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Brockton High School ballroom dancers go back in time

A retro dance unites all ages

On Friday night, a group of Brockton High School students will show off their ballroom dancing skills for local senior citizens at “Jukebox 1944,’’ a semiformal event that aims to connect different generations and pay tribute to local World War II veterans.

The dance is the brainchild of Dennis Hursey, a 54-year-old Brockton High alum who has been teaching ballroom dancing at Brockton High School for six years.

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“One thing with ballroom dancing, there is no age’’ limit, said Hursey. “People in high school can do it, and people in their 90s’’ can do it.

“We’ll bring them back to 1944,’’ he said.

Hursey is expecting a big crowd; he said 240 people attended the dance last year, including 23 World War II veterans.

Brockton Mayor Linda Balzotti, school principal Susan Szachowicz, and the Brockton High School ROTC color guard are also expected to attend.

The dance has become an annual event for Hursey, who has been an advocate of ballroom dancing for decades. He said he was introduced to it when he was in seventh grade in Brockton, when the junior high school PTA hired a retired Rockette to teach ballroom dance classes. Hursey said he tried it and was hooked.

“I became very good at it,’’ he said. “I believe there’s a correlation between athletics and ballroom dancing.’’

After graduating from Brockton High School in 1975, he went to Morehead State University in Kentucky on a track scholarship. He continued to dance throughout college.

When Hursey first started teaching ballroom dancing at Brockton High School six years ago, no one knew how many students would be willing to try it. The response has been strong: Hursey says he typically gets 30 students to a class, and has had to turn some away.

“They love it,’’ said Hursey. “I’ll tell you, the show ‘Dancing With the Stars’ really brought back ballroom dancing. It’s amazing how many kids are going back to ballroom dancing.’’

The 20 students currently in Hursey’s class meet every Monday evening in the cafeteria, and over the course of 14 weeks they learn the foxtrot, waltz, cha-cha, salsa, and swing, as well as the fundamentals of other classic dance moves.

“I gave them the basic fundamentals of all of them,’’ said Hursey, who lives in Brockton and teaches physical education full time at Ursuline Academy in Dedham.

During the weekly lesson, the students listen to songs by Frank Sinatra, Bobby Darin, and orchestras led by Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller. Hursey’s playlist also includes Rod Stewart’s remakes of hits like “September in the Rain’’ and “I Get a Kick Out of You.’’

“I not only teach them how to dance,’’ he said. “I teach them manners. How to treat a lady . . . how to open a door for a girl, pull a chair out for her to sit in. . . . Part of the course is manners, too.’’

Hursey said he got the idea for Jukebox 1944 several years ago when he was reading Tom Brokaw’s book “The Greatest Generation.’’ He said he thought “Wouldn’t it be great if we could do something for these guys?’’ - and decided to hold a dance for both the young and older folks.

Hursey’s father, George, 91, said he’s looking forward to attending the dance and hearing songs from his younger days.

“My son puts it on, so I’d better go,’’ the Brockton resident and World War II veteran said, laughing. “Every year it seems to get better. There’s plenty of dancing, plenty of food. . . . Then we all sit down and feel sorry for ourselves.’’

Ngozi Onubogu, an English and literature teacher at Brockton High who serves as adviser to the ballroom dance group, is also looking foward to attending the Jukebox 1944 event. It will be her first time.

“It’s something that I enjoy,’’ she said. “I grew up with Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra - it’s something I love listening to.

“The kids are really pumped up,’’ she said. “They’re deciding what to wear.’’

The dance is slated to take place at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1046 at 283 North Quincy St. in Brockton from 7 to 11 p.m. A buffet dinner will be served; semiformal dress is required. Tickets cost $25 for seniors and students in advance, $35 at the door; $40 for general admission in advance, $50 at the door; and admission is free for World War II veterans.

There will be live music by the Olde Kids on the Block, an 18-piece band that features two World War II veterans as members.

Emily Sweeney can be reached at esweeney@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @emilysweeney.
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