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Spirit of the holidays

The students and staff of the Bucks County Dance Center of Bensalem were gearing up to spread Christmas joy to their community when evil struck them with a devastating blow on Oct. 13. But in true holiday spirit, a group of local musicians and performers have dedicated their talents to helping the dance school recover from an intentionally set fire at their studio.

Proceeds from An American Celtic Christmas concert on Saturday, Dec. 6, at Bensalem High School will be donated to the dance center, which was forced to suspend its operations after the blaze. Northeast-based American Paddy’s Productions will produce the show for the third consecutive year, featuring popular local musicians like Jamison Celtic Rock, Bob Hurst of Bogside Rogues, Ray Coleman, John Byrne and Kimberly Killen, along with performances by the Celtic Flame School of Irish Dance and BCDC students.

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“This being our third year and we are still using Bucks County Dance Center, we said, ‘Let’s do something for them,’ ” said Frank Daly, the co-founder of American Paddy’s along with his Jamison bandmate, C.J. Mills. “They have contributed so much to the show the last three years, it seemed like a no-brainer that we’d do something for them.”

Since its 1958 founding, the dance center had become something of a community landmark at Street Road and Wine Avenue, across the street from the former Bensalem High School and Neil A. Armstrong Middle School. Rex Henriques, his wife Sandy and his sister Lorelei Lee owned and operated the studio in the siblings’ converted childhood home.

Henriques’ parents, Bill and Irma, met in 1946 when Bill was producing a show at the former Palumbo’s nightclub in South Philly and he hired Irma as a dancer. They soon married and, in 1957 with Irma expecting their second child, moved to Bensalem and made plans to open a dance school.

“They started with just the house and would move the furniture to teach classes,” Rex Henriques said.

They expanded the building to add a formal studio in the 1960s. Bill passed away in 1969. In 1984, Rex and his sister took over the property as their mother retired. Irma passed away in 2001. Rex and Sandy met when she began taking classes at the school. Today, their son Cezare, a 17-year-old Bensalem High senior, is carrying on the family tradition as a dancer, teacher and choreographer. The family memories are what made the blaze so difficult to accept. The building was a total loss.

“It’s not only our family, but many others,” Sandy Henriques said. “We’ve thought about how many families have come through our studio. It wasn’t just a place of business. It was a community where everyone felt a part of something.”

“My memories are going to be of a burnt building,” Rex Henriques said.

A Bensalem police officer who was on patrol in the area first spotted the flames at about 4:20 a.m. on Oct. 13. According to news reports at the time, at least six fire companies responded to the scene. The blaze burned for more than an hour before firefighters declared it under control. No one was in the building and no serious injuries were reported. One firefighter suffered a minor injury and was treated at the scene.

As authorities investigated, an arson dog detected that an undetermined accelerant (such as gasoline or other fuel) had been used on the building. The flames originated in a vacant apartment at the rear of the property. Someone had broken into the unit, Rex Henriques said. Police have made no arrests and are seeking additional information from the public. Tipsters should call 215–633–3719.

Meanwhile, the owners and their supporters have been on a quest to reopen elsewhere. They have been able to lease a storefront at 2636 Bristol Pike, midway between Woodhaven Road and Street Road. The location will be convenient for the studio’s many Northeast and Lower Bucks students. The owners converted the former massage office into two studios, one measuring 39 feet by 17 feet and the other 36 by 14. They planned to reopen on Dec. 1 and are scrambling to produce the studio’s annual Christmas recital, a parody of The Nutcracker. The performance is planned for late December at the Klein JCC, 10100 Jamison Ave.

Meanwhile, several students will be part of the cast for An American Celtic Christmas, which Daly describes as a variety show with both Celtic and American holiday themes, reflecting the producers’ Irish-American heritage.

“But it’s not just for the Irish community,” Daly said. “We grew up listening to the Wolfe Tones and the Young Dubliners, but we also grew up listening to Led Zeppelin and the Beastie Boys.”

The five members of Jamison Celtic Rock will be joined by seven guest musicians who will provide the soundtrack for most of the show. The featured vocalists and musicians represent an eclectic mix of folk, pop, rock and roll and a tribute to American soldiers and veterans. There will be Irish dance numbers, while BCDC students deliver jazz and hip-hop elements.

There will be two performances (3 p.m. and 7 p.m.) in the 1,600-seat BHS auditorium. Irish gift vendors will be there, while the high school’s in-house broadcast communications program, OTN, will sell refreshments and snacks. Proceeds will also benefit the OTN Ryan K. Wilson Scholarship Fund and the Bensalem Education Foundation. A wheelchair accessible entrance and seating is available.

For concert information, visit www.AnAmericanCelticChristmas.com

For information about BCDC, visit www.BCDanceCenter.com ••

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