Trumbull heroes put on their dancing shoes

Former U.S. Army Combat Medic Johnna Gonzalez of Bridgeport and former U.S. Marine veteran Geoff Oliver of Trumbull will be representing the Trumbull Fred Astaire Ballroom Dance Studio when it joins with 18 other Fred Astaire studios for a “Dancing with Our Heroes” gala on Sunday, Nov.10, at Hartford’s Convention Center.

Nineteen New England Fred Astaire studios in Connecticut and Massachusetts are involved in this unique fund-raiser to help construct a “Fisher House” on the grounds of the Veterans Hospital in West Haven. The Fisher House is a private-public partnership to support America’s military and their families in their time of need. It also offers scholarships for military children. This will be the first Fisher House in Connecticut. There are currently 19 in the U.S.

Along with the dance competition at Hartford’s Convention Center to highlight the festivities, the evening will also include a cocktail hour, general dancing, professional show and silent auction. The ballroom competition will see U.S. military personnel partnered with professional instructors from Fred Astaire. Hena Daniels from Channel 3 will be mistress of ceremonies.

The military heroes involved are those who are currently active or retired from any branch of the United Stares Armed Forces or the spouse of someone currently deployed in the armed forces. All costuming will be provided at no charge to the heroes, who will also receive complimentary tickets to the gala for themselves and a guest. Kim Haidinger, the director of the Fred Astaire New England Studios, is overseeing the entire project. Each hero will be given 20-25 complimentary lessons with an instructor to teach him or her the dance they have selected for the competition. No prior dance experience is required.

Winners will be decided by audience votes and a panel of celebrity judges at the event.

Gonzalez, who is preparing for the competition with the Trumbull studio, has selected to compete in the “fox trot” with her partner and teacher Marko Urosevic. Oliver will compete in the “swing” dance with his partner/teacher Monika Barska.

Gonzalez is the daughter of Juan P. Gonzalez, a Bridgeport police officer for the past 25 years. After graduating from St. Joseph’s High School she went to Western New England College in Springfield where she graduated cum laude with a bachelor of arts in psychology. The 9/11 tragedy was her motivation for joining the Army.

Trained as a combat medic, Gonzalez was assigned to the emergency room at Brooke Army Medical Center Houston, Texas, where returning veterans were treated. Upon being discharged she continued nursing at St. Vincent’s Hospital before leaving to work at the West Haven Veterans Hospital, where she is now employed.

Oliver, an eight-year Marine veteran, was on three tours of combat while serving as a 7212 stinger gunner attached to helicopter squadrons in Bosnia, Haiti and Somalia when the ill-fated “Blackhawk Down” took place.

Oliver is the son of a 25-year Marine veteran. Upon his discharge he worked for the Bethel Post Office and attended Norwalk Tech where he gained a degree in civil engineering. He intends to pursue his goal as an architect draftsman at Porter and Chester in Stratford.

To find out more about the Nov. 10 event, contact Henry Skopp at the Trumbull Fred Astaire studio at 203-268-6588 (email: or visit the studio at 964 White Plains Road.