Siblings salsa way to gold

When one thinks of Richmond, Latin dance may not be the first thing that comes to mind. That didn't stop Erika and Diego Sanchez from bringing home two world titles with their dance troupe Grupo America last week at the 2012 World Latin Dance Cup in Miami, Florida.

Co-owner of the World Dance Co. in Burnaby, where Grupo America is based, Erika grew up in Richmond where her brother Diego still lives. This year marked the 15th anniversary of their studio, and they decided to return to the world championships after a four-year hiatus that started because of the global recession.

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"We're the only group in Canada that has won a trophy. We won in 2007 and 2008 as well," said Erika.

Now 42, Erika no longer dances and has taken more of a managerial role in the company.

Diego, 32, still competes and is also artistic director and the team's choreographer. Although the team has tasted victory this trip as well as in the past taking first place in their specialty the Cuban salsa category, this was the first time they also placed in Bachata taking silver.

"It's a dance from the Dominican Republic. It's become really popular in Vancouver in the last four to five years," she said. "It's a slower version of salsa, more of a romantic dance."

Diego attended the championships the last two years as a spectator before taking part this year. Erika said dancers in Grupo America still rehearse three days a week on a regular basis even when not preparing for competitions that usually takes place over three to four months out of the year. World Dance Co. trains about 22 dancers from nine different nationalities, some of which have been with the studio since they were children. Some are also employed as instructors, and the company performs and puts on presentations in schools across the province.

"No one at these kinds of competitions ever believes that our multiethnic Canadian team can dance at as high a level as the teams from Latin America," she said.

"Each time we win, it's like we're showing the world you don't need a Hispanic last name to dance good salsa."

Erika came to Richmond as a four-year-old from Columbia. She said her and her brother have studied dance since they were toddlers.

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