By Yadira Betances
---- — LAWRENCE — Joseph G. Dussault is performer who believes the show must go on.
Dussault, owner of the Dance Education Center in Lawrence, is recuperating from injuries he suffered after a hit-and-run accident on Essex Street. If that wasn’t enough, the dance studio was broken into and his computer was stolen with years worth of dance information. Bad luck struck again when the three-story brick building at 125 S. Broadway where the studio was located was destroyed by a four-alarm fire on Jan. 24. The building also housed Wheels ‘N Reels bicycle shop and a beauty salon.
Fire Chief Jack Bergeron said the cause of the fire has not yet been determined.
Despite the string of misfortunes, Dussault, 66, does not want to cancel the June recital at the Rogers Center in June. With the help of his cousin, Cynthia Reid and secretary Denise Velez they are hoping to find a dance teacher and space to help students continue learning the where his students can rehearse.
“Dance is for the masses, and if someone would help, we can succeed and do the best we can, no matter what happens,” Dussault said from his hospital bed.
Dussault suffered a fractured toe and leg, blunt trauma to the head, broken hip, bruises all over his face and scratches on his right arm and wrist from when the car dragged him.
“I don’t remember anything about (the accident). I just remember waking up here,” he said.
His cousin Cynthia Reid and studio staffers did not know his whereabouts for two days until they called area hospitals and found him.
“I just remember flying in my car, crying, and saying, ‘Oh my God, What is going to happen?,” Reid said when she heard about the fire. “I just couldn’t believe it. I was devastated.”
Dussault taught tap, jazz, lyrical, ballet classes mainly to low-income and disabled. Students range from 2 all the way to adults.
Reid, development director for the school, said Saturdays was the longest day where all the age groups would come for dance lessons.
“In between we had what we called our family lunch hour with both the director and secretary would buy them lunch,” Reid said.
She said some parents have offered their homes so students can rehearse. Dance studios from New York to Florida have also willing to lend a helping hand, but they are hoping for a studio in the Merrimack Valley.
“We are hoping that someone out there can lend us a place to let the kids practice and continue to learn their routines,” Reid said. “He is very, very feisty and very adamant that we will go on, and I wanted to keep his dream going.”
Next year, Dussault will celebrate 50 years as a teacher, dancer, choreographer and vocal coach. Born in Lawrence, he graduated from The Julliard School and Clairol School for hair dressing. He has performed on Broadway on shows including “Funny Girl” “Hello Dolly” and “Sweet Charity.”
“Come hell or high water, we will have a celebration for him,” Reid said.
Brenda Cardoza is one of Dussault’s many dancing students.
She first met him three years ago when Cardoza attended an introductory class.
“I had taken classes before, but I had been looking for a guy like him for a while,” she said. “He not just lumps you into a class. He takes you as an individual and guides you every step of the way,” Cardoza said.
The blaze destroyed the dance customs, shoes, photographs and supplies he had collected through his five decades in the business.
“I will miss all the stuff I had, but my memories can’t be replace such as pictures of me with stars and dancers,” he said.
In 1986, Dussault was named International Teacher of the Year for his dedication to the arts and students at Talent America/Talent of the Year Awards. In addition to teaching at Merrimack Valley Academy of Dance, over the years, he has been dance director of the Lawrence and Methuen school departments, dance director for the YMCA and executive director of the Dance Educators of America. He was also cultural representative to Romania and Poland in the mid 1970s.
Although he does not know when he will teach again, Dussault is hopeful.
“Life is a continuous circle that is always evolving and that’s what we’re going through,” Dussault said.
If you can help, contact Cynthia Reid at 978-884-5995.