The recent death of a rare male dancer who performed with the Rio Rancho High School RhythAMetteS dance team from 2008-10 has his coach and acquaintances reeling.

Andre J. Ulibarri. Courtesy photo.

Andre J. Ulibarri, a member of the RRHS Class of 2010, was remembered on Facebook as a “sweet soul… a firecracker… one of the best dancers… and so full of life and fight.”

Former RhythAMetteS coach Christine Carson notified former RRHS students and members of her dance teams Ulibarri’s death.

“Andre was an active member of the RhythAMetteS, Black Student Union and Hip Hop Club while in high school. As his coach while on the RhythAMetteS, I can truly say that it was a privilege to teach, mentor and guide an individual who, despite many challenges, excelled in his lifelong passion for dancing,” Carson wrote.

“Andre thoroughly enjoyed learning and growing throughout his time on the team, and continued his dance career by teaching and coaching well after high school. He never hesitated to remind me how much he felt dance was the reason for his success and graduation, and his motivation as well,” Carson penned. “He will be missed by friends and family and remembered for his heart, humor and perseverance.”

For several months, Ulibarri’s mother, Susan Ulibarri, had been posting and requesting prayers on Facebook.

Less than one month before her son passed, she wrote, “I’m trying to raise money to help my son with a kidney transplant and medical treatments until we find a donor. Anything is appreciated, even if it’s a kidney. The goal amount is whatever, anything raised helps. Please help me save my son.”

She noted that she learned her son had been told “that because he is also juvenile diabetic type 1, the need is very severe… He was hospitalized a couple of times now because of his conditions. He has started dialysis but still needs a kidney pretty quick.”

Sadly, that didn’t happen.

“His sickness with diabetes and kidney failure took a toll on him,” his mother said. “…My son was very much loved. All he loved to do was dance, spend family time – (he) loved being with his nieces and nephews.”

Before attending RRHS, Ulibarri had gone to Martin King Jr. Elementary and then Lincoln Middle School, which took a mental toll.

“He was bullied a lot in middle school for being gay, but he fought that fight and got through it,” his mother recalled. “Andre was a fighter and he didn’t let anyone steal his shine.”

Part of that “shine,” she said, was helping others

“Andre was so sweet and tried to help a lot of people; everyone would go to him for advice. “He was real protective of his family and friends; if you were his friend, it was special.”

Being a gifted dancer remained a passion until his dying day.

“He opened his own dance studio in the mall for a bit; the COVID came and stopped that,” Susan said. “Andre would always help others if it was a good cause, and he did a lot for free. He gave free dance lessons to people who couldn’t afford it but just wanted to dance – that was his passion.”

Needless to say, Susan Ulibarri concluded, “Andre will be truly missed, specifically by me.”