The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade | NNoTW November 24, 2021

Happy Thanksgiving!  I am very grateful for all of you lovely readers.  In appreciation, I am going to share with you a little-known fact about myself: I once danced in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade.

To be fair, the only reason more people aren’t aware of this major accomplishment is that I tend to forget about it until I see the parade on TV every year because, apparently, my life is so exciting that I can’t be expected to retain every amazing thing that happens to me on an annual basis.  Anyways, here’s the story:

The year was 1997.  Harry Potter was published, Dolly was cloned, and Grand Forks was still goopy from The Flood.  I, however, could not be bothered with any of those things because I was the newly-named Co-Captain of the Grand Forks Central Censations Dance Team alongside my best friend, Shosti.  Shosti and I were basically the best co-captains the Censations had ever and would ever see because I just said so.  Also, we were loud.

As the best co-captains the Censations had ever and would ever see, we were invited to try out for Mike Miller’s Universal Cheer Association (UCA) and Universal Dance Association (UDA) Spirit of America Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Dance Stars Performance.  I can’t exactly remember what the try-out entailed, but I want to say we videotaped ourselves doing a series of required dance steps and then (loudly) talked about how we were excited to represent Mike Miller and the UDA.  Naturally, we were selected.

Shosti and I flew into New York the Sunday before the big day.  My parents also flew into New York because that’s where my mom’s entire family lived and we were spending Thanksgiving with them, but Shosti and I were very much on our own adventure and were not associated with them, duh.  We were wearing our bright red Mike Miller’s Universal Cheer Association and Universal Dance Association Spirit of America Dance Stars jackets and yellow-strapped carry-alls, which we had received in the mail along with our schedule of events and Thanksgiving Day costume.  If you assumed, like we did, that our costumes were the stereotypical dance team uniform with the little skirts and cropped shells, you would be wrong.

The theme of our dance was “Put On a Happy Face,” and our costumes were literal reflections of that theme.  The top was a brightly-colored fleece sweater dress – Shosti was hot pink, I was neon green – with a giant yellow smiley face patch in the center.  On the bottom, we wore equally-thick nude dance tights (imagine a flesh-colored sausage roll with feet) under black stirrup pants.  Our accessories were yellow and gold pom-poms, white dance shoes, and yellow hairbows.

We didn’t need to wear our costumes to our first day of rehearsal, which was good because it was about 2,000 degrees in those fleeces.  Shosti and I were both a little salty that the cheerleaders – who had their own routine – got to wear actual cheerleading costumes.  At least, I think we were both salty; we showed up to a mile-long ballroom full of 600 hairbow-clad dancers ready to put on some happy faces and were immediately split up by fleece color.

The next three days were a whirlwind of rehearsals, punctuated by a few New York-y activities – trips to the Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty, and Times Square; a performance of Chicago (which, coincidentally, my family also attended but not with us); hanging out in our hotel room with the other dancers; and shopping.  For shopping, we were paired up with a group of girls from Oklahoma who were unimpressed that their retail buddies were the only two participants from North Dakota and not from somewhere exotic, like Oklahoma.

The rest of the time was for dancing and smiling.  From 7:30 in the morning to 11:00 at night, we danced and smiled.  We danced by color; then we danced with another color; then we mixed in all the colors and danced some more.  As this was the ‘90s, our song was a stylized techno-jazzy version of “Put On a Happy Face” with various cartoon voices coming in and out of the melody declaring, “Be Happy!  NOW!”  The performance ended with all of us shoving our poms under our chins, looking to the sky, and being happy…NOW!

At some point, we were declared perfect and took our show to the streets.  Specifically, the grandstand for our TV tech rehearsal.  If you’ve never seen the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, here is how it works: while there is an entire parade happening down a circuitous route in front of millions of people, all of the televised performances happen in front of the grandstand.  I’m not sure how many floats, balloons, bands, and musical/dance guests go through the parade every year, but it takes roughly three hours to accomplish it all, and it is timed down to the minute.

We waited in the dark for our moment on the grandstand.  The wind was howling around us, and I watched smugly in my warm fleece as the cheerleaders shivered nearby.  The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is best-known for its giant character balloons, and our grandstand time kept getting pushed back because the balloon wranglers were having trouble keeping Sonic the Hedgehog under control.  Suddenly, we were given a cue; we ran out on the street, did roughly five seconds (and a million smiles) of our dance, and were quickly shuffled off and sent back to our hotel rooms to prepare for the next day.

The day of the parade was colder and windier than the night before.  We walked down the streets, shaking our pom-poms to a set rhythm while a school band played marching songs in front of us.  We had been forewarned that we’d be stopping every few minutes for the televised performances, but some of our stops were longer than expected.  Later, we’d find out we were walking in what would be called the Great Balloon Massacre of 1997 after a dozen of the balloons were either damaged or purposely punctured (The Cat in the Hat and Barney balloons specifically made a lot of news at the time).

Finally, it was our moment.  You can watch the performance below (it should start right up, but if not, it’s at 1:36:00), and if you look closely, Shosti is one of the pink dancers!

And then that was it.  Four days of rehearsals for one live performance.  It was very fun, and definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience (also it will take a lifetime to get that song out of my head after 20,000 runthroughs).

The photo above was taken on the subway.  If you’re wondering how they could let those young North Dakota girls go on the subway by themselves in New York City, the answer is that there were about thirty other girls taking the picture because we went everywhere as a red-jacketed gang.

This week’s news has adoptable grandparents, Bad Pennies, and a Portland recording artist.  Read on.


Dickinson’s Shirley Dukart, founder of The Power of 100 Women Who Care, has been honored with an Outstanding Volunteer Award. (Dickinson Press)

Congratulations to Mrs. North Dakota America Alexandra Lunseth, who competed in the Mrs. America Pageant in Las Vegas last weekend. (Grand Forks Herald)

The Good Shepherd Home in Watford City is looking for people to “adopt” some the residents without families in the area. (McKenzie County Farmer)

The Dickinson “Bad Pennies” are putting together boxes of food and essentials to help families have a happy Thanksgiving. (KFYR TV)

Grand Forks’ Andrew Stenehjem (under the name Andrew Stonehome) has released his debut album. (Poprock Record)

Bismarck’s Gabe Brown is the recipient of a $250,000 grant in support of his no-till research and practices. (KX Net)

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