3 Milwaukee ‘Dancing Grannies’ Among 5 Killed in Christmas Parade Crash
Short skirts. Sparkly pompoms. Its sassy hip moves. They have grandchildren.
They are the Milwaukee Dancing Grannies, a marching, dancing holiday fixture in Wisconsin for nearly 40 years, and a joyful twist on America’s expectations that parades are supposed to feature mainly school-age dance troupes.
Three grandmothers were tragically killed as the group marched down yet a Main Street Sunday with holiday music blasting all around.
“Our group was doing what they loved, performing in front of crowds in a parade,” the group said in a statement Monday morning. “Putting smiles on faces of all ages, filling them with joy and happiness.”
Authorities say that a driver in a red SUV drove through the Christmas parade in Waukesha on Sunday afternoon. He killed at least five and left 48 others injured. Police said he had left the scene of a domestic dispute and didn’t appear to know anyone in the parade when he drove into the route.
The Grannies called their fans via Facebook just an hour before.
“Waukesha here we come!!!” the post shouted. “The Grannies are kicking off their holiday parades.”
Dancing Grannies was born out of an exercise class that began in 1984. There were many women in the group, most of them in their 50s and 70s. They cycled in and out over the years. The only requirement is that you be a grandmother.
According to police, the victims of the attack were Virginia Sorenson, LeAnna Owen and Tamara Durand (both 52), respectively; Wilhelm Hospel was 81. They were all members of Grannies. Hospel is said to have assisted the group with its shows.
Durand performed her first show on Sunday with the Grannies, according to her husband Dave Durand. She’d seen them perform only once before deciding to join – simply because she found joy in dancing.
“She basically danced her way through life,” he said of his wife of eight years, a hospice chaplain and former high school and college cheerleader who was “super excited” for her first performance.
“She was totally energetic and was her happiest when she was dancing,” he said.
Tamara Durand is a mom of three and grandmother to one child. So her granddaughter could go to nursing school, she babysat her grandson and also volunteer at hospices and hospitals.
“She was an Energizer Bunny,” who ran every morning no matter the weather, Dave Durand said. And she could never pass up sweets, eating “more sugar than a sugar factory.”
Jane Kulich, 52, also died. Local news reports said she worked for a local branch of Citizens Bank, which issued a statement saying an employee “was walking with our parade float” when she was struck and killed. However, the bank didn’t identify the worker.
Sorenson, a dance lover who had to give up the hobby years ago after surgery, was the group’s longtime choreographer.
“It was like I lost a best friend” when she had to stop dancing, she told WDJT, the Milwaukee CBS affiliate, in an August story about the group. The Grannies helped to bring back this joy. “I love it, and I love the ladies.”
David Sorenson was her husband for almost 60 years and told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel how much she enjoyed working with the Grannies.
“What did she like about it? Everything,” Sorenson said. “She liked the instructing. She loved the music and the camaraderie among the women. She liked to perform.”
And, he said: “She taught me to do the cancan.”