Dancing with heroes

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U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Greg Lovisolo of Naugatuck and dance instructor Annie Rockhill practice their dance routine at the Fred Astaire Dance Studio of Southbury Sept. 4. The duo will participate in the Dancing with our Heroes competition Sept. 13 to raise money for the Fischer House. –LUKE MARSHALL
U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Greg Lovisolo of Naugatuck and dance instructor Annie Rockhill practice their dance routine at the Fred Astaire Dance Studio of Southbury Sept. 4. The duo will participate in the Dancing with our Heroes competition Sept. 13 to raise money for the Fischer House. –LUKE MARSHALL

NAUGATUCK — A Naugatuck veteran who served in Iraq is now helping military families by cutting a rug.

Sgt. Greg Lovisolo, 30, joined the United States Marine Corps in 2002. He served for more than eight years as a motor transport mechanic with the 6th Motor Transport Battalion out of New Haven. He completed two tours in Iraq; one in Fallujeh in 2005 as a motor vehicle operator and another in Ramadi in 2009 as the quality control chief for the motor pool.

On Saturday Lovisolo’s military career will lead him somewhere he never expected — a dance competition.

Lovisolo will take part in the second annual Dancing with Our Heroes Gala on Sept. 13 at the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford. The event is a fundraiser for the Fisher House in West Haven, which is on the grounds of the Veterans Affairs Hospital.

The Fischer House program provides homes for family members of military personnel who are currently being treated at a VA hospital.

“I was really moved by what they do and this is a great way to raise a lot of money to be able to provide a needed service,” Lovisolo said.

The gala will feature a sit-down dinner and a silent auction. It will culminate in a ballroom and Latin dance competition between members of the military, who will each be partnered with a professional dance instructor. Dance instructors and lessons are provided by Fred Astaire Dance Studios of New England.

Lovisolo’s partner is Annie Rockhill, 20, who teaches at the Fred Astaire Dance Studio in Southbury.

“Annie is a great teacher. She brought me from tripping over my feet to being able to throw her through my legs and up in the air,” Lovisolo said.

Rockhill said Lovisolo has made study progress.

“He’s doing great. I definitely did not give him an easy routine. I gave him something that was a bit more challenging and he’s done a fantastic job. I’m really proud of him,” Rockhill said.

At first Lovisolo was admittedly a little nervous heading onto the dance floor.

“It was a little intimidating because I walked in and we have a bunch of professional dancers. It seemed like they were all hanging out and dancing just for fun and I didn’t think I would ever be able to come close to what they could do,” Lovisolo said.

Rockhill, who has been dancing since she was 2 years old and has been teaching for the past two years, said she had to start at the beginning with Lovisolo and teach him all the basics steps. However, she knew she would be able to work with him and chose a more difficult routine.

“It’s always very interesting to watch the process because a lot of time students will come in here very nervous because they’ve never danced before. Then they relax a little bit more the more lessons they take and the more they’ve been in the studio atmosphere. It’s been a really fun process. He was nervous the first time he came in, but now we can joke around and have fun while we’re dancing,” Rockhill said.

Lovisolo is far from the dancer he was when he first walked into the studio. He’s now able to keep time with Rockhill — spinning her, pulling her through his legs, tossing her into the air and catching her.

“It was just cool being able to pick up a skill and talent I never thought I would have. I never gave it any thought. Everybody dances at weddings and makes a fool out of themselves. I pretty much figured that was where it was going to end. But it’s nice to be able to pick up something new,” Lovisolo said.

Lovisolo said he plans to continue taking dance lessons even after the competition and, if the competition is held next year, he would take part in it again.

“It’s funny because I never thought I would but it’s something I really enjoy,” Lovisolo said.

As for this competition, both Lovisolo and Rockhill are confident their routine will please the crowd.

“I think we are going to do really well,” Lovisolo said.

“We will do very well,” Rockhill agreed.

Lovisolo said no matter how he and Rockhill do in the competition in the end they are raising money for a good cause.

“That’s what this whole event is for,” Lovisolo said.

The winner of the competition will be decided by who receives the most votes. People can cast their votes for Lovisolo and Rockhill, or any of the other dancers, online at www.dancingwithourheroes.com. Each vote costs $1 and all proceeds benefit the Fischer House.