There is no melody, just a fast and steady beat. The echo of the drum fills the room, commanding attention and inspiring movement.

The drum is the star of Danza Azteca because the drum is the heart, Rene Ruiz-Olivar said. It beats steadily and continuously, giving life to the dancers’ feet.

“Without the heart, they could not move their feet,” he says.

Rene, the cafeteria manager at Hiawatha Collegiate High School, started teaching Danza Azteca at the high school two years ago. Over the course of 10 weeks, the students learn the different steps and collaborate to write, choreograph and perform a 15-minute piece that reflects Hiawatha’s core values.

He first learned the style of dance eight years ago and has trained ever since with Grupo Danza Azteca Aztlan, but he’s been familiar with the dance since he was a child.

Growing up in Axochiapan, Morelos, Mexico, he often saw dancers performing it at celebrations in his hometown. When he discovered it here, he felt at home again.

“I love it because I really get connected in spirit,” said Rene, who also was inspired to learn how to drum, sing and play the mandolin. “Whatever I do, I put the love into it. The spirit, it makes me connect more.”

Rene wanted to share that experience with students, and many of them have been eager to accept. For the first time this year he’s teaching two sessions of Danza Azteca for enrichment credits. The first sessions just began in October.

“It’s related to our core values,” he said. “One thing we always do is show gratitude. Also, they are growing as leaders; you’re going to be represented as a good leader in this class.”

That leadership quality could be seen during the students’ first performance in the gym. With Rene pounding the drum, the dancers filed into the space and executed his choreography with grace and precision.

Rene said Danza Azteca is also great for the mind and body of students. It’s a stress reliever, and it allows them to use their energy in a positive way. The dance also helps build concentration and promotes relaxation.

“My goal now that we have a new school is to build an Azteca group from 9th grade to 12th grade who can represent the school,” he said.

Rene also hopes to get the program into the elementary grades. He has two kids at Hiawatha Leadership Academy-Northrop, and he wants to ensure this tradition of dance gets passed on.

“We want to keep the tradition going,” he said.

Aztec dancers perform at HCP-K celebration.