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Morris "Morry" Gelman was born on April 6, 1920, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He was the third child of Jewish immigrants from Poland and Romania. Morry was the premier teacher of Bavarian schuhplattlers and zwiefachers in the United States, teaching at camps, workshops, seminars, and conferences all over North America. He started folk dancing in high school and continued in college in New York (he graduated from New York University in 1943) and Connecticut.
Morry continued his involvement in 1946 with the Westwood Folk Dance Co-op in California, acting as its first president during the summer.
In 1947, Morry moved back to his hometown of Minneapolis. With a European heritage and a love for dance, he helped organize the international Folk Dance Federation of Minnesota in 1951 with Dr. Ralph Piper, a professor at the University of Minnesota. Morry began his teaching career in 1947, teaching Cotton-Eyed Joe, learned from Ray Shaw, who had learned it from his younger brother, the famous Lloyd Shaw. From 1947 to 1951, Morry taught international dance full time in the upper Midwest. He met Nancy Borgman when she walked into his Minneapolis YMCA folk dance class in 1949. The couple was married in 1951 and danced together for over 50 years.
From 1951 to 1956, while working as a United States Air Force engineer in Europe, Morry and his wife Nancy lived on an air base just outside of the Bavarian city of Munich, Germany. The couple later moved to Wiesbaden. While in Bavaria, Morry and Nancy were members of a Munich Schuhplattler Trachten Verein dance group. Four of their children were born while Morry was stationed in Germany.
In 1958, the couple returned to the United States, moving to Santa Maria for two years, and danced with Audrey Silva's group. They then moved to Los Angeles, California, where Morry started four folk dance groups. For example, with Walter Grothe's help, Morry approached the Oxnard city government to stage a folk dance festival in City Park and to approve $500 for putting it on. Walter chartered an Army parachute plane and ferried enough performers to form three performing groups from San Francisco to Oxnard for the festival. The following week, Oxnard had a flourishing folk dance group! He also formed southern California's G.T.E.V. D'Isartaler, which performed Bavarian schuhplattlers and ländlers, one of whose members was Dick Oakes. Two years later, Isertaler merged with G.T.E.V. D'Oberlandler of which Morry's son, Michael Gelman, became "Vorplattler" (lead dance teacher).
In 1959, Morry was invited to teach at the Stockton Folk Dance Camp for the first time. He subsequently taught many times at the San Diego University Folk Dance Conference and the Idyllwild Folk Dance Workshop.
In 1961, Morry began working for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). He served as the Atlas launch vehicle engineer for Project Mercury at Cape Canaveral in Florida where he worked with several astronauts such as John Glenn, Scott Carpenter, and Deke Slayton. He worked for NASA until his retirement in 1995, after which he volunteered his time there.
In 1971, the Gelman family moved to Laurel, Maryland, in order to continue his NASA career at the Goddard Space Flight Center, where he worked as an aerospace engineer on several unmanned missions: Solar Maximum Mission, Geostatjionary Operatioal Environmental Sattelites (GOES), and the Tracking and Data Relay Sattelite System (TDRSS) project. In 1972, not wanting to give up Schuplattling, Morry and Nancy started a German dance club in Baltimore. They named it the Gebirgs Trachten Verein Immergrün. Luckily, four of their six children developed a love of ethnic folk dancing, performing authentic Bavarian dances at Oktoberfests and other cultural festivals on the East and West coast for many years. Several of them still dance today and his oldest son, Michael, teaches European folk dance just like his father, and leads Immergrün.
In 1973, Morry and Nancy participated in an all-Austrian folk dance and music seminar that was held in the South Tirol that is sponsored each year by the Austrian Folk Dancers Federation, just one of the many trips the couple made to Austria and Germany.
After retiring from NASA in 1995, Gelman didn't stop -- he volunteered at Goddard’s Visitor Center working in educational outreach for students and conducting tours of the center.
In August of 2000, Morry's beloved Nancy passed away. For years, Nancy had been a volunteer at the art center at the Montpelier Mansion, built around 1783, helping with special events, decorating the many rooms for holidays, etc., and she really loved the mansion. According to her wishes, her ashes were scattered in one of the gardens there.
In 2001, Morry received the Preserving Our Heritage award for his lifetime work in the folk dance field from the National Folk Organization (NFO).
On October 2, 2004, folk dance friends and family gathered in Maryland to honor Morry's lifelong contribution to German and Austrian dance. He was the first recipient of the "Gretel and Paul Dunsing Lifetime Achievement Award" for his outstanding contribution to German and Alpine dance in the USA.
Morry continued to travel to Austria (Innsbruck, Salzburg, and Vienna) to attend Tanz Treffens (dance seminars) and to Germany to visit with his Bavarian friends in the Schuhplattler groups of Munich. He regarded his friendships with renowned Austrian folklorists as the important result of his visits to Europe. He said that his knowledge of Bavarian and Austrian music and dance would not have been possible without the good will and generosity of spirit of people there, such as Herman Derschmidt, Herbert Lager, Tobi Reiser, and Richard Wolfram, that allowed him to introduce many dances, including several ländlers and many zwiefachers.
In April 2010, more than 90 friends, NASA colleagues and family members gathered for an evening of waltzing, polkas, and a myriad of international folk dances for Gelman’s 90th birthday. Everyone still chuckles when they remember all of the family history stories he wanted to tell that night. It was a fitting way to celebrate a life of dance, music, culture, and friendship.
Morry was blessed with six children: Michael, Nina, Steven, Rick, David, and Victoria (Tory). He also had four grandsons: Paul, Sean, Jacob, and Sam. He was also survived by a brother (Sam), a nephew (Bruce), and a niece (Celeste).
After being on dialysis for kidney failure beginning in 2004, Morry died peacefully in his sleep at the age of 91 on September 19, 2011, at his home in Bowie, Maryland. His ashes are scattered in the same garden with his wife, Nancy. He was 91 years old.
On November 18, 2011, a Celebration of Life was held in honor of Morry. Many of his and Nancy's long-time friends came to pay tribute to him.
Dances Morry taught include Ambospolka Schuhplattler, Bauernmadel mit Waltz, Bertschesgadner Bayerischer Polka, Boarischer mit Plattler, Croatian Waltz, Feistritzer Ländler, Fight Plattle, Finsterauer Ländler, Fouka Vítr Vod Hor, Goasjaggl, Haushammer Schuhplattler, Heitauer Schuhplattler, Jäegermarsh, Knoedeldrahner, Kreuz Polka, Ländlerischer, Mainzer Polka, Man in the Hay, Nieder-Bayerische Ländler, Nieder-Bayerische Mazurka, Neppendorfer Ländler, Neubayrisch, Pinzgauer Boarischer, Pinzgauer Wickler, Pongauer Walzer, Ramsauer Kreuzpolka, Rohrbacher Ländler, Rosentaler Steirer, Ruhpoldinger Schuhplattler, Schnupftaback, Reit im Winkl Schuhplattler, Ruhpoldinger Schuhplattler, Steieregger, Turner Schottische, Unterstierer Ländler, Vienna Two Step, Vitiser Ländler, Vítr, Waldhansl (Steirilcher Walzer), Wattentaller Masolka, Woaf, and Zwiefacher.
Some of the Zwiefachers Morry taught include