During the 88th Annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, a group of 760 high-school senior cheerleaders and dancers from all over the country gathered for a big parade performance, including a routine in front of Macy’s.
Among them were local dancers Emily Ternent, Maddie Welch and Allie McHale, who spent a busy, fun-filled week in New York City.
During the parade, they danced and cheered for about an hour-and-a-half for more than 30 blocks, from the Museum of Natural History to the front of Macy’s, where they performed their stage routine.
But each had a long road to The Big Apple, auditioning for the group months earlier.
“I auditioned for this at a camp over the summer, and it was only for seniors or captains, which I am both,” Welch said. “Basically, you learn a 45-second routine, and then, three days later, you perform it and they judge you accordingly. That’s where you make it.”
The dancers each received a white turtlenecked cheerleading uniform with a black star in the middle by mail, along with pompoms, a schedule, and routine instructions, Welch said.
Their trip in New York began when their plane landed around 2 p.m., and they practiced that night for about three hours, Ternent said.
“On Sunday, we had practice that morning until 11, and then we went to see (Broadway’s) “Aladdin” at 1,” Ternent said. “Then we had more practice in the afternoon. Monday, we saw the Rockettes and we performed in front of the NBC producers, and then Tuesday we had a free day. We went shopping and we just kind of went normal sightseeing. We went to a place called Alice’s Tea Cup. Wednesday was a dress rehearsal; Thursday was the parade; and then we left on Friday.”
The girls also saw “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder,” skated at Rockefeller Center and went around Ellis Island on a Statue of Liberty harbor cruise when not in their 12 hours of practice.
The most distressing part was learning a few days before the parade that they would be wearing KISS face paint, because they would be in front of KISS’s float in the parade.
“Everybody in this room of entirely prissy girls started panicking, because that’s not how they wanted to be seen on national television,” Welch said. “The day before, they said the NBC producers nixed it — they didn’t want that. It was the loudest I heard the group cheer the entire time. It was too funny.”
On parade day, their report time was 5:30 a.m. They huddled in little thermal blankets for two hours in 20-degree weather.
“We had back-warmers, hand-warmers, foot-warmers — it was not enough,” Welch said. “We’re all in skirts and tights, and that just wasn’t going to cut it.”
The subway had to stop awhile for all 760 girls to get on and to the Museum of Natural History for lineup. Ternent and McHale were near each other, but Welch was dozens of rows back.
“Probably the most difficult part was that we had different ripples and different choreography for certain parts,” Welch said. “We just kind of had to know them all going into it, because we didn’t know which one we would be assigned. Getting used to the certain part was probably the most difficult, because if you’re practicing the down part and then you’re the up one, it just takes muscle memory.”
Before the routine, the girls chanted, cheered and spirited along the route, which was different for them as dancers.
“It was unique to be walking along with all of the people, because we would chant, ‘We love NYC,’ and everyone in the crowd would be like, ‘We love you, too,’” Welch said. “Well, gee whiz, thanks!”
The group had to stop twice, at which points it redirected attention to KISS.
“We would all start looking back and cheering for KISS, and it was fun because we would see the spectators wonder who’s behind us, and then they would all look and we’d see them all get really excited, because KISS was right behind us,” Ternent said. “We could hear them playing the entire time. That was definitely my favorite part.”
Once the group arrived at Macy’s for its stage performance, snow had begun to fall.
“It only ever snowed while we were dancing,” Welch said. “Being from Florida, that’s a different experience to have snow in your eyes while you’re dancing. That was unique.”
From the precise divisions of 76 rows of 10 and four quadrants to rehashing each step and motion, the organized chaos in freezing temperatures worked because of the group’s focus on the performance and the leadership of the group’s coordinators, Ternent said.
“It was cold, and it was difficult with 760 of us girls, but honestly, I wouldn’t have changed it at all,” Ternent said. “It was hard being freezing cold in the morning, and everybody was wondering why we were doing this, but even when it was snowing, I was still like, ‘This is amazing.’”
Contact Zak Kerr at [email protected].