16 March 2023

Griffith dancer bounces stereotypes in debut as Roosters cheerleader

| Oliver Jacques
Start the conversation
Jessika Griffith and Lara Salvestro in cheerleader outfits

Lara Salvestro (right) and her friend Jessika Griffith. Photo: Supplied.

Griffith dancer Lara Salvestro made her debut as a topflight cheerleader for NRL club the Sydney Roosters on Saturday 11 March, featuring in their round two match against the New Zealand Warriors at Allianz Stadium.

Lara, 21, who plied her trade at Shannon Dance Studio for more than a decade, said the selection process was like nothing she’d ever experienced.

“Cheerleading is such a cutthroat industry,” she said. “You’re a big fish in a small pond when dancing in Griffith. But in Sydney there is so much competition … I had to go through three rounds of auditions. At first you send a video, then you go in person, then you’re taught choreography and then you get interviewed. There were 90 girls, then 40, then 24 for the last audition. That got cut in half and I was lucky enough to make the final 12.”

READ ALSO Griffith student’s mission to rebrand autism as an asset

In achieving a longtime goal, she also wants to dispel some myths about cheerleading.

“When I tell people I’m a cheerleader, they change the way they look at me. They seem to think it’s something you do when you can’t do anything else.

“But it’s incredibly challenging. In two hours, we learned 32 different dance combinations. That’s very tough mentally and very strenuous.”

While some activists claim cheerleading portrays women in a negative light, Ms Salvestro believes feminism is all about women doing whatever they want.

“I’m doing something that I truly love to do. It’s my whole life. I get girls come up to me and say that they want to be like me, it’s the best feeling in the world.

“We are fully covered, we don’t even have our belly shown, it’s purely about entertainment.”

Two rows of cheerleaders

Lara (bottom row, second from right) among the top Roosters cheerleaders. Photo: Supplied.

Ms Salvestro grew up on a farm in the small village of Warrawidgee and worked for Griffith’s Collier and Miller before landing her current role at the NSW State Emergency Service. But her true passion is dance; she says she has loved performing in front of crowds since she took up the sport at six.

“I was the only dancer in a household full of basketballers. I did every style of dance. I used to do jazz, lyrical, contemporary, point, ballet. I was at the studio five days a week. Everything I know is because of Shannon [Hart of Shannon Dance Studio].”

Ms Hart is not surprised by her protege’s latest success.

“She is a hard worker and so dedicated … she did teaching for me too, she was an inspiration and a role model to those younger than her. She was always really good at acrobatics, so I’m not surprised she’s excelled at cheerleading … to come from a regional town and do what she has done is such a fantastic achievement.”

A pivotal moment in her career came in 2017, when Shannon Dance Studio students toured the United States.

“The kids were really lucky, we were there when there was a pulse dance convention in Las Vegas. They also got to perform in Disneyland,” Ms Hart said.

Six Roosters cheerleaders with pom poms

Lara and the Roosters cheerleaders outside the stadium on game day. Photo: Supplied.

Ms Salvestro also took the stage in the pre-match entertainment for the 2022 NRL Grand Final, as a backup dancer, in front of 100,000 people. But her job isn’t all roses.

“I sometimes get abuse on social media … and we have people throwing stuff at us on the field because they don’t like the Roosters … I have to say I don’t like the [South Sydney] Rabbitohs fans too much, they’re our rival.

“You have to be thick skinned to be a cheerleader, you cop a lot, but it’s part of the job.”

READ ALSO Griffith’s first alternative school seeks support to complete development in new location

Nevertheless, she said she wouldn’t swap roles with anyone.

“For the most part, it’s so great. I’ve got to meet so many awesome people. It’s got me work on TV ads and I have learned so much … I want to thank my parents, I couldn’t have done any of this without their support.”

Start the conversation

Daily Digest

Want the best Riverina news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riverina stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.