You see the flowing skirts, you hear the stamping feet, and you know you're watching flamenco dancing. The disconnect comes when you realize the dancers are middle school students, not in southern Spain but here in southern Florida, at Miami's Shenandoah Middle School.
"It's a unique dance style where they can express themselves in all forms of happiness, sadness, creativity, it's a fun way to show who they are and where they're coming from," said the principal, Bianca Calzadilla.
Shenandoah Middle is the only Miami-Dade Public School offering flamenco as a class. It's the sort of elective you would expect in college or high school. At Shenandoah, it's part of the school's bilingual magnet program, in which students can take high school Spanish, even AP Spanish, before they ever set foot on a high school campus. Flamenco provides so much exercise, it might as well be a PE class. There's a ton of teamwork involved.
"We all think like one, then if one of us messes up, we all help each other," said Valia Vazquez, an 8th grader at the school.
"One whole team, like, we feel like family," added classmate Luz Arroliga.
"It gives them pride," Calzadilla explained, noting that this is Hispanic Heritage Month. "Miami is composed of a lot of different cultures, and I think it helps them have pride in themselves and their family, how things originated."
The students in the class learn much more than just technical dance moves. Flamenco instills confidence and communication skills in them. Their teacher says she's gratified by the impact she sees on her kids.
"It's a way for them to socially and academically come out of their shell and make connections with the other students," said Michelle Tellez, noting that she sees the evolution of her students every year. "It's actually a joy to witness, they start, now knowing what they're doing, what their next step is, and they leave here dancers, they walk the hallways completely differently."
They look like flowers twirling around the floor, and the dancers bloom as they learn the moves.