad Internacional in Cuernavaca, Mexico, were some of the coveted prizes.

But the educational aspect of the college can’t be understated and may have been described best by Bubba, the STMS eighth-grader with an affection for Cuban desserts.

“You’re always learning something new and you’re always having fun,” he said. “You learn more in seven hours here than you do during three weeks in school.”

— Contact William Ferchland at

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