Communications major Davina Saltos reports how fellow student Stephanie Ventura formed Latin dance team, AU Bailadores, at Adelphi University
Even with the rise of cultural diversity on campus, Adelphi University has never seen a Latin dance team take the stage. Until now.
Stephanie Ventura, a senior psychology major from Westbury who has a deeply rooted passion for dance and her Latin American culture, founded AU Bailadores in the spring of 2019. The group, which currently has 22 members, performs at various cultural events on Adelphi’s campus, thrilling large crowds and leaving them wanting more.
“Dancing is a form of art,” said the 20-year-old. “That is how I view it. With dancing, you paint a picture… But the best part of dancing to Latin music is the fact that it flows naturally. The rhythm is in your blood.”
Ventura’s passion for dance is literally in her blood. She credits it to her parents, first-generation Salvadoran immigrants who came to the United States at a young age to fulfill their dreams.
“When I was a kid, my dad would always pull me to dance with him,” she recalled. “Our favorite song was ‘La Vaca’ by Mala Fe. Till this day, if we hear the song we go off… Dancing brings me joy because every time I dance, it reminds me of my childhood. When my grandpa was still alive, he was my number-one supporter and he told me to never stop doing what I love, and dancing is what I love.”
But it was only fairly recently that Ventura said she felt comfortable showing off her heritage outside her home. As a student at Kellenberg Memorial High School in Uniondale on Long Island, she struggled to embrace her Salvadoran culture because of the school’s lack of Latino representation. She was even embarrassed to speak Spanish, her second language, because she knew she would be teased for doing so.
But her reluctance gradually disappeared after enrolling at Adelphi, which, as of Fall 2019, has an undergraduate population that is 19.2 percent Hispanic/Latino. In her sophomore year, she joined the Latino Student Association (LSA). “When I began to attend meetings I felt at home,” said Ventura. LSA became a place where she and other members could share their language and culture. Ventura then began to expand her efforts by proposing a dance team to the Latino and non-Latino communities in her junior year.
Starting a club or team at Adelphi is an involved process that requires collecting signatures from a number of students to show there’s a viable interest in the club, writing a constitution, assembling an executive board and finding a faculty adviser. Fortunately, Ventura was able to count on friends and supporters of the Latino community for help. She found that Swirbul Library Acquisitions Specialist Luis Aguirre ’17 was particularly helpful.
Aguirre said, “I was so happy for her because this was her idea, and this was going to be beneficial for all Latino students… Dancing is not only about having a good time, it’s also socializing and getting to know people, so what better way to portray the Latino culture to the Adelphi community?
“I don’t think we are proud enough of our origins, and Stephanie made that step to say, ‘Hey! We are here, we are a good community, we are doing the right thing and we are going to continue to move on to be not only inclusive but to be visible to the rest of the school,'” Aguirre added.
AU Bailadores formally launched on April 6, 2019, when they performed at the South Asian Student Association’s annual fashion show where they received roaring applause from attendees. AU Bailadores also performed at LSA’s annual Hispanic Heritage Month kickoff party on September 20, 2019. The group of young men and women took over the dance floor, dancing as couples to salsa songs. The word about AU Bailadores’ performance spread, bringing in interested students who wanted to audition for the dance team.
AU Bailadores began with 16 members and has grown to 22 since the spring of 2019. Members meet twice a week, Mondays and Wednesdays, from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. They practice various styles of dance, such as merengue, cumbia, salsa, bachata as well as hip-hop, and contemporary.
None of this would be possible without Ventura’s leadership, according to Alicia Massey, a senior communications major who serves as the dance team’s secretary.
“Stephanie is devoted 110 percent to the team,” Massey said. “She has taught choreography while having a sprained ankle… She has no problem helping someone who is behind in learning their moves; she is always ready to assist.”
Ventura doesn’t mind the hard work, though. “The reason why I enjoy contributing to the Latino community is that we’re one big family,” she said. “We may have different backgrounds, but at the end of the day we understand each other in a way no one else does. When things happen, we come back to each other as one and form one big group. People do not seem to notice, but we as Latinos do.”
Thanks to Ventura, the Latino community’s presence on campus can be felt now more than ever before.
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