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Creator of ‘Pizza Dance’ returns with 9/11 tribute

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His “Pizza Dance” was performed on the steps of the Capitol and for former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani in City Hall. City Councilman Alan Jennings (D-Jamaica) loves    it, state Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans) is reputed to have perfected its steps and the words have even been translated into Japanese.

Now Tony Modica, the Ozone Park restaurateur who got    people grooving to the moves of a pizza maker in 1999, has come up with a new dance tune with the hope of spreading a message of peace throughout the world.

Modica’s new creation, “Salute to the Soldiers,” was inspired by Sept. 11 and its aftermath.

“The world is sad right now,” said Modica, 46. “I’d like to bring the message of peace.”

The song begins with a somber introduction that transitions to a salute to soldiers, whom Modica calls heroes. The lyrics then ring out, “wave to the world that we want peace. Everybody waving in the world. No matter who they are no matter where they’re from.”

Plans are in the works for Modica to perform “Salute to the Soldiers” at City Hall on Veterans Day.

Modica, owner of the Rockaway Boulevard catering hall La Bella Vita, first gained recognition outside the kitchen in 1999, when his “Pizza Dance” was featured in newspapers and on television, both locally and nationally. He came up with the idea for the dance while watching one of the pizza chefs in his restaurant at work.

“He was making a pizza and he was getting a kick out of it and laughing,” recalled Modica. “I was watching with kids and they were all laughing. I saw everyone smiling and it gave me the inspiration for the ‘Pizza Dance.’”

Soon afterwards, Giuliani was featured in a two-page spread in the New York Post performing the dance that simulates pizza-making. He followed its steps, which include banging the pizza dough and spinning it in the air, with enthusiasm during a visit to Ozone Park, said Modica.

Congress adopted National Taste of Pizza Month — declaring “our culture, like the toppings on the pizza, is very different yet the toppings taste great on one foundation of bread” — after Modica performed the dance on the steps of the Capitol.

Buoyed by the sweeping success of the dance, the restaurate­ur/performer created a non-profit organization, the Pizza Dance Foundation, to bring food and music to disabled children and senior citizens.

The song even inspired Modica to expand his well-known catering establishment on Rockaway Boulevard in Ozone Park. Some six months ago, he took over the corner property at 106th Street and transformed it into a pizzeria, appropriately named “The Pizza Dance.”

Modica, who immigrated to the United States from Sicily in 1972, said the “Salute to the Soldiers” would not replace the “Pizza Dance.” “They can be performed back to back,” he said. “The ‘Pizza Dance’ will always be up-to-date because everyone will always love pizza.”

On Friday night, Modica hosted a “Pizza Dance Party” at La Bella Vita, where both dances shared the spotlight.

“They are beautiful dances,” said Frankie Lopresti, 24, who was assigned the task of teaching the steps at the Friday gathering.

And, Modica said, the new mayor paid a visit to La Bella Vita a few weeks ago, following in his predecessor’s footsteps.

“He knows about the ‘Pizza Dance,’” Modica said of Michael Bloomberg. “And he’s going to do ‘Salute to the Soldiers,’ that’s for sure.”

Reach reporter Daniel Massey by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 156.

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