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  • Mindy Johnson

The Parade Passing By


Who doesn't love a parade? An organized procession of movement, music and magic — parades bring communities together in a way unlike any other manner where we come together to collectively mark significant celebrations and accomplishments. Walt Disney knew the impact of these processions. When the day came to open the "Happiest Place on Earth," the grand opening of Disneyland was rightly kicked-off with a parade — steeped with brass bands, high-kicking dancers, floats filled with costumed characters, and the ultimate host Walt Disney, himself!

The legendary choreographer who established the opening day parade — the first parade at Disneyland — has passed. Miriam Nelson is a remarkable woman of spirit, energy and talent. From a promising start on Broadway as a dancer/singer, Miriam focused her talents to choreography and directing. She went on to become the go-to choreographer in Hollywood. From films to night club acts to television, Miriam worked with everyone no exaggeration — while pioneering dance and movement within a wide range of forums — including theme parks!

On July 17th, 1955, Miriam's work is evident all throughout the opening-day festivities for Disneyland. Her parade choreography and character staging for the live-telecast for the opening of the "Happiest Place on Earth" marked a television landmark. "Every land, we had dancing!" Miriam declared! From Frontierland to Fantasyland, Miriam and her dancers tucked into tents for costume changes between numbers for the live broadcast. "I was running from place to place when we did the show, 'cause it was live! No cuts! Whatever happened, that's what happened!"

In addition to the opening live telecast and parades for Disneyland, Miriam also choreographed the opening shows for the Golden Horseshoe Review. Working with two teams of dancers, Miriam established one of the longest continuously running shows in the world. "I don't think anybody really knew we were making history — and we were," Miriam noted of her work at Disneyland. Miriam later went on to choreograph the original Fantasy On Parade and the original Main Street Electrical Parade.

For me, it was always a great joy and delight to see Miriam — so full of life, and an inspiration in so many ways! She quietly passed last night just shy of her 99th birthday, yet her talents and spirit remain richly imbued throughout our film, television and theme park heritage. Thanks to this vibrant lady, we all have magical memories we each take with us from our visits to any Disney theme park. So the next time you stand on Main Street and see the parade coming your way — give a high-kick for Miriam!

Longtime friends and dance legends, Marge Champion and Miriam Nelson.

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