As anyone who has ever eaten at La Bella Vita knows, owner Tony Modica’s Pizza Dance is an Ozone Park tradition that dates back years.
On Monday, Modica opened the doors of his restaurant on Rockaway Boulevard to the community in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday and served free pizza and his song to all who entered.
“I think of pizza as a symbol of the world,” said Modica, 44, who has lived in Ozone Park ever since he came to this country from Italy as a child.
“All of the toppings on a pizza represent the different kinds of people in the world and the Pizza Dance celebrates unity in the international community.”
More than 50 people of all ages sang and danced the day away. They were joined by State Senator Malcolm Smith.
“Music is a universal language,” Smith said. “It was wonderful to see children and adults of all different ethnic groups enjoying themselves together.”
Florence Hammond, owner of the Ridgewood Dance Studio, had eaten at La Bella Vita in the past and taught the Pizza Dance at her school. She and some of her students volunteered to perform the dance for the crowd.
Patty Perone, a DJ, kept the crowd hopping while Johnny Corso emceed. Another guest was John Ezimoha, a native Nigerian. The three are members of Our Lady of Lourdes Foundation, a local charitable group that is raising funds to help build a Roman Catholic shrine in rural Nigeria.
“Tony has his own charitable foundation and is always willing to help others,” Perone said. “He knew what we were trying to do and is going to let us use his hall for fundraisers.”
Long before September 11th, Catholics in Africa were the victims of Muslim terrorist attacks, she said. Churches have been destroyed.
“We don’t have enough money to help them build churches,” Perone said. “Instead, we are trying to get a shrine built in Nigeria that all can enjoy.”
The group has already raised $5,000 of the $25,000 needed to build a replica of the shrine in Lourdes, France. Father Louis Uzoh, a visiting priest at St. Claire’s Parish in Rosedale, has begun the process of purchasing land on which the statue of the Blessed Mother will be built.
“This is why we came to celebrate the Pizza Dance,” Perone said. “It’s a dance of unity. We are the ingredients of the world.”
Modica says he continues the Pizza Dance tradition because he wants “to give something back to the community” that has given so much to him.
Anyone wishing to contribute to Our Lady of Lourdes Foundation may send checks to American Legion Post 632, 91-11 101st Avenue, Ozone Park, NY 11416, c/o John Corso.
Part of Monday’s Pizza Dance festivities will be televised on New York Central, Channel 70, on Friday, January 25th, at 11 p.m.