She was a Green Bay area icon who inspired multiple generations to get on the dance floor. Gert Delorit dedicated 60 years of her life to teaching girls, boys, teens, adults, and people with disabilities the art of dance. While the community lost this local legend in November at the age of 93, her loved ones are making sure her legacy will live on.
Delorit's love of movement began early on. She was a figure skater who performed and instructed others through the Green Bay Parks and Recreation Department. She even received and invitation to audition for the Ice Capades in New York.
Delorit was also an accomplished synchronized swimmer with the YMCA. She taught 25 children on Saturday mornings at Joannes Park, but in the 1950's, she pursued her passion for dance. She would ride a bus to Chicago at 3:00am every other weekend to attend dance lessons. Once she received enough training, the mother of three young boys opened Delorit's School of Dance in the basement of her home. She charged 25 cents per class.
"Women didn't run their own businesses. You know, she did that, so she was way, way ahead of her time," says Delorit's granddaughter and former student, Kim Jensen.
Delorit's students affectionately called her "Mrs. D." They learned much more from her than just technique.
"Teaching manners, teaching us the confidence by saying our name, you know, and having to dance that front line even if we were scared to death to do it," explains Jensen.
Mrs. D. also taught discipline and pushed her students to strive for excellence, but she always made sure they had fun as well whether it was singing a special birthday song or earning double bubble gum for a job well done.
"I think she really sparked magic for all of us," Jensen says. "Her personality and her vivaciousness just really touched a lot of people."
30,000 students to be exact.
"We didn't all go on to be Rockettes, although there were a couple that did. We're doctors. We're business owners."
Her dedication to her craft earned her numerous accolades including the 1973 Most Congenial Teacher award from the Take Five Dance Association, a 1974 mental health award for her work with those with disabilities, and the 2006 Wisconsin Dance Council Lifetime Achievement Award.
Mrs. D. even scored an audition for The Tonight Show in 2004 but never made it to Jay Leno's couch. She eventually retired from teaching dance in 2012.
On November 13, 2016, Mrs. D. passed away, but the show will go on through the newly created Gert Delorit Memorial Fund. Jensen is selling Delorit Dollie T-shirts with memorable quotes from her grandmother printed on the back. They cost $20 each. The proceeds will be donated to Delorit's alma mater, Green Bay East High School.
"I think she'd be really excited to know that the money is going towards getting people moving, keeping people moving, and if they need a pair of tap shoes, that there may be money there for them."
East High Choreographer Kevin Flogel says the funds will allow students to put on a performance of A Chorus Line this fall which wasn't in the budget. The money will also be used to launch an official dance program at the school.
"Which will be a part of the Institute where kids can start training for dance in high school to get college credit to go on and pursue it as their career later on," Flogel explains.
He says the funds may also be used in the future to add or remodel space in the school to make a permanent dance studio.
Flogel believes this is the perfect way to honor his friend. "Instantly when we first met, I think we kind of knew we were kindred hearts, spirits, of knowing what the arts does for kids."
Now, Mrs. D's contributions to the community will continue through the memorial fund that bears her name. It's a lasting tribute that will also inspire future generations of dancers to follow in her footsteps.
Jensen says, "We just seem to always have these great icons in our community, and she's definitely one of them."
Delorit is also praised for coordinating benefits to raise money for the March of Dimes, American Red Cross, and countless other charities as well as volunteering through the Green Bay Service League.
The community is invited to attend a special event to celebrate the life of Gert Delorit. It will be held this Sunday, February 12th from noon to 3:00pm at The Ravine in Bellevue. There will be performances, a photo booth, awards, food, a toast to Mrs. D., and you can purchase a Delorit Dollie T-shirt.
For more information on how you can support the Gert Delorit Memorial Fund, email Kim Jensen at firstname.lastname@example.org .