UNCG Dance Student Melissa Pihos preforms.

When Melissa Pihos’ father died back in August, there was both sadness and relief when his 12-year battle with Alzheimer’s disease came to an end. But the dancer/choreographer hasn’t said goodbye to her father yet.

Now, Melissa is moving ahead with her projects to help preserve the facts of Pete Pihos’ life, which included a nine-season football career (1947-1955) with the Philadelphia Eagles that earned him induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He also holds the distinction of being the only NFL player to earn All-Pro honors on offense and defense.

“He lived such a rich life, with so many things happening to him and around him,” Melissa said. “I heard all these stories about him, heard about his life, and I wanted to find the truth and tell his story. I wanted to gather as much of his life as possible and try to assemble it.”

And assemble it, she did, both in a documentary and in a choreographed multi-media work that she did for her Master of Fine Arts degree in dance, which she received last May. That work focused on her father’s life and his final battle with Alzheimer’s disease.

I wanted the dance to show not just his life, but also how hard it is to see him just slipping away.

Her dance, and the documentary, caught the attention of the Philadelphia Eagles. Eagles Television Network sent a video team to Greensboro in May to interview her and to film scenes from her dance work, titled “PIHOS: A Moving Biography.”  The resulting feature was broadcast on Oct. 2 and you can see it on the Eagles Confidential network web site during the 2011-12 season. (The biography is the third story on the video clip).

Eric Long, producer for the Eagles Network, said the feature focuses on Pete’s life and career in football, and Melissa’s journey in collecting her father’s story and sharing it with the world.

“We’ve done many features in the past on former Eagles’ players, but the effort that Melissa has put into remembering her father is unique,” he said. “Because of all her work, this story will go well beyond documenting Pete’s playing days and touch on Melissa’s relationship with her father and her efforts to maintain the memories of his life.”

Melissa is the only child of Pete and his fourth wife, Donna. She studied her father’s life for four years and wove together the parts she believed to be most important. It begins with the murder of his father, and incorporates film and video montages of war, combat training and football, along with images examining the effects of Alzheimer’s on the brain. The dance also got personal, taking a look at her dad’s four marriages.

“He was very successful in many aspects of his life, and he cherished his children – I thought he was a wonderful father – but the marriages didn’t work out,” Pihos said. “I wanted the dance to show not just his life, but also how hard it is to see him just slipping away.”

Melissa’s project didn’t die with her dad, though. She is raising funds to tour her dance production and to create a full-length documentary “Pihos: A Life in Five Movements.” Those two projects are being sponsored by Artspire, a fundraising arm of the New York Foundation for the Arts. She is arranging for the dance to be presented in fundraising events for Alzheimer’s Association chapters in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Charlotte and in the Triad in Winston-Salem. She will also present the final movement of the dance, “The Onset of Alzheimer’s,” at Dance-a-Lorous, which is part of the Cucalorous Film Festival in Wilmington, N.C.

Photography by Chris English, University Relations