The Milwaukee Dancing Grannies are a staple in southern Wisconsin’s parade scene. With their matching outfits and dance routines, they bring joy and inspiration to people…even after an unthinkable tragedy. Christina Lieffring brings us their story.
The day of Muskego’s Christmas parade has been cold, rainy and pretty gloomy. Yet, Main Street in this small city in Waukesha County is lined with grandparents, parents, and of course kids waiting for the parade’s headliners, like the Milwaukee Dancing Grannies.
For almost 40 years, the troop of grandmothers dancing and waving pom-poms in formation has been a highlight of holiday parades across eastern Wisconsin. But in 2021, three members and one members’ husband were killed when Darrell Brooks drove his vehicle through the Waukesha Christmas parade. The Grannies have always been a fan favorite, but in light of last year’s tragedy, crowds have celebrated their return with standing ovations.
Members of the crowd at the Muskego Christmas Parade on December 10, 2022 had a lot to say about the Milwaukee Dancing Grannies:
“I think everybody on the entire street was standing and clapping. It was emotional and beautiful to see. They looked beautiful.”
“You’re excited that they’re brave enough to come out and do this again but I try to put myself in their shoes and think about what it must be like to do that. That’s a lot. I’m proud of them.”
“Love seeing them out. It was so joyful.”
“It actually makes me cry every time I see them. It breaks my heart everything that happened with them and it gives me joy to see them at all the parades still. It’s a blessing that they’re still doing it.”
“I loved them. I like the people dancing especially when they’re old because it’s a thing you never give up.”
“They’re fantastic. We love them every time. I want to be a Dancing Granny someday.”
“It’s a lot harder than it looks,” said Doreen Lopez, who joined the Dancing Grannies last January. “It’s not for the faint of heart. It’s a lot of work. It’s a big commitment.”
The Milwaukee Dancing Grannies rehearse at least once a week. Each member is expected to perform in at least two-thirds of the parades the group is scheduled for, which in the winter could mean two or three parades in one weekend.
“When you start, you realize how time-consuming it is and I thought I’d try it a year. You have to love it to commit that much time,” said Janet Polley, another new member. “You’re going to practices, it’s time consuming and it’s hard and you go to a parade and you think: worth it. It’s so worth it.”
Polley and Lopez were two of several new Grannies who joined in January. After the Waukesha attack, the group decided to hold auditions to strengthen their membership. Patricia Dacquisto also joined after the incident.
“I joined because I wanted to prove that good always outweighs bad,” said Dacquisto.
A few veteran Grannies also danced in Muskego, such as Jean Knutson, who has been with the group since 2015.
“It’s emotional at times but very rewarding,” said Knutson. “Very heartwarming hearing the crowd, seeing their standing ovations. They’re happy that we’re back. I’m not going anywhere, God willing.”
Janis Kramer has been a Granny for 19 years. This past year was particularly hard for her. She knew two of the women killed in Waukesha personally and had a series of deaths in her family shortly after including her husband. But she’s still dancing.
“This helps me get through that,” said Kramer. “I can make it. I’m not going to be sitting in a fetal position in a corner.”
One silver lining is more people have learned about the group. Like Kramer’s neighbor, who saw her leave the house in the Grannies’ royal blue winter uniform trimmed with white fur and a fur hat.
“He said, ‘Are you really a Dancing Granny?” Yes I am! I don’t dress like this for nothing!” said Kramer.
Kramer said she’s struggling to keep up physically, but she’s still motivated by the camaraderie.
“I was thinking I might have to retire because I’m getting older. But these girls are so fun I’m thinking I might have to stick around longer,” said Kramer.
Plus, there are the crowds.
“Have you ever walked in a parade? Oh my God, you should do it,” said Kramer. “We’re old ladies and we’re getting wolf whistles out there! Come on! That’s incentive enough! I’m 75. How many more years am I going to have somebody doing wolf whistles?”
The group says they’ve gotten a lot of messages from people who want to join—and who can blame them? The group will announce plans for expanding and auditions after their members take a well-deserved break after the holidays to rest and recuperate.