When the dust settled from the August Doin's rodeo parade, the float that took top honors was manned by a group of young dancers ranging in age from 5 to 20.
The Valley-based dance troupe, Folklorico Lindo-Y-Querido, which means "beautiful and loved" in English, hoofed their way down the Beeline to first place on a flatbed trailer decorated to look like a hoedown.
Of Folklorico Lindo-Y-Querido's 50 members, only two are not of Hispanic origin sisters Nerissa and Katrina Kueny who also happen to be the lone members from Payson.
"We're the only gringos," Heidi Kueny, the girls' mother, said. "All the rest are Mexicans, so we kind of stand out."
Kueny explained how her two daughters came to be the only Anglo children in a dance troupe that performs authentic Mexican folk dances.
"When we were living in the Valley, my husband became good friends with the director's husband and he kept encouraging us to come and look them over," she said.
"Now we're very well accepted and actually looked out for quite a bit by the others."
Folklorico Lindo-Y-Querido was formed in 1998 by Lucy Cervantez to give young people an outlet that would keep them off the streets and out of gangs.
"One of her boys was getting into a little bit of trouble," Kueny said.
With the aid of their parents, members design and make their own costumes based on authentic Mexican dress from various parts of that country, including Vera Cruz, Nayarit, Jualisco and Chappas. In all, the dancers have nine different costumes, each of which represents a different area of Mexico.
The troupe is divided into two groups based on age, so one group is usually performing while the other is backstage changing costumes.
The boys perform separately, the older ones with real machetes.
"They represent a part of Mexico where there are a lot of field workers, so they dance with machetes," Kueny said. "During part of it, they're even blindfolded."
Folklorico Lindo-Y-Querido has performed in several states, and has a trip coming up this fall to Washington, D.C. where they will perform for President Bush in the White House.
"We just got back from (a competition in) Riverside, Calif.," Kueny said. "We are the only folklorico group in Arizona that is part of the international folklorico organization the Asociacion Nacional De Grupos Folkloricos."
That organization alternates its annual competition between the U.S. and Mexico, and next year, Kueny and her daughters will perform with the troupe in Vera Cruz. At the week-long gatherings, new songs and dances are learned that can be added to the group's repertoire once it returns home.
"It's seven days of constant working out, so the kids work really hard when they go there each year," Kueny said.
Besides its appearance in the August Doin's rodeo parade, Folklorico Lindo-Y-Querido also performed in Payson at the Business Showcase in April. In the Valley, their performances include parades (they recently won trophies in the Fiesta Bowl Parade and the Glendale Glitters Parade), nursing homes, meetings and conventions, and even an occasional wedding.
Kueny, who home schools both her daughters, drives them to the Valley every week for rehearsals. It's a grind, but one she believes is definitely worth the effort.
"There isn't much dancing up here, so we made the commitment to stay involved down there," she said. "This is the first thing both the girls really love."
It also complements their home schooling, something Kueny and her girls also are enthusiastic about.
"I started doing it when we were moving from Nebraska to Arizona five years ago," Kueny said. "Otherwise, Nerissa would have ended up in three different first grades."
She'll continue home schooling the girls through high school.
"Each year I give them the option to go to school, but they always choose home," she said.
Their involvement in the dance troupe gives them an additional real-world outlet, not to mention an outstanding opportunity to practice their Spanish.
"The cross-culturing aspect of their involvement is really valuable," Kueny said.