Latin performers taught garrison employees dance steps during Fort Belvoir's National Hispanic Month cultural observance Tuesday.

Employees learned the cha-cha-cha, merengue and other dance steps from Brazil Latino Dance Company instructors in the Belvoir Community Center. Volunteers were selected to perform the steps with partners after each period of instruction.

"The observance was great. I liked the demonstration and getting everybody involved," said Sgt. 1st Class Lasheika Hill, U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command Headquarters and Headquarters Company command sergeant major executive assistant. "You just move to the music."

The observance also included a reading of President Barack Obama's presidential proclamation, educational display tables highlighting Hispanic American history and a variety of Hispanic dishes. Sample food included, chili, enchiladas, tortillas, black beans, various salsas and Hispanic-style desserts.

National Hispanic Heritage Month commemorates the histories, cultures and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America, according to the Library of Congress.

The observation started in 1968 as Hispanic Heritage Week under President Lyndon Johnson and was expanded by President Ronald Reagan in 1988 to cover a 30-day period starting on Sept. 15 and ending on Oct. 15.

Brazil Latino performers and educational instructors provided the main source of entertainment and instruction through dance lessons. Danielle Areco, Brazil Latino Dance Company director, and Eileen Torres, Brazil Latino Dance Company salsa historian, promoter and producer, led event participants through steps and included historical information about the dances.

Salsa, for example, originates from Africa, according to Torres who said this is an important similarity between African American and Latin culture.

"I think it's very important that African Americans and Latino's understand that we have a very common bond that should unite us," Torres said. "When we understand that this is our music, this is our dance, this is our culture it forges those bonds so that we're closer … When others (ethnicities) see that people are coming together and how beneficial it is then more people come into the fold and hopefully at one point, we can all understand that we're pretty much the same."

Hill was one of several volunteers who danced at the end of instruction periods. She picked up Latin dancing while deployed and enjoyed demonstrating her abilities.

She agreed that Latin dancing is capable of bringing diverse groups of people together.
"Everybody comes together and gets to know each other," Hill said of people partaking in Latin dancing. "Everybody is really friendly."

"It's just one more opportunity to share my culture," Areco said of her teaching Department of Defense personnel during the observance. "We're really honored to have the opportunity to share and we do so with our hearts."

This year's theme is "Diversity United, Building America's Future Today." The theme promotes the benefits of a united and diverse workforce by encouraging a reflection of Hispanic American contributions in the development of the nation.

Olga Bryant, Fort Belvoir Equal Employment Office director, touched on these contributions during the observances' opening remarks. She mentioned that Hispanics have participated in every U.S. war and that 44 Hispanic Americans have received the Medal of Honor, with 29 of those recipients serving in the Army.

"American diversity is a source of strength and Hispanic Americans have not hesitated to defend and show their allegiance to this nation," Bryant said. "America is a richer and more vibrant country because of the contributions of Hispanics."

Col. Gregory D. Gadson, Fort Belvoir Garrison Commander, also emphasized the Hispanic impact on U.S. diversity during his remarks.

"We have diversity not only amongst our forces but diversity in the way we interact, marry and socialize and this observance is just a reminder of why America is the greatest country on earth," Gadson said. "We have a culture that is indescribable and the Hispanic culture has certainly made its legacy and continues to have an impact on this country."