New London - Louise Cecile Neistat, 92, former Radio City Rockette, who taught and inspired generations of dancers, has died in New London. A tap instructor for 70 years, she affected countless others with her incomparable sincerity and charm.
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Born Louise Celice Grossman on July 9, 1919, in Yonkers, N.Y., she was the only child of Gertrude and Morris Grossman. At age ten, her mother brought her to a Yonkers dance school. Louise was a chubby kid, and Gertrude thought dance might help. Getrude was right. Dancing came to define her life. She spent her early years commuting to New York City working retail at Macy's selling gloves and hating every second of it. It was during that time she tried out for the Radio City Music Hall's Rockettes, and, at that very Macy's counter, Louise was approached and asked, "are you Louise Grossman?" It was then she learned of her acceptance into the Rockettes. She set the gloves down on the counter and never looked back.
During rehearsal for her Radio City debut, she learned of her father being hospitalized with cancer. She rushed to the hospital, but he died before her arrival. In her haste she never stopped to take off her tap shoes; a 30 year old Louise running through the linoleum clad hallways of the hospital, the metal from her tap shoes making her every step an announcement of her presence. Her father's cancer became a source of motivation for her dancing career.
She was with the Rockettes during the early uncertain years of World War II, touring with the USO entertaining troops alongside greats, Carrie Grant and Guy Kibbee. After two years with the Rockettes, at her mother's request, she returned home to Yonkers. It was then she met Ephraim Neistat, a man ten years her senior from New London, and a few years later they were married. Louise began teaching tap immediately upon arriving in New London. Her first year's class had three students. She and Ephraim had two children, a boy and a girl, ultimately moving to a stone house not far from the beach.
Louise's tap school continued to grow, and she had her first tap show in 1966 charging a two dollar entry fee and donating the money to cancer research in her father's name. The tap show became an annual event and continued through June of this year. Louise was never a woman of great means but proved to be a great philanthropist, donating over $100,000 to cancer research.
She is survived by her daughter, Margo; son, Barry and his wife, Susan; four grandchildren, Van, Casey, Jordan, and Dean; a great-grandchild, Owen; two step grandchildren, Riley and Charley; and hundreds of students she taught over the years who she affectionately referred to, both young and old, as her kids.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations in her honor be made to the
, and they also wish to thank the doctors and nurses at Lawrence & Memorial Hospital for their compassionate care.
The funeral service will be held at 10 a.m. on Friday, Nov. 25, at Congregation Beth El, Ocean Ave., New London. Burial will follow in Beth El Cemetery, Groton.
Online condolences may be expressed to the family at www.neilanfuneralhome.com
The Thomas L. Neilan & Sons Funeral Home, 12 Ocean Ave., New London, is assisting the family with the arrangements.
I want to be a rockette,
I want to dance until dawn,
I want to be a rockette
That's what my heart is set upon.
Thomas L. Neilan & Sons Funeral Home
12 Ocean Avenue
New London, CT 06320
Published in The Day on Nov. 23, 2011