TUCSON, Ariz. - Mariachi is a style of music that dates back to the 18th century. Students at Roskruge Bilingual Magnet School are immersing themselves in the culture and history of mariachi and folklorico.
Chantal Ralls is the folklorico instructor at Roskruge, where she's teaching more than just dance steps. Class starts with a warmup -- students wear comfortable clothes to stretch and work on technique before getting to the dancing.
Ralls' beginning, intermediate, and advanced classes also learn about the history behind the dance.
"It's a very rich culture and I like to make sure that they see it and understand it and appreciate it more than anything," Ralls said.
Ralls says mariachi is a big part of Roskruge -- it's the only middle school in Tucson that offers folklorico and mariachi as curriculum-based programs. Students take the classes as an elective.
"You can see when we have our presentations, mariachi and folklorico is a huge part and the kids love it, whether they're part of it or not," Ralls said. "So I just always tell them, be proud that you're keeping this culture and your traditions and your heritage alive."
Ralls has been teaching folklorico for 11 years. She says the majority of her students take her classes all throughout middle school. Beyond that, she sees many students continue taking her classes at her nonprofit, Compania de Danza Folklorica.
At Roskruge, Ralls sees the students' improvement in learning the dances, and the confidence that comes with it.
"I've seen it many times where students start in like this little nutshell. And then month by month, year by year, they just start to bloom and break out of this little shell they were in," Ralls said. "So that for me as a teacher is what inspires me. You know, to keep doing this, because it has a huge impact on them, socially and emotionally as well."
That growth is what Ralls says is the best part of her job.
"I have had parents come to me and say, you've been such an inspiration in my child's life. It's kind of emotional, but it's nice. It's nice to hear that."
The students in mariachi and folklorico classes are practicing for a performance this December.