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Colombian exchange student teaching salsa and bachata to FHS students

In her home country of Colombia, Ferndale High School exchange student Gabriela Tovar Lopez was a professional dancer. On top of being a high school student, she performed bachata and salsa and taught dancing lessons. 

After arriving at FHS, counselor Aurora Davis discovered that Tovar Lopez was a dance instructor, and passed this information along to Steve Menefee, who teaches the ballroom dancing class at the high school. He asked Tovar Lopez if she’d be willing to help lead salsa and bachata lessons, and that led to FHS students learning from their peer this semester. 

Tovar Lopez said teaching her fellow teens how to dance was a little intimidating at first, but they quickly got on board. 

“At the beginning, it was hard to teach, because I’m also a teenager,” said Tovar Lopez, 17. “But with my confidence, because I know what I’m doing and I’m doing what I love, and they got the message and started respecting what I do.” 

After a short time, the students in the class grew to love learning from Tovar Lopez and her years of experience. 

“The students that I have are awesome, they’re so welcoming,” she said. “All of them, they want to learn and they were really excited for me to be their teacher.” 

Menefee said he was impressed by Tovar Lopez – not just her dancing skills, but her teaching ability. In reference to her teaching skills, he called the exchange student “mature beyond her years.” 

“It was really fun, because she was confident and able to command the class and the attention of the students,” Menefee said. “You have somebody from Colombia teaching authentic salsa – that just adds a little more to it.” 

Tovar Lopez will be studying in Ferndale for the full calendar year, as she’s already graduated from school in Colombia, which only goes to 11th grade, she said. She’s already fallen in love with the ecological diversity of the Pacific Northwest. 

“I love the green that you have here,” Tovar Lopez said. “You can go to the park, you have the ocean, you have lakes, you have mountains … there’s everything here, just in one place!” 

After this year at FHS, Tovar Lopez hopes to stay in the U.S. and go to college with the goal of becoming a social worker. But she plans to keep dancing as a hobby. 

“I’m more confident when I dance, because I know that I look really good doing it, and you can spread happiness and love,” Tovar Lopez said. “I wouldn’t like to stop dancing, because it’s a part of who I am.”