Marilyn Mancuso-Weekly is in love with dancing.
And it all started on the stage at the Centro Asturiano de Tampa – a symbol of Ybor City's rich Latino history.
The historic club, which sits on the corner of Nebraska and Palm, was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1974.
It's stood there since the early 1900s, serving as a social hub for cigar rollers after long, hot days in the factories.
But for Mancuso-Weekly, it's more than just a building.
It's a reminder of her home away from home as a child, and it's the place where she found her passion.
"We would go upstairs to the theater, and they would always have a show: music and singing and dancing," said Mancuso-Weekly, who grew up experiencing the club in its thriving days. "So at a very young age, I wanted to do that."
As a young girl, Mancuso-Weekly remembers coming to the club with her friends to watch the Spanish dancers perform. At the time, it was the only Spanish-language theater in the U.S.
She was fascinated.
"At a very young age, we were able to get a real taste for performing, for music, for rhythm, for a variety of cultures that we had here in Ybor City," Mancuso-Weekly said.
The club still to this day plays host to shows, and it's as beautiful as ever, said Centro executive director Rick Duran.
"Losing who you were, a good way to try and reclaim that is to look at icons from your past that you can attribute a lot of things to," he said. "Everyone speaks of community. This was a community center. This is where a community center can be again."
The Centro isn't the only historic club in the Ybor City area. It's one of three. But the Centro was known as a "Spanish club," and it earned that label because of the second part of its name, "Asturiano."
A common misconception
The Centro is one of several "Centros Asturianos" around the world. Asturias is a principality (think state or province) in northern Spain.
But Duran said labeling Tampa's Centro Asturiano as just a Spanish club is a common misconception.
He points to membership records. Throughout its history, Jews, Germans, Italians, Spaniards and Cubans were members at the club.
He said a better term to use is simply: Latino.
"So the idea that we had a separate place for the Spanish is really a misnomer because Ybor City was a conglomeration of different cultures, different countries, and immigrants from all over," he said. "The common tongue was Spanish, and that's really what kept it together."
Duran has personal ties to the club, too. He was born in the Centro's hospital, which up until 1990 provided healthcare along with membership.
"Remembering where we came from can let us know who we are," he said. "And it can tell us where we need to go."
These days the club moves at a much slower pace.
Membership has dropped. The sights, sounds and smells of the old days – that's mostly gone, too.
The club still holds classes, events and shows, though.
And there are those like Mancuso-Weekly and Duran – as well as the hundreds who are still members – who carry on its legacy.
They carry on the history of a building that's forever tied with Ybor City's history.
May we have this dance?
Mancuso-Weekly takes part in that through dance.
On June 24, she and a few others will perform El Nombre de Espana – three different dancing routines –under the bright lights of the Centro's theater stage – that same stage where she fell in love with it as a little girl.
She can't wait.
If anything, it's a just few moments to relive her childhood memories.
"It's an incredible feeling," she said. "It's like: Yes, culture lives on. Love of heritage lives on. You don't have to dance to appreciate this place. You just have to know the history of how this came to be. People lived their lives here. They had their insurance here. They had their hospital here. They had their social meetings here. There was a gym. This was the male hang out. The dances, the weddings, you know your whole life from birth to death was at the Centro Asturiano."
(Photos Kerry Klecic/MyFoxTampaBay.com and courtesy of USF Library Digital Collections)
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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