Long before the Miami Heat became world champions, Joe Parrinello, sitting in section 201, would shimmy, shake and moonwalk.
He’d get the crowds so hyped, “Dancing Joe,’’ as he was called, was invited to dance center court.
Not only did he perform with the Heat dancers, he was seen dancing on stage with the likes of Gloria Estefan, Lenny Kravitz and Jamie Foxx.
“If Dad walked into a room, he would make everyone smile,” said his son Frank Parrinello. “He would give a little dance and everyone would feel like a millionaire.”
Parrinello died of heart failure Oct. 27. He was 91.
Born May 2, 1921 in Rochester, N.Y., Parrinello grew up playing football, running track, boxing — and of course, dancing.
It was during a ballroom event at church that he met Angela Patti Parrinello, his wife of 70 years. They danced the jitterbug, and would even dance in the middle of sidewalk as they walked together, said his wife.
During World Ward II, Parrinello served on the European campaign. He often told his children stories of transporting Germans and Italians prisoners of war in prison.
After the war, he returned to Rochester, eventually earning degrees in special education and physical education from Brock Port State University.
He began working as a physical education teacher, until he was given the challenge to teach high students who were on the verge of going to jail. He used a garage as his classroom and dedicated his time to helping his students. He was also highly involved in politics and was the city recreation supervisor, taking care of the local parks.
The Parrinello family was drawn to Miami in the early 1960s because the weather benefitted his son’s allergies.
Parrinello worked as a teacher in Hibiscus Elementary and later was a substitute teacher at various schools in Miami-Dade. He was known for going out to clubs, where he would dance the jitterbug with his wife. Together they won various local competitions.
But it wasn’t until he was in his mid-60s that he became Dancing Joe.
“He was unofficially a part of our games,” said Lorri-Ann Diaz, director of marketing and communications for the Miami Heat. “He would do a little shimmy with his hands on his waist. Game after game he would get a rise out of the crowd.”
It may have started at the Heat games, but his dance moves were so contagious that he would voluntarily perform at Dolphin and Marlins games, concerts and places like Gulfstream Park race track and various restaurants at the Seminole Hard Rock.
According to a 1984 article in The Miami Herald, Michael Jackson saw Dancing Joe dancing at one of his concerts and gave him a big smile.
It was common for people to come up to Parrinello to ask for an autograph, but he would ask children for their autographs to make them feel important, his son said.
Parrinello was often seen with his American flag windbreaker and U.S. Army hat, but most importantly, he always had a smile on, said his son.
He retired as a teacher from Hibiscus Elementary School in Miami Gardens but continued to dance every Saturday night at The Hard Rock in Hollywood. Parrinello performed until the last Saturday before his death.
“He never said goodbye,” said his son. “He said see you soon.”
In addition to his wife and son Parrinello is survived his daughter Nancy Ann Pilato.
Donations in his name may be made to Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital or St. Jude Children’s Hospital.
A memorial service will be held later.