Sam Santiago, right, and his husband Enrique Cobian

Gay couple named honorary chairs marks a first for DBDT’s ‘The BIG Dance’ fundraiser

RICH LOPEZ | Staff writer

Sam Santiago has long been an advocate for the arts in Dallas. Even as he and his husband spend most of their time living in Manzanillo, Mexico, he still feels very much connected to the creative community here — and it to him.

As Dallas Black Dance Theatre closes its 46th season with the annual fundraiser The BIG Dance, the organization also named Santiago and his husband, Enrique G. Cobian, as the event’s honorary chairs.

“Dallas Black Dance Theatre is excited to have Sam Santiago and Enrique G. Cobian as our Honorary Co-Chairs for our annual fundraiser, The BIG Dance. The energetic duo has been a force in driving the direction of the event as we fuse Latin and Afro-Latin dance and music into a cultural celebration. They raised the bar for connectivity by leading while in Mexico,” DBDT executive director Zenetta Drew said. “We appreciate their support to help us ensure that worthy students across the metroplex have access to dance training at a reduced fee.”

Sam, Enrique, and I welcome everyone to join us at the Meyerson for this dance party with a great cause.”

It’s a fitting recognition not only of the couple’s contributions and involvement with DBDT, it also marks the first time a same-sex couple has been named honorary chairs for the fundraising event. (Of note, couple Andy Smith and Paul von Wupperfeld were the first same-sex couple to chair the Dallas

Symphony Gala in 2021.) To add to the relevance of Santiago and Cobian being chosen, the recognition also echoes the theme of this year’s fundraiser.

Dallas Black Dance Academy students

“At the end of the day, this is a show of solidarity for each other. This is a great combination with the two largest minorities coming together through dance and music and celebration,” Santiago said by phone from Mexico.

This year’s BIG Dance — on June 3 at the Meyerson — will showcase a fusion of Latin and Afro-Latin cultures. The night will include live music by Havana NRG!, salsa band Fusion Latina and Mariachi Zacatecas. Plus, company dancers will celebrate the mix of cultures, too.

For those who can’t make it in person, the event will be livestreamed.

While it could be seen as a mixing of cultures, Santiago reminds us that there is more connection than anything: “Zenetta and [artistic director] Melissa Young came up with this idea of really celebrating the diverse communities. But one thing not often talked about is how the African-American diaspora exists in the Hispanic communities,” he said. “My grandmother was Afro-Caribbean and Melissa is Honduran. So the importance of joining those forces here gives an added power to the night.”

But Santiago adds that the queer community fits right in as well, starting with him and Cobian as the honorary event chairs.

“Not only are we openly gay and married, we both represent the two largest minorities within the community,” he noted. “I am Puerto Rican, and he is Mexican.”

Santiago was with American Airlines for 25 years and now works with logistics and ground transportation in Mexico. The former Dallas resident met Cobian on a trip to Puerto Vallarta, and in early 2022, the two were married. They are now based across two homes — one in Manzanillo and one in Veracruz.

Dallas Black Dance Academy

“I do miss living in Dallas because of performing arts companies like Dallas Black and the entire arts community,” Santiago said.

In his work with the arts here, he had served as a volunteer for organizations through the City of Dallas Office of Arts and Culture. He sat on judging panels for programs requesting funding and was appointed by Mayor Eric Johnson in 2019 to serve as chair of the Advisory Commision for Dallas.

The LGBTQ community has always been connected to performing arts, and Santiago finds that dance has been one way queer populations represent themselves. Plus, pioneers of modern dance like Alvin Ailey fit into the conversation as both a dance role model and gay-identifying. This, Santiago added, is yet another way these communities are connected.

There will be no shortage of representation on June 3, but The BIG Dance has a purpose for DBDT: Proceeds from the night all benefit Dallas Black Dance Academy, the official school of DBDT, which will allow for more than 300 students to be enrolled at reduced tuition.

Sam Santiago

Funds will also benefit DBDT’s in-school dance residency programs for more than 2,000 students in 24 Dallas-Fort Worth area schools where families are economically challenged and primarily Latino and Black.

With that being said, Santiago reminds us that this is a night of festive, cultural fun with its La Vida es un Carnaval theme. “We’ll be hosting a fun dance party celebrating these communities with purpose. It’s important for so many of us as well as benefiting an incredible organization that has helped put Dallas on the map,” he said.

“The night benefits the Academy which gives such great opportunities, and I hope people will come out and make history by supporting the future.”

For tickets, live stream and remaining sponsorships, visit