Dance performed in memory of slain dance teacher

October 5, 2011 3:47:04 AM PDT
Days after the murder of a beloved dance instructor, there are no suspects in his killing. That's making this time of grief even more difficult for the students of Rosaleo Pena, a man who dedicated his life to helping teens until it ended in gunshots in his front yard.

Pena was proud of his Mexican heritage and wanted to instill that in others, so dance was his vehicle and he had a huge impact.

With the cultural costumes and traditional music, you would think this was a celebration, but a performance on Tuesday wasn't for those who were there, it's for the one person who wasn't.

Pena, known to his family and friends as Leo, started the dance group more than 20 years ago.

"To Leo, this was his life," said one of his students, Maria Vita Velasquez.

Ballet Folklorico Azteca de Houston has reached hundreds of children, teens and young adults while promoting Mexican heritage. On Tuesday night, through the dances Pena learned in Mexico and then taught them, they are paying tribute after his violent death.

"To keep his memory alive," said another one of his students.

Pena was gunned down just a few steps from his front door in northeast Houston last Wednesday night. Neighbors told police they heard him arguing with another man in his driveway, followed by gunshots and the killer is still out there. For his family, it's hard to comprehend.

"He was never the type of person that was aggressive or confrontational. He was very easygoing," his sister, Ileana Alonia, said.

On Tuesday, they received mourners at a public viewing where his costume stood over his casket. Pena started dancing when he was 15. He died at 48.

"He always said it was very important for us to never forget where we come from," Alonia said.

So as many of his students danced for the first time in years, they remembered the man who introduced them to it, but more importantly a man who was more than a teacher, he was family.

"I've lost both my parents and he always made sure that we were heading the right way and made sure we went to school and just made it through. He's always been there, especially for my family," Velasquez said.

Pena's former and current students hope to continue to honor his legacy by continuing the dance group.

Police still have no leads regarding the suspects so anyone with information is urged to call Crime Stoppers at 713-222-8477.

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