Central Catholic High School Principal Melissa Bengston danced to four songs and hustled through four costume changes in an effort to help her students repeat as the High School Principals Spanish Lip Sync Contest state champions.
The effort has paid off, so far.
Central Catholic took first place in the second of three regional contests Saturday night at the Modesto Centre Plaza, and the school advanced to this year's state finals.
Bengston tried to critique her performance and that of her students after event organizers announced the winners, but she couldn't.
"I don't remember what happened up there," Bengston said. "It all went so fast. And I was out in front, so I couldn't see the students behind me."
About 100 Central Catholic students built backdrops and helped move the scenery on stage through the performance. About 60 of those students joined Bengston on stage.
Bengston said she had her school's dance instructor and Spanish teacher help her get through mostly fast-paced songs from Tex-Mex pop music siren Selena. The principal admitted to knowing only a little bit of Spanish.
"I tried really hard to keep up," Bengston said. "I asked our Spanish teacher to help me with the meaning of the lyrics, because I need to know what I'm saying."
Winning schools get $2,500
The judges also liked what they saw in second-place Waterford High School and third-place Riverbank High School.
All three, along with the top three from the Fresno area regional held March 3 and the upcoming third regional on Saturday will advance to the state championships March 31.
Nine high schools competed in the Fresno area regional competition.
Modesto, Manteca and Davis high schools also competed in the regional in Modesto on Saturday.
The top three schools in each regional take home $2,500, $2,000 and $1,500 in scholarships for their Latino students.
All other schools earned $1,000 for participating.
Mike Sturtevant of the Modesto Rotary Club created the contest and organized it each year until this year.
El Concilio, Council for the Spanish Speaking in Modesto,has taken the reins of the contest and provided $40,000 in scholarships so far this year, said Raul Garcia, site supervisor for El Concilio.
This is the 20th year of the contest, which has helped give out more than $700,000 in scholarships to Latino students.
"We are very proud to follow the legacy that Mike Sturtevant started," Garcia said. "This is the kind of thing we want to be a part of. These guys have been working hard, practicing in their back yards and their cafeterias."
Participants are judged in three categories — lip-sync ability, creativity and overall performance.
Ten other Modesto area high schools are scheduled to compete Saturday at the Modesto Centre Plaza.
Choreography takes a step up
Almost every seat in the banquet hall was full as Riverbank High Principal Ken Geisick performed a song from Mexican crooner Juan Gabriel then changed his costume for a song from Texas-based Latin pop band the Kumbia Kings.
About 30 of his students performed a series of choreographed moves that resembled what an audience might see in a Broadway musical.
This year, the high schools took the choreography and set design to the next level. They incorporated moveable scenery and several groups of dancers who took turns on the stage.
Waterford High Principal Don Davis rode on stage on a gray 'pickup' fitted with chrome rims and racing tires to the music of Los Tigres del Norte, a Mexican band known for producing music about life on both sides of the border.
Modesto High students didn't compete in last year's contest, so newly hired Principal Hugo Ramos helped about 35 of his students put forth a valiant effort.
"They did all the work," Ramos said.
The Modesto High students rotated in three groups, dancing on stage to Ricky Martin's soccer anthem "La Copa De La Vida" and a medley of cumbia and quebradita dance music. One student ended the performance by somersaulting across the stage wearing the school's Bear mascot outfit.
Carmen Pacheco, 36, led a loud Modesto High cheering contingent with signs near the back of the banquet hall. Pacheco was there to root for her daughter and her classmates.
"You better dance well or else we're not to going to cheer loud," Pacheco told the students in Spanish as they walked by to get on stage.
The students held up their end of the bargain and so did Pacheco.
Her daughter, Karla Monje-Pacheco, 17, competed for the first time Saturday.
"I was scared because of all the people watching," Karla said. "I was nervous, but after a while, it was OK."
Saturday, doors open at 7 p.m., with the competition beginning at 8. Tickets are $10. For more information, call Sturtevant at 533-0474.