DENVER — When Gabriela Gonzales was in third grade, her teacher Aliria Bello taught an elective for salsa dancing.
"It was natural on her natural," Bello said.
Her teacher wanted to share her Venezuelan culture with the students at the Aurora Montessori School, and Gabriela knew just what to do.
"She got the style, the rhythm, the class, you know the spice that you put into it," Bello said. "Everything she was the whole package. And I said 'oh my god she is good, and it was her first time being exposed to the salsa.'"
As a Christmas present, Gabriela's mom enrolled her in classes at the Colorado New Style Studio.
Three years after that first class in third grade, and Gabriela Gonzales is a world champion.
"Since I'm a dancer, everybody expects hip hop or ballet," Gabriela said. "But I'm a salsa dancer and I like being different."
Gabriela won the pre-teen amateur division at the World Salsa Summit in January.
"I was like oh my gosh I can't believe this was happening because I was competing against 36 really good dancers from all around the world," she said.
Gabriela is at the Colorado New Style studio long after dark five days a week but her mom doesn't mind the long hours because salsa helps preserve her Mexican heritage.
"If Gabriela can keep speaking Spanish and keep practicing different parts of our culture, than there's more of a likelihood that she'll be able to pass that on to her kids and onto generations," Claudia Gonzales said.
She's still a little kid herself, but when the music turns on, it's clear Gabriela Gonzales is going big.
"Salsa dancing is kind of a part of me," she said. "And it just feels like it's in my blood."
She'll compete in the 12-17 age group next year, and she also hopes to compete in the couples category. Colorado New Style is looking for boys to be Gabriela's and other girls partners.