Looks, poise and personality! - Miss Belize wins title of Reina de la Costa Maya 2003

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 13, No. 31            August 14, 2003

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Reina de la Costa Maya 2003 - Leilah Pandy
Reina de la Costa Maya representatives mix-it-up with El Tambor de la Tribu band
Niurka performs in front of a full house
Niurka croons for the crowd
Niurka flirts with her fans

History was in the making this year as Belize earned the title of Reina de la Costa Maya for the first time at the International Costa Maya Festival 2003, held last Thursday through Sunday, August 7th to 10th, 2003. On Thursday, Pageant Night, hundreds gathered to witness the crowning of the Queen of the Mundo Maya. Each of the five contestants proudly represented her country, but it was Miss Leilah Pandy, the current Miss Belize, who dazzled the audience with the grace, poise and confidence of a seasoned pageant contestant.   

    From the charming way she introduced herself in "Spanglish" to the way she described the Belize Barrier Reef in her explanation of Belize's culture, Miss Belize "blew everyone away" during the competition. Donning a flowing robe adorned with the "jewels" of our Caribbean, Miss Pandy also won the award for Cultural Presentation.

    Festival-goers were delighted by the beauty and elegance of the lovely young ladies vying for the title "Reina de la Costa Maya 2003" as they took center stage. Pageant host Gabriel Soto (Mexican actor, model and singer), and co-host Lillian Villanueva (Mexican television personality) then introduced the five Mundo Maya delegates. The contestants were judged on cultural presentation, swimwear, dance performance and eveningwear as well as their answers to final interview questions. Judging the pageant were Jorge Varela, Nathalee Steele, Dr. Miguel Allison, Celi Gonzales, and Reuben Perdomo.

    In between judging categories, audiences were kept entertained by Identidades, a group of talented university dancers from El Salvador. The night also featured the melodic voice of Belizean singer Nadine Espat from San Ignacio, as well as a dance presentation featuring all five of the pageant contestants.

    Prior to the announcement of the new Reina de la Costa Maya, the reigning queen Miss Elsa Burgos of Mexico bid a tearful farewell to the people of San Pedro expressing her gratitude to the organizers and wishing the new Costa Maya queen as much joy as she had experienced over the past year. At the end of the evening, only one of the beautiful women adorning the stage could be chosen queen and thunderous applause greeted the announcement that Miss Leilah Pandy (Miss Belize 2003) was the winner of the "Reina de la Costa Maya Pageant 2003".. Miss Carina Velasquez of Guatemala was named first runner-up in the pageant.

    Post-pageant entertainment was provided by Guatemalan band "El Tambor de la Tribu," whose energetic performance kept the crowd rocking into the wee hours.

    In an interview with The San Pedro Sun, Miss Pandy expressed what a wonderful experience it was to have won this international pageant. She stated, "I am honored to have captured the Costa Maya crown for Belize and San Pedro." Miss Pandy explained that at first she was scared and very nervous about the competition but once on stage, the cheering voices of the people from San Pedro calmed her nerves. She commented, "The people of San Pedro made my day. They clapped for the other contestants, but they cheered for me. This made me feel wanted and very loved, and I was able to give them my best."

    Ironically, Miss Belize Leilah Pandy is also the "calendar girl" featured this month (August) on the Belikin Beer calendar. She is scheduled to compete next month against contestants from 35 other countries in the Miss Meso-America International Pageant to be held in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA. Providing she receives the sponsorship needed to travel there, Miss Pandy will depart Belize on September 7th for this competition.

    The "official" opening ceremonies started off the festival's Cultural Night on Friday evening with speeches from: San Pedro Town Mayoress Elsa Paz, Belize Rural South Area Representative Manuel Heredia Jr., Costa Maya Festival Chairman Milo Paz Jr., and Javier Williams, who spoke on behalf of the Belize Tourism Board.

    Lively dance performances by Identidades from El Salvador set the stage for a spectacular evening of culture and wonderful performances by Barbara's Dance Group followed. This was a stimulating prelude to the appearance of the ever-popular "Las Chicas Roland" musical group from Honduras who brought the crowd to their feet. Ignited by their rhythm, the excitement reverberated throughout the festival grounds late into the night.

    International Night on Saturday included presentations by Mexican cultural group Sian Ka'an and the Mariachis Los Compadres from Merida, Mexico. The San Pedro Dance Company members were all smiles from the applause issued by the crowd during their dance performances as well. After that, the stage came alive with the sound of Super G with Grigaholix, who warmed up the crowd for Cuban singer and actress, Niurka Marcos. Scantily clad, at times, Niurka and her trio of male dancers raised the crowd's temperature to boiling as they provided several "illuminating" songs and dance performances. Aside from several gestures of her affection, members of the audience were also treated to T-shirts and posters thrown off stage by the generous entertainer. She then invited a few young men to join her on stage, making them laugh (and blush) as they improvised scenes with her, acting the roles of men typically featured on "telenovelas".

Miss Belize won best cultural costume

    On an interesting note, Niurka's husband and producer, Juan Osorio, mentioned that footage from the festival would be aired on several Spanish networks. Also, sometime in the next two weeks, the character that Niurka plays on her soap opera (a poor taxi driver!) will have a dream about "La Isla Bonita," and if written into subsequent scripts, additional filming could take place in San Pedro. Her novela, "Velo de Novia," will air, starting Monday, August 18th, at 6:00 p.m. on Univision, San Pedro cable Channel 13. In addition, pageant co-host Lillian Villanueva of Chetumal, Mexico stated that her station (SP Channel 51) would air the Costa Maya Pageant at a date to be announced.

    On Sunday, an all day "jump up" ended the four-day festival of entertainment. Music was provided by the San Pedro High School (all-girl) band, under the direction of Maestro Alex Noralez. Those attending also enjoyed cultural performances by dance group Sian Ka'an of Mexico.

    Many thanks to all the sponsors, supporters and everyone who attended this one-of-a-kind event in Belize. A big thumbs up to the organizers, grounds- keepers and security for setting up and maintaining the festival grounds.

    Congratulations to the entire International Costa Maya Festival Committee 2003 for an outstanding job of putting together this year's entertainment for the festival. May the spirit of the Mundo Maya live on in all of you!

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