Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade Brings Teenage Invasion to New York

 A Texas band that will be in the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade. Credit Misha Friedman for The New York Times

Teens invade NYC for the holidays. Read article by SARAH MASLIN published in nytimes

There were ponytails and pompoms, the piercing squeals of teenage salutations and a pileup of girls sitting cross-legged in the middle of a hallway, blocking all traffic, oblivious to everything but their sparkly pink phones.

It was not first-period recess, but the lobby of the New York Hilton Midtown on Monday.

The Hilton is just one of the Manhattan hotels lodging the more than 3,000 high-school cheerleaders and marching-band musicians who flew in from around the country to promenade in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

In the week leading up to the big event, drum majors, baton twirlers and cheerleaders fill hotel staterooms, elevator banks and stairwells, seemingly bent on transforming New York City’s sleek conference centers and grand ballrooms into high school homerooms.

The Hilton Midtown, on Avenue of the Americas, is the temporary home for about 1,300 teenagers from “Spirit of America Productions,” a dance organization that has sent performers to the parade for nearly three decades, Laura Davis, an owner of the company, said.

 Band members from Winston Churchill High School in San Antonio ate breakfast in Times Square before practice on Tuesday. Credit Misha Friedman for The New York Times

The hotel was chosen, she said, for its grand ballrooms — perfect drill yards for steps with names like “booty pop” and an elaborate hand jive called “tutting.” For over half of the performers, it was their first trip to New York, according to a video playing in a loop in the hotel’s elevators. But on Monday evening, the thousand-plus girls — and four boys — seemed right at home.

Aside from the carving of a roasted bird, the Macy’s parade might be the marquee event of Thanksgiving. A whir of bobbing balloons, twirling batons and rattatat drum brigades — television viewers and those behind blue police barricades see only the finished product.

But just as a turkey requires hours of basting, the thousands of performers need thousands of combined hours of prep work — a regimen of practice, practice, practice in the days before the parade, at locations all over the city. And they have to sleep somewhere.

In the Hilton lobby, girls exhausted from twice-daily practices, sprawled on the marble floor or sat fixing their hair. (A “high bump” and “no wispys” is hairdo protocol for the parade, said Allyson Fawley, 16, a member of the Georgettes, a high-school drill team from Georgetown, Tex.) A few dancers strolled around spooning ice cream straight out of cartons of Ben & Jerry’s.

When not practicing or buzzing around the hotel, the Spirit of America performers, who must qualify to join the parade group, are out on a whirlwind tour of the city. The trip, for which each student paid around $2,000, Ms. Davis said, included things like a Broadway show, an Ellis Island boat tour and a performance by the Rockettes.

About 1,300 teenagers with Spirit of America, a dance organization, are staying at the New York Hilton Midtown. Credit Misha Friedman for The New York Times

There were also other city sights: “There are some things you can’t un-see,” said Madison Ingram, 14, another Georgette, who recounted how the Naked Cowboy of Times Square had almost hugged her.

Outside the Hilton Midtown on Monday night, groups of youths in brightly colored marching band bomber jackets zoomed around like schools of fish.
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At 10:30 p.m. on Monday, nearly the entire 200-member Winston Churchill High School Marching Band from San Antonio was on the loose — and shopping. Logan Mencio, 15, who plays the euphonium and the baritone horn, was after Ray-Ban sunglasses, though he could buy them back home. “Yeah, but it’s New York Ray-Bans!” he said.

After the late-night shopping spree, they were up at dawn the next day for breakfast en masse at Dave & Busters and then it was off to Central Park, to the Naumburg Bandshell for an alfresco practice.

Though the performers were legion, any clashes with hotel guests, or even preternaturally peeved New Yorkers, seemed mitigated by the students’ cheery charm.

 The Winston Churchill High School Marching Band, from San Antonio, rehearsed on Tuesday in Central Park. They are in New York to participate in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Credit Misha Friedman for The New York Times

In one Hilton elevator car on Monday night, nearly a dozen cheerleaders were packed pompom to pompom. Carmen Villalobos, a Colombian-born telenovela star, extracted herself from the crush, clawing her way out of the elevator as the girls called out compliments. It seemed an undignified end to the evening: In the hotel’s grand ballroom, Ms. Villalobos’s TV show had just won an International Emmy.

Straightening out her femme fatale dress, Ms. Villalobos said she had not minded her claustrophobic encounter. “I’m happy,” she said in Spanish. “Because as soon as they saw me, they yelled, ‘You look beautiful!’ ”

Many of the parade performers come with entourages of proud family members — 800 relatives accompanied the Spirit of America Dancers, said Keith McFarlin, who works in operations for the group. “We always had these moms that wanted to come along,” Mr. McFarlin said. “Then it got a little nuts.”

Sharon Currie, 65, a grandmother of one of the dancers, Makenzie Byrd, 17, a pageant queen and the titleholder of “2015 Distinguished Young Woman“ of Scott County, Miss., had traveled to Manhattan along with seven other family members. It was Ms. Currie’s first time in New York City. The cheerleaders and euphonium players may have fallen to the city’s charms, but Ms. Currie seemed immune.

Central Park? A patch of grass. “If New Yorkers could see the pastures, the beautiful, green pastures in Mississippi, they would die,” she said. The food in New York? Inedible. Strolling the city? It gave her leg cramps. Multimillion-dollar Fifth Avenue apartments? “Awful. When you have a million-dollar home in Mississippi, you have more than the governor!” Ms. Currie added.

Safe inside the Hilton lobby, she paused in her litany to offer an aside: “The main thing I could think was how sorry I was for these people, because really some of you should come and get on the plane and come to Mississippi, or Alabama and see real beauty,” she said. She drew a breath.

“Now can we start on the people?”

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