The best way to understand culture is to experience it. The Decatur High School flamenco team lives up to this motto.
“My goal is to show others the beauty of Spanish culture, dismiss negative stereotypes and associate Spanish with good taste,” flamenco sponsor and Spanish teacher Terry Stewart said. “I want the flamenco team to be synonymous with our Spanish department.”
The idea of sponsoring a flamenco team came in 1992 when Stewart worked at James Bowie High School in Arlington.
“We were celebrating the 500th anniversary of the new world,” he said. “The whole school was putting on a carnival. Each department had to create something related to that.”
Stewart’s high school friend, Linda Quinn, choreographed the routine. From there, the program was established. The team even sold chocolate bars to purchase costumes.
“I’m like the producer,” Stewart said. “I’m really not cut out for the fine arts because I’m too anal. I like for everything to be on time, and I like things to be perfect.”
The original Bowie High School flamenco team competed in Sherman at Foreign Language Weekend.
“We usually came home with wins; blue and red ribbons,” Stewart said.
In 1999, Stewart moved to DHS. One year later, a co-worker told him about the Pan-American Student Forum (PASF) in San Antonio – a Spanish convention where various schools come together and showcase their talents. Stewart organized a new team and called Wise Dance Center owner Karen Smith for help.
“Senor (Stewart) contacted me, the only dance teacher in the area,” Smith said. “Teaching the flamenco team is a nice departure from my usual classes. It does make my day longer, but it is always rewarding.”
Since last October, this year’s team has met weekly.
“People don’t realize how much work we put in to our routine,” junior Garrett Bowen said. “We’re struggling to make sure everyone learns the routine in the midst of students missing rehearsals.”
Last weekend, 16 flamenco dancers continued the 13-year-tradition.
“Not many high schools have a chance to dance for PASF,” junior Savanna Seckel said. “We also have the opportunity to experience the Spanish culture. I’m very grateful for this experience and the people I share it with.”
The students traveled to San Antonio and performed Friday, March 22 at the Lila Cockrell Theatre in the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center.
“My head swells. I love going to San Antonio,” Stewart said. “I dress up, the students dress up and everything feels clean and perfect. Going to the Lila Cockrell and seeing all that transpire makes all the work worthwhile.”
The following Saturday, the team performed outside the Hemisphere Tower.
“By the time we perform, it’s like muscle memory,” junior Gabe Guia said. “We’ve spent so much time working and perfecting our dance that it just flows.”
They returned Sunday with two blue ribbons from each show and memories they’ll always cherish.
“Being a part of the flamenco team is like being part of another family,” Guia said. “You meet new people, new friends and you bond.”
While the trip allows the students to experience the Spanish culture, Stewart wants the program to leave an impression on the community as well.
“I want it to be impressive, and I want people to take notice of it,” Stewart said. “Flamenco is a symbol of what I want people to see in our department. I want people to admire our department, be impressed with it and respect it. I think the flamenco dance team helps in that mission.”
FROM THE WRITER
My final performance is just two character-shoe stomps away. The music plays and I instantly become absorbed in Charo’s “Espana Cani.” Moments slip away, and before I know it, I’m taking my final bow. This is my fourth and final year to dance with the flamenco team.
I remember watching them dance when I was in sixth grade. I fell in love with the beautiful dance, costumes, makeup; everything about it was perfect. At the time I didn’t know who “Senor” was or that my involvement with the Spanish department would become a significant part of my high school career. Karen sparked the interest to dance while Senor stressed the cultural importance of flamenco. Along with Lupe Guia, these instructors consistently work to produce a quality team – a team in which any participant can look back and recall how proud they were of their participation. I couldn’t count how many compliments we received from strangers, friends and family.
Flamenco holds a special place in my heart. I’ve developed relationships with friends and teachers that I will carry on in life after high school. While it’s bittersweet to leave something I truly love, I know others will take advantage of our unique program and enjoy it for the same reasons.
Madeline is a senior at Decatur High School. To read more from our Youth Spoken reporters, visit WCMessenger.com/youthspoken.