He’s a hometown icon who can’t resist a crowd. He’s as much a historian as he is a walking historical artifact. Gaetano “Guy” Ferrara’s life story reads like a dynamic tour of the cultural highlights of the ‘50s and ’60s.
The 88-year-old has rubbed shoulders with the likes of baseball legend Jackie Robinson. Ferrara was Robinson’s driver. Then there was the friendship Ferrara forged with the Latin bandleader and mambo legend Tito Puente.
Close to home, he’s become a part of Valley Stream lore. The worst-kept secret in the village is Ferrara’s ardent fascination with salsa and mambo dancing, which has earned him the nickname “The Mambo Man of Valley Stream.” Last year he gave a riveting dance performance during the village’s summer concert series.
Ferrara has never shied away from sharing stories with any willing listener about the many hats he has worn throughout his life. He’s a village historian, and has been a technology teacher at Hewlett-Woodmere Junior High School: now Woodmere Middle School, a village civilian patrol officer, a salsa dancing instructor, and a stand-up comedian and nightclub entertainer. He remains something of a force of nature.
But until recently, Ferrara never thought of adding author to that list. Now he has, penning his personal history in an autobiography titled “Dancing My Way Through Life.” Ferrara signed copies of the book at the Pagan-Fletcher Restoration on May 21.
While he is no stranger to archiving and collecting stories, he never thought he would write a book of his own, but when the pandemic hit in 2020 and life slowed to a pause, the isolation gave him a unique opportunity to reflect. He soon found joy in compiling a narrative of his life, which includes photos from a scrapbook. Ferrara describes his book as “a thousand pieces that were put together by me and my editor.”
“I wanted to preserve history — it’s very important to me,” he said. “That’s why I’ve been the president of the Valley Stream Historical Society for 10 years.”
Ferrara has a deep appreciation for archiving events of historical importance, having spent three years recording and collecting traces of Valley Stream’s aeronautical past at Curtiss Airfield, which flying heavyweights of the early 20th century like Amelia Earhart and Charles Lindbergh put on the map.
“I interviewed Charles Lindbergh’s grandson,” Ferrara said. “I mean, who does that?”
His book overflows with stories from his own past. While an account of his life may naturally appeal to history buffs, Ferrara hopes his energy and zest for life come through on the page, and will reel in a wide variety of readers.
“Be entertained,” he said. “Every night, read one story, and you’ll fall asleep laughing.”
And he hopes to inspire readers to “get out there, take risks, and try everything,” Ferrara said. “This coming from a man who auditioned for Radio City Music Hall at 75 years old.”
Staying true to the title of his book, he still dances as often as he can, and had no problem showing off some of his favorite dance moves to the audience at the book signing. He plans to continue dancing into the future, and on weekends you can find him at various nightclubs across Long Island. “Dancing My Way Through Life” can be found on Amazon.
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