Angel Tenorio competes in the 400-metre hurdles.

Finding success on the track and the dance floor

People have been telling Angel Tenorio for years that he needs to choose: Irish dancing or running.

“Maybe that’s the right thing to do,” admits Tenorio. “But I still have a decent amount of faith that I can achieve my goals in both.”

Tenorio, 20, is from Mexico City and moved to Saskatoon in 2019 after being accepted as an international student at the University of Saskatchewan. He competed in his debut cross-country season for the Huskies this past fall and is in the midst of his first indoor track season with the team. On top of that, he still trains for Irish dance — and made history late last year in North Carolina when he became the first Mexican to win the U20 North American Irish Dance Championships.

“I was so happy and I’m still hungry to do more. I still have more goals to do,” Tenorio says.

Angel Tenorio in an Irish dance competition.
Angel Tenorio (centre) in an Irish dance competition.

Tenorio has been enraptured with Irish dance ever since he saw Riverdance when he was five years old. He remembers leaving the show and telling his mom “I want to do that.” She enrolled him in lessons two years later and he’s been dancing ever since.

In addition to dance, Tenorio competed in gymnastics for seven years — including appearances at nationals and youth Olympics — and went for early-morning runs with his dad, who ran to stay healthy. Tenorio eventually left gymnastics, but became more serious about running in high school when he tried out for the track and field team. He initially competed in the long jump and later saw success in the 400-metre hurdles.

As his Grade 12 graduation approached, Tenorio was surprised when his mother encouraged him to apply to English-speaking universities to pursue his dream of studying economics.

“It was funny because that had never come across in my mind. My English was terrible. I was junk. I was the worst in my class,” Tenorio said. Still, he applied to schools across Europe and North America — and was accepted on the condition that he improve his English.

Angel Tenorio competes for the University of Saskatchewan Huskies. Photo by Louis Christ.
Angel Tenorio competes for the University of Saskatchewan Huskies. Photo by Louis Christ.

Tenorio chose to attend the U of S and arrived in Saskatoon in September 2019 to start a year of full-time classes at the university’s language centre.

“I had a huge shock when I came here for the first time,” Tenorio recalls. “I thought that was one of the coldest days I’d ever experienced in my life. But it was just September. And then I had my experience with January and February of what a real winter here is.”

Tenorio found an Irish dance teacher in Saskatoon to rent him studio space and connected with a choreographer in Vancouver to coach him remotely. He also reached out to Huskies track head coach Jason Reindl expressing his hope to run track for the Huskies when he started his degree the following year. He started training with the team throughout the 2020-21 season despite the fact that competitions were cancelled due to COVID-19.

Running cross country — often in temperatures well below what he was comfortable in — was a character-building experience for Tenorio.

Angel Tenorio competes for the University of Saskatchewan Huskies. Photo by Louis Christ.
Angel Tenorio competes for the University of Saskatchewan Huskies. Photo by Louis Christ.

“Sometimes you have to run in the snow, but you get used to it,” he says.

Making time for dance, varsity athletics and studying in a second language has involved lots of early mornings, late evenings and incredible discipline. But Tenorio says the work he puts into any one area of his life helps in others. For instance, the fitness he builds from cross country and track helps with dance. The body awareness from dance helps with running.

“It’s just a matter of organizing yourself, listening to your body, being really responsible,” Tenorio says. On days when he does a hard track workout, he is careful not to push too hard in dance, instead focussing on drills and technique. He also makes an effort to stretch regularly, eat well and get lots of sleep.

In the coming months he has some big events on the horizon including indoor track meets and the 2022 World Irish Dancing Championships in Belfast in April. Preparing for success in both will be a challenge, but one Tenorio is thrilled to embrace.

“Dancing is the love of my life, it’s the thing I can’t stop doing, it’s what makes me happy,” Tenorio says. “But right now, I’m with the Huskies, with the track team. And I will do as much as I can to position the team in a good place.”