Milwaukee’s ‘Dancing Grannies’ ruined by parade control

The short skirts. The sparkling pompoms. The naughty hip sways. The grandchildren.

They are the Milwaukee Dancing Grannies, a marching, dancing holiday event in Wisconsin for nearly 40 years, and a gratifying twist on America’s expectations that parades are supposed to feature school-age dance troupes.

But tragedy struck the group when three grandmothers were killed as they marched down yet another main street on Sunday while holiday music blared around them.

“Our group did what they loved and performed in front of the crowds in a parade,” the group said in a statement Monday morning. “To put smiles on faces of all ages and fill them with joy and happiness.”

Late Sunday afternoon, the the driver of a red SUV roared through a Christmas parade in the suburban town of Waukesha to Milwaukee, killing at least five people and leaves 48 wounded according to authorities. Police said he had left the scene of a domestic dispute and did not appear to know anyone in the parade as he drove onto the route.

Not even an hour earlier, the grandmothers had done so called to fans on their Facebook page.

“Waukesha here we come !!!” shouted the post. “Grandmothers start their holiday parades.”

The Dancing Grannies grew out of a training class in 1984, where dozens of women, most of them in their mid-50s to mid-70s, cycled in and out of the group over the years. They have only one requirement: You must be a grandmother.

Police identified the killers as Virginia Sorenson, 79; LeAnna Owen, 71; Tamara Durand, 52; and Wilhelm Hospel, 81. The three women were members of the Grannies, and Hospel reportedly helped the troupe with their shows.

Durand made her first show with the Grannies last Sunday, said her husband, Dave Durand, who was not at the parade. She had only seen them perform once before she decided 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 pastor and former high school and college cheerleader who was “super excited” about her first appearance.

“She was completely energetic and was her happiest when she danced,” he said.

Tamara Durand was the mother of three with a granddaughter. She cared for her granddaughter so her daughter could finish nursing school, and volunteered at hospitals and hospices.

“She was an Energizer Bunny,” who ran every morning regardless of the weather, Dave Durand said. And she could never miss candy and ate “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 “went with our parade buoy” when she was hit and killed. The bank did not identify the employee.

Sorenson, a dance lover who years ago had to give up the hobby 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, a subsidiary of Milwaukee CBS, in a story about the group in August. The grandmothers brought that joy back. “I love it and I love the ladies.”

David Sorenson, her husband of nearly 60 years, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel about how she loved working with the Grannies.

“What did she like about it? Everything, Sorenson said.” She liked the instruction. She liked the women’s dance and camaraderie. She liked to perform. ”

And he said, “She taught me how to make cancan.”

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