Community icon ‘Dancing Gabe’ to get honorary diploma from Red River College

He’s been featured on jumbotrons, a billboard, a book, and a bobblehead. Now, one of Winnipeg’s beloved local legends — and the man with arguably the biggest smile — is getting a diploma.

Gabriel Langlois, better known as Dancing Gabe to sports fans around the city, is being awarded an honorary diploma in community development at Red River College’s winter convocation ceremony next week.

“Gabriel Langlois is a Manitoba icon, devoted volunteer, and inspiring community hero. He reflects the very best of our community — and the best of Red River College with our commitment to learning, respect, inclusiveness, integrity, and community values,” Christine Watson, vice-president academic at the college, stated in a Friday news release.

“With his positive attitude, commitment to the community, and the admiration of an entire province behind him, we are proud to award Gabriel Langlois this Honorary Diploma in Community Development.”

Langlois, 58, will be presented with the award on Tuesday at the virtual ceremony.

Dancing Gabe holds the bobblehead given out to Goldeyes fans at a game in 2016. (Winnipeg Goldeyes)

“Red River College awards an honorary diploma to an individual who demonstrates high standards of excellence in their personal and professional achievements, and whose involvement in the community is widely recognized,” said Fred Meier, Red River College president and CEO.

“Gabriel Langlois has made significant contributions to our community and is celebrated by many for his tireless engagement efforts and friendly demeanour.”

Langlois, who was diagnosed with autism at the age of three, was institutionalized at the age of six and remained non-verbal until he was 10, according to the biography Dancing Gabe; One step at a Time, written by author Daniel Perron.

Langlois was awarded a community service award by the City of Winnipeg and Mayor Brian Bowman in 2015. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

It wasn’t until 1974 that Langlois returned from the institution to live with his parents and siblings in the city’s St. Vital neighbourhood.

Since the early 1980s, when he was discovered dancing up a storm in the crowd at a Blue Bombers football game, Langlois has shed those early shadows and jumped exuberantly into the spotlight. 

He is a fixture now not only at games for the Bombers but also the Winnipeg Jets and Winnipeg Goldeyes, proudly wearing his name across the back of his customized jerseys and boisterously cheered on by other fans as he rocks out during musical interludes.

Langlois was the first torchbearer in the final leg of the Canada Games torch relay in Winnipeg in 2017. (Jillian Taylor/CBC)

In 2015, Mayor Brian Bowman presented Langlois with the City of Winnipeg Organizational Community Service Award, given to those who “demonstrate excellence in achievement benefiting the social, cultural or economic well-being of their community.”

Bowman called him a “local treasure” who “inspires us every day to remember to celebrate, remember to dance.”

Langlois, a torchbearer for the 2017 Canada Summer Games, has also been awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal and the Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers by the lieutenant governor of Manitoba. 

He has also shared his name recognition to help a number of charities, including the Dancing with Celebrities fundraiser for Manitobans with Disabilities in 2010 and as an employee and volunteer with the St. Vital YMCA.

Billboards featuring Blue Bombers fans, including Dancing Gabe, were put up across the city in 2019. (John Einarson/CBC)

“Gabriel Langlois has undeniably been one of the most well-known and beloved Manitobans at any sports game or special event across our province for the last 35 years, and while it is often his presence and enthusiasm for Winnipeg that captures attention, it’s his integrity, devotion to volunteering, community spirit, and uplifting positive attitude that captures hearts,” Red River College said in the news release.

When the college received a nomination for Langlois, it included letters of support from leaders across Manitoba, which reinforced his devotion to volunteerism and the positive impact that he continues to have on our communities, Meier says.

“While ‘Dancing Gabe’ may be Manitoba’s No. 1 fan, there is certainly an entire community of us who are fans of the contributions he makes to our province every day.”