Thanksgiving Day in New York draws throngs of teens to march in Macy’s traditional holiday parade while onlookers crowd the streets. Young musicians, dancers and cheerleaders compete in auditions to earn a spot in the national bands and troupes that perform for the crowds that turn out to watch the parade. The influx of youth performers and families drum up an abundant business for local hotels, congregating in elevators, stairwells, conference centers and ballrooms as they prepare for their big performance. When they are not practicing, sightseeing tours stream to the sites of New York City.
Over 3,000 musicians and cheerleaders have flown in from all over the nation for the opportunity to tread the avenues of New York in front of thousands of observers, both in-person and on television. Approximately 1.300 teenage dancers from Spirit of America Productions (SAP) have set up temporary residence at The Hilton Midtown because the ballrooms are perfect for drilling on the steps they will perform for the Thanksgiving Day parade crowds. SAP has been sending dancers to the parade for almost 30 years, according to owner Laura Davis. The teen dancers are joined by nearly 800 family members, drawn to seeing their loved ones perform on their big day.
For many young performers this is their first trip to New York, so a city tour is a requisite part of the experience. Teens and their families see Broadway shows and the Rockettes, take a boat tour of Ellis Island, visit the Statue of Liberty, Times Square and Central Park. The 200 members of the Winston Churchill High School Marching Band from San Antonio, Tex. stayed out late shopping Monday night and still managed an early start on Tuesday morning, catching breakfast at Dave & Busters before an outdoor practice of their Thanksgiving numbers at the Naumburg Bandshell. The Naked Cowboy of Times Square was a startling experience for one young lady who recounts almost being hugged by him. Another band member just wanted a pair of New York Ray-Bans.
Exuberant cheerleaders packed out an elevator, pompoms and all, only to find telenovela star, Carmen Villalobos in their midst, fresh from winning an International Emmy. As the actress freed herself from the bevy of admirers, she remained good-natured, relating how the girls had exclaimed upon her beauty as soon as they laid eyes on her. The youth performers’ good spirits and cheery nature seemed to sweeten the hassle that the extra crowds can cause for other hotel guests, or the disruption to life as usual for native New Yorkers, during the Thanksgiving season.
Most of their days leading up to the parade consist of twice a day practices, leaving the young performers exhausted and hotel lobbies full of lounging teens practicing fixing their hairdos for parade day. Parade protocol calls for a “high bump” with “no wispys” according to 16-year old Allyson Fawley, of the Georgettes drill team, hailing from Georgetown, Tex. Ben & Jerry’s ice cream is a popular downtime treat, as well.
Teens from across the country labor long and hard to win spots in other Thanksgiving parade troupes as well, such as the Great American Marching Band and the Universal Cheer Association. They know that being selected is a great honor and the knowledge fuels their excitement and drive to push for excellence. For many performing for the crowds, drawn to the Big Apple for the holiday festivities, is the experience of a lifetime and one way to make unforgettable memories of an uncommon Thanksgiving in New York City.
by Tamara Christine Van Hooser
Image courtesy of Ed Uthman – Flickr License