Every weekend during the summer, the Fiesta Noche del Rio show delights audiences at the Arneson River Theatre on the San Antonio River with a showcase of San Antonio culture through music and dance.
The long-running show has also become a pipeline to showcase the talents of Northside ISD students, teachers, and staff. Elizabeth Sanchez-Lopez, Northside’s Supervisor of Dance, serves as director and choreographer and also as one of the lead performers. She started as a dancer in the show more than 20 years ago and estimates that students from almost every Northside high school have participated through the years. Performers must be at least 18 years old.
“I am very fortunate because I am able to see first-hand these former students take what our district has taught them and apply it to the real world,” Sanchez-Lopez says. “In dance, we don’t just teach the craft, we want to prepare students for life and be a model for them.”
Stevens High School dance teacher Tiffany Martinez calls performing in the show a summer-long professional development. “It was important for me to participate because it allowed me to perform and grow as a dancer,” Martinez says. “This experience reminded me of what it felt like to be a student again. I learned new dance styles and continued to improve my dance technique.”
The audience participation is Sanchez-Lopez’s favorite part of the show, partly because it leads to spontaneous moments but also because it’s an opportunity to teach the largely-tourist audience.
“As an educator, I see these moments as a lesson plan,” Sanchez-Lopez says. “We teach the audience flamenco hand claps, gritos, and the Cotton-Eyed Joe. By including them, there’s never a dull moment and you don’t know what is going to happen each night.”
The barges filled with tourists that pass by on the San Antonio River during the show also lead to unexpected moments.
Aaron Rios, Mariachi Director at Holmes High School and also a musician in the show, credits his music teachers with inspiring his passion for performance.
“Being a product of Northside, I was taught the importance of showmanship and entertaining,” Rios says. “These skills carried over to everything I did in life. That is why so many other people with NISD roots are a part of this show as well. It is what we learned in the classroom that drives us as successful performers today.”
Also performing as a singer this year is Brandeis Theatre Director Nathan Barrientes.
Auditions are held in December with rehearsals until the show begins in May. It’s a commitment for all involved to balance show commitments with full-time jobs, but also a passion.
“As long as I can move and sing, it’s an avenue to bring students on a journey to performing,” says Sanchez-Lopez. “The star of the show is the talent in the city of San Antonio and they help keep our culture alive.”
Proceeds from the show benefit local children’s charities through the Alamo Kiwanis Club Charities, Inc., and to date have raised more than $2.5 million.
For Rios, the mission of the Kiwanis is especially personal.
“My first son was premature and my family was blessed by having several organizations that are supported by the Kiwanis open their doors to us and our son while he was still in the hospital and even after,” Rios says. “By performing and helping raise funds, I feel like I am helping pay back what we were graciously given and paying it forward by raising money to help others with similar needs.”
For more information on the show, which runs Friday and Saturday nights through August 15, visit the Fiesta Noche del Rio website.