A Vandalia native whose love of dance led her to establish the Butler Kickline and join the Ringling Bros. Circus before running her own dance studio for more than 40 years will be buried Friday.
Gloria J. Bischoff, who formerly owned the Gloria Esposito School of Dance, died Sunday at 80. Her husband, Horst Bischoff, died in October, according to the Dayton Daily News obituaries.
OBITUARIES: Read Dayton Daily News obituaries
Bischoff, most recently of Huber Heights, was born in Dayton and attended Butler High School, where she started the still-continuing Butler Kickline.
She moved to New York after high school and joined the New York Ballet but was recruited by the Ringling Bros. Circus, where she was an aerial ballet dancer. She met her husband there and returned to the area.
A gathering of family and friends will be held Friday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Blessing-Zerkle Funeral Home in Tipp City. A celebration of life will be held at 1 p.m., according to her obituary.
Below, republished in full, is a 2002 Dayton Daily News article originally published to mark the 50th anniversary of the Butler Kickline.
BUTLER GIRLS KICK UP HEELS FOR 50 YEARS
By Debra Gaskill for the Dayton Daily News
Published Sept. 26, 2002
VANDALIA — If you’ve ever been a high-stepper in the Butler Kickline, you might want to dig out those dancing shoes.
The Butler Kickline turns 50 years old this year and there’s a movement afoot (pardon the pun) to put together an alumni performance.
Founded in 1952, the original kickline consisted of 16 girls who wore white blouses, socks and tennis shoes and purple toreador pants made by their mothers, according to founding member Gloria Esposito.
The idea for the kickline originated in the high school’s annual minstrel shows, which always ended with a dance line by the upperclass men.
“Fairmont had a dance team and Fairview had the Scotchettes that performed at football games,” Esposito said. “We wanted something like that, too.”
Esposito met with the Butler principal and the district superintendent to get permission to form the group, but there was no financial support from the school, nor was there any adult supervision.
“We kind of stayed after school to practice, and just kind of made up a dance,” Esposito said, and then finally asked if the group could perform at halftime at a football game.
That first performance was to the St. Louis Blues March, Esposito said. A second performance was held during an away game against Oakwood.
“Then, the next week, the band director came to us and asked us if we wanted to perform again.”
And the rest is high-kicking history.
In the 1950s, there weren’t many extra-curricular options for girls.
“You had the football team and the basketball team and there were cheerleaders, but that was about it,” community development coordinator Margo Steinbaugh said.
“What Gloria really did was provide something for girls to do. It was fun to do, it was a group they could belong to and something they could pursue together.”
After graduation, the kickline had enough members to keep going. Esposito, who studied dance throughout her childhood and teen-age years, would go on to New York, where she took a job as an aerial ballet dancer with the Ringling Bros. Circus.
She returned to Vandalia with her husband and started the Gloria Esposito Dance Studio, which she ran for 40 years before family health concerns resulted in her retirement.
The kickline has grown to the point where it now is considered an auxiliary to the marching band, according to director Pam Drewry, and receives funding for uniforms and equipment from the boosters.
It’s also become a nearly yearlong commitment.
“We start in July with the Air Show parade and then a week later, start at band,” Drewry said. “We serve as a color guard during marching band season. It’s a huge commitment - we have only the month of June off.
“It’s something the girls just have to love and be very dedicated to do it.”
Lori Downey serves as the kickline coach/choreographer, a position she’s held for three years.
“She took it to a different level of competition in the winter,” Drewry said.
“She brought discipline and rules, a demerit system and started teaching them some dance technique. Now many of the color guard units are not just flags and rifle and sabers any more, they’re incorporating more dance. We feel we’re a step ahead as a result.”
The kickline won the National Pom Championship four years in a row; last year they came in second.
The unit performs at football games and a few basketball games, in addition to competitions. They’ve also performed at University of Dayton basketball games, at the Dayton Veteran’s Hospital and at area nursing homes.
“It’s a little bit of community service for the girls,” Drewry said. “The community has been so supportive of us and we’re extremely grateful for their support.”
The effect of the Butler Kickline was impressed on Gloria Esposito when she met a young woman who had performed with the group while in high school.
“She told me that kickline made school so much more fun,” Esposito said.
“You can’t take that away from someone.”