By Michael Perlman
The Electric Slide, Macarena, and Queens’ own… The Pizza Dance! Since the late 1990s, The Pizza Dance has been quite a buzz, thanks to fans and most certainly its originator Tony Modica, an immigrant who achieved the American Dream as a business owner and humanitarian.
The Pizza Dance is a sing-along novelty that fosters peace, unity, love, and simple pleasures through shared cultures. Modica is known for his hospitality as he entices palates and entertains at Prima Pasta & Cafe at 161-50B Crossbay Boulevard, a cornerstone since 1992.
“We support love, peace, and unity” is the slogan of The Pizza Dance Foundation, which Kathleen Leon administers. The foundation promotes unity and cultural appreciation through free public activities and mobilizing others to support a unified message of respect and appreciation for all people. It proves that consolidated efforts are a great model of how government and non-profits, including religious and private sectors, can work together for the public’s benefit.
The second annual Pizza Dance Festival of Unity will be held on Saturday, June 11, from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. at Five Towns Community Center at 271 Lawrence Ave., and admission to this family-friendly tradition is free. It has been a draw for not only Long Island residents, but those from Forest Hills and Rego Park, and throughout New York City and State.
The lineup will consist of food including Prima Pasta and Cafe, Grammie and Kids Cookies, smoothies, and piña coladas, as well as games and activities including face painting and giveaways, with a major highlight being Tony Modica and the Pizza Dance. Entertainment will also include the Sunshine Vocal Academy, Kathleen Leon, Emilio Moreli, Al Jeremiah, and DJ performances by Rhythm of the City Entertainment. Vendors will also include Chelsea’s Candles and Crafts, Creations by Erma, and Rhodizzy’s Royalty Palace.
The Pizza Dance originated at La Bella Vita on Rockaway Boulevard in Ozone Park in 1997. Modica reminisced, “The dance was a sign of a family breaking bread and enjoying pizza, and one child started to dance while enjoying pizza, so I came up with the Pizza Dance. Making pizza and doing the dance was an inspiration for unity and love. The choreography was inspired by the art of making pizza. It has been going strong since the late 1990s.” The Pizza Dance song is copyrighted and trademarked.
Forest Park was the setting of last June’s inaugural Pizza Dance Festival of Unity, which attracted amazing entertainment, as well as performances by Kathleen Leon, who has been running the foundation for the past two years. “She has lifted The Pizza Dance higher than it’s ever been,” Modica said, “and she transformed the foundation into an amazing, thriving one.” “At last year’s event, our attendance was very diverse,” Leon said. “This pertains to how we support and unite all cultures and nationalities, where we are one world with one heart.”
The Pizza Dance Foundation is a humanitarian inspiration that harbors an impressive history of giving back to the community. Modica proves how pizza is an international symbol of unity, and the foundation founded programs that encourage children to stay in school and achieve higher grades. After his lectures, everyone from students to seniors is treated to pizza and a Pizza Dance lesson.
He explained, “Pizza is used as a symbol due to its varied toppings and delectable enjoyment that is recognized by all cultures. Positive messages are enhanced through dance and an enjoyable feast.”
The foundation has contributed to St. Jude’s Hospital for Children and the Alzheimer’s Foundation, as well as sponsored toy drives for the holiday season, and facilitated the donation of clothing to children and places of worship. Modica said, “We provide assistance with trade school scholarships and sponsor the American softball league, as well as support any autistic foundation in need of help.”
Modica reflects on the past in pride. “Twenty-three years ago, June was officially named the ‘Taste of Pizza Month’ and the Pizza Dance Foundation was congressionally honored as well.” Leon said, “Running this foundation has made me proud of the pizza dance in so many ways.
Our aim is to build trade school scholarships for children in need of a better future. We are very humble and will always serve our community.”
The foundation has proven how private citizens and non-profits can achieve success across local communities and beyond with the support of businesses and government. “Help us make a change and spread a positive message to the world by donating, or contact us for more information on how to have us organize an event with you in mind,” said Modica. Parties of interest can email [email protected]