Special parade entry earns smiles, support

Wisconsin Diamond Dancers received a warm welcome after nearly being struck in Waukesha rampage
By 
MITCH MAERSCH
Ozaukee Press staff

Margie Dougherty and the Wisconsin Diamond Dancers had performed in a parade in Belgium before, but Sunday was different.

The dancing group of women 50 and older enjoyed participating in the Luxembourg Fest parade in August and they were pleased to receive an invite to the Christmas parade.

But they had to rethink their plans after dancing in the Waukesha Christmas parade on Nov. 21, when the group was nearly struck in Darrell E. Brooks’ alleged murderous rampage in an SUV.

Some of the dancers wanted to perform again, while others took time to decide.

In the end, the Diamond Dancers came to a unanimous decision.

“We all feel the same way. We can help people through this,” Dougherty said.

They were glad they did. The dancers performed in the West Allis Christmas parade on Sunday — their first event since the Waukesha parade — and then again in Belgium.

“After that, we certainly felt we made the right decision to keep going,” Dougherty said.

They were a little nervous about Sunday’s parade given the freezing precipitation, but that didn’t hinder the warm applause they received.

“It was awesome. The reception we got was overwhelming. It sas a chilly night but the welcome was just really nice,” Dougherty said, also acknowledging, “There were still some emotional moments.”

It helped, she said, that Ozaukee Press ran an article on the Wisconsin Diamond Dancers last week.

“Everybody knew our story so that was kind of cool,” Dougherty said.

The group was looking for volunteers to carry its banner, and volunteers Jim Rychtik and Teri Mejchar stepped up to the plate.

“They heard the story and wanted to be involved,” Dougherty said.

Precautions were taken. Trucks and law enforcement vehicles blocked side streets to limit access to anyone trying to enter the parade route.

The dancers, Dougherty said, “absolutely” felt safe.

They were free to do what they love — spread happiness through dance and inspire seniors to become more active.

“It feels good when we’re having fun and we see everyone else having fun. That’s what makes it worthwhile,” Dougherty said.

The West Allis parade, she said, had several entries cancel due to safety concerns. Belgium Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Tara Williams said Belgium didn’t have any cancelations.

The Wisconsin Diamond Dancers is a spinoff of the Milwaukee Dancing Grannies and was about a block behind that group in the Waukesha parade when Brooks allegedly went on a murderous rampage, running over some of the Grannies and others, killing six and injuring dozens more.

Dougherty and a few of the Diamond Dancers knew three of the Dancing Grannies who were killed and others who were injured.

Brooks’ SUV was speeding down the parking lane before the road narrowed from four lanes to two, Dougherty said.

“He went right past us very fast,” she said. “We were very lucky. You just go through all the ‘what ifs.’”

One of the Diamond Dancers’ sisters who was carrying the banner had family members watching the parade in the area where Brooks struck people.

“They saw the whole thing,” Dougherty said.

“The Dancing Grannies were right in front of them when they got hit. They said it was pretty awful, what they saw.”

Another of the Diamond Dancers had two granddaughters in the Waukesha Xtreme Dance Team that were injured. One is still in the hospital among the seriously injured, Dougherty said.

“What the girls are going through — it’s horrible, just horrible,” she said.

That made the dancers approach parades differently.

They hadn’t carried ID — their purses were in a car that follows them during the parade — but Dougherty heard that complicated matters when authorities were trying to figure out who was injured.

“It makes us think about things we didn’t think about before,” she said.

The group dances to classic rock. For Christmas parades, songs include “Feliz Navidad,” “Sleigh Ride” by the Ronettes and Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You.”

Their harrowing experience has brought the group of 16 women from southeastern Wisconsin closer together.

But it hasn’t stopped them from dancing. Belgium’s parade was “bittersweet” because it was their last of the season “but certainly not the last time we’ll be together in a parade,” Dougherty said. They will be back for Luxembourg Fest.

“We love Belgium. It’s just such a nice little town.”

Some of the money the dancers received for participating in the parade is going to United for Waukesha Community Fund that supports victims from the parade.

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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