For Lucero Lopez, dancing is not just a way to stay active, it is a means of creative expression that portrays her entire life.
Dance has been an integral part in the life of Lopez, a sophomore physical education major with a 3.5 grade point average (GPA). Most people know the second-year student as a vibrant personality and kind student who helps put on captivating routines with Kean Dance Theatre. She has danced for over 16 years, and those who know her are aware of how devoted she is to her craft.
However, people know little about her background in a traditional form of dance that has been enshrouded in South American history.
She has done traditional Peruvian dancing since she was young. While growing up in Elizabeth, N.J., Lopez was able to find the liberal art of cultural dance because of her Peruvian background. Being that both of her parents are from Peru -- her father is from Lima and her mother is from Chorrillos -- Lopez's upbringing would soon fuel her passion to learn this art form.
Lopez learned different Peruvian dances and cultures when she participated in Miss Peru, a national beauty pageant held in the South American country. There were three different regions represented by the Amazonian, mountain and city areas of the country.
She won the Amazonian region and, while competing, was able to learn the culture, customs and many dance styles of her assigned region.
"After competing in it once, I tried to do it again in 2014 and I won that as well for the department I represented, since they have different departments for the three different regions," said Lopez.
This past summer proved to be a memorable one for Lopez. Lopez and her sister, Alison, were both crowned Peruvian queens of a cultural dance called the Marinera, a courtship dance done in the coastal part of Peru.
"As the queens, we represent New York and it comes directly from Peru," said Lopez. "It is a big deal because there are queens representing all of these other countries, and from all the other candidates for this dance, they brought it up to us. And all I could say was, 'wow!'"
The best thing about being a Peruvian dance queen, she mentioned, was the traveling. Throughout the month of August, Lopez flew from Toronto to Quebec all the way to the nation's capital, competing and showcasing her dancing talent with her sister.
After one of their performances in Canada, Lopez and her sister were actually invited to perform at the White House by a couple of White House representatives.
"In the backyard of the White House, we were able to hear President Obama give his last conference speech with the Prime Minister of Italy. I was literally five steps away from him! That was my mother's dream coming true for us," said Lopez.
Her mother, an alumna from Kean University, was a Peruvian dancer as well. The Marinera was the dance that her mother practiced throughout her younger years, but not at the professional level that her two daughters would reach.
"She was really passionate about this dance, and I remember seeing her perform when I was little," said Lopez. "She would dance at church events and teach other dancers how to perform these Peruvian dances. And when I saw her on stage, I knew then that I wanted to do the same thing."
Dance has given Lopez the confidence needed to take on any task head-on. It has also given her a sense of humility.
She started dancing when she was young, in traditional ballet. As Lopez grew, the process of teaching herself traditional Peruvian dances at the age of 13 taught her a very important life lesson: it is never too late to learn anything if there is passion.
Lopez thinks that if a person really puts his or her mind to something, he or she can achieve it. Between going to dance practices, school and working at the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) as a gymnastics, yoga and dance instructor, there is little free time for Lopez.
"It's rewarding to see people come up to you and tell you, 'you did great, I want to go to this part of Peru and see what it is like because of your creative expression,'" said Lopez. "The dedication and time I put into this has taught me to set my priorities."
When someone hears of all of the roles that she is involved in, it would probably seem as if it is too stressful for an average student. Lopez, however, has no intentions of slowing down any time soon. She just keeps on moving.