In a city where “parade” is a verb, noun and adjective, the Macy’s Parade seems quaint. Still, New Orleanians watched the telecast of last year’s Thanksgiving Day parade with uncommon interest because the 610 Stompers were invited to be a part of it this year. The all-male dance crew started in the summer of 2009 and has become part of the fabric of the city, famous for their satin jackets, moustaches and Columbia blue coaches’ shorts. They’re included in ads—They’re In—, they dance at special events, and they perform in Mardi Gras parades, this year Muses, Thoth and Orpheus.
Stompers Mark Laforet and Kevin Monahan kept a diary of their trip to New York for OffBeat. Here’s the story from the self-proclaimed “ordinary men with extraordinary moves.”
Tuesday: Travel Day
Mark Laforet: Arrive MSY to smattering of red jackets and headbands. No one seems to care all that much. Locals are nonplussed. We all decided to fly in full uniform. Many thought we were some sort of traveling dodge ball team. The Jazz Fest Triathlon Brass Trio serenaded us, and we took pics with airline staff.
Kevin Monahan: We got up early to get to the airport, only to discover that the bars in the airport aren’t open that early. That was quite a rude awakening. They did allow beer sales on the flight, which would have made me extremely happy if it weren’t for the $6 price tag. We figured they raised the beer prices for that flight only in some sort of misguided attempt to make sure we behaved.
Laforet: Stompers scattered throughout plane. Headbands are visible over the seatbacks. Drinks flow. Arrive Newark. Little to no fanfare but got a Jersey welcome. “So what are you guys?”
“We’re an all-male dance team from New Orleans.”
Surly pause. “So, dance.”
Once again, most are under impression we are a dodge ball team. Not far from the truth.
Monahan: We were scheduled to meet in Times Square for a group photo. I bought an umbrella from a newsstand, then stood in the rain for quite a while waiting for the photographer to set up. We took our picture then walked six blocks or so to Macy’s, where we stood in the rain for a while longer. My feet were wet and frozen, and I was sure I would be sick by Thursday if I didn’t find some fresh socks. We were eventually able to go inside Macy’s to wait.
Laforet: Rockettes’ practice went waaaay over and we were forced to wait in the cosmetics department of Macy’s afterhours. For hours. Surreal, beer-less scene. Not where you would expect to find happy ordinary men.
Monahan: We were there for about two hours, then were told we weren’t going to be able to run through our performance due to the rain getting heavier.
Laforet: Cops opened street to traffic, but we managed to locate our all-important marks for the big performance.
Monahan: We walked to an Irish pub for drinks. This place was awesome! My favorite two things about this pub: They sold socks. Three pair for $4. I asked if that was supposed to be $40— nope—three pair for $4. I bought three pair, put two on and gave away the third. And, they had the most magnificent urinals I’ve ever seen. These urinals were about seven feet tall and reminded me of the pods that humans lived in in The Matrix, or maybe the pods that the band used in Spinal Tap when the bass player got stuck. We were drinking it up and having a great time, and then they had something called “Last Call”. Just as we’re trying to figure out what that is, they start kicking us out of the bar! What the Hell?
Wednesday: The Today Show
Laforet: On to The Today Show with Hoda and Kathie Lee. Small group of us head to 30 Rock to meet with our liaison.
Justin Bieber is performing live outside of the studios to a throng of screaming adolescent girls. We are dressed in full uniform for our studio performance as we wind our way through the building until we end up outside among the teenyboppers. I fully expect to be ambushed by Chris Hanson and his To Catch a Predator team solely on account of our mustaches and coaches’ shorts. A helpful NYPD cop responded when we were lost and looking for the entrance to The Today Show: “If you were on The Today Show, you’d be on The Today Show. You guys get outta here.” We are rescued by our liaison in the nick of time and are brought downstairs to another lobby.
Monahan: I’m thinking New York is probably famous for its waiting. We were moved several times—downstairs, then upstairs, then back down. We ran through a quick practice while we were downstairs. I saw the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen in my life standing along the rail upstairs. I was staring at her when the guy with her turns around and it’s Stephen Baldwin. Figures. I’m guessing they were there with some kids to see Justin Bieber.
Laforet: We are mercifully brought to the Green Room. The most recent American Idol winner, one Scotty McCreery awaits his performance as his handlers adjust his scarf and such. He is shaking like a leaf. My fellow Stompers, acting like they’ve been on national TV a million times, descend on the donuts, tortilla wraps, fruit and beverages until none are left. Disappointingly, there is no beer.
Monahan: That American Idol guy was in there with his mom. He didn’t talk much; his mom was awesome! Fellow Stomper Emile Shababawitz tells him, “Hey, a year ago you were in auditions, and now you’re in the Green Room with the 610 Stompers!” Don’t know if he knew that was a joke or not. Then Emile asks him if he goes on before or after us—he says after. “Man, we’re going to make you look really good,” Emile says. Action Jackson took a sharpie and wrote “610 Stompers” above Justin Bieber’s name on the dressing room door.
Laforet: We are brought into the studio and find our marks. It is a small space, not unlike the local New Orleans television studios. This familiarity takes away all nervousness that may have been present, and then Hoda enters the studio. She is beaming and raucously welcomes us with a cheer. Kathie Lee enters dismissively (feeling’s mutual, babe) and the two begin their show with the ease of professionals. A morose family is interviewed live in studio. They apparently won some big contest, but you wouldn’t know it from their shell-shocked, glum demeanor. Even the camera crew was trying to pump them up, to no avail. We would need no such priming.
Hoda introduces us as “cooler than Bieber” and gives a brief description of who we are. Kathie Lee feigns interest as ice crystals form on her translucent, Stepford-wife forehead. Cue the intro music and it’s showtime. The LongBoard performs his customary aerial acrobatics as the rest of us struggle to remain upright. Slab, our leader, swings his massive legs around like a cross between a helicopter and a bear and nearly takes a few dancers out. Another typical freestyle portion of the performance comes to a merciful end as we shockingly synchronize our moves to “Jump Around” and “flawlessly” dance through the rest of our brief routine. The studio erupts in applause as we finish and are led out of the studio triumphantly. Our cell phones blew up immediately, with friends and relatives congratulating us on our performance and chastising Kathie Lee for her evil, robotic demeanor.
Monahan: We came out of the studio in uniform and were bombarded with picture requests! We walked all the way back to the hotel and drew attention the entire way. A local truck driver was blowing his horn and yelling out of his window that he had seen us on TV that morning.
Laforet: We regroup at the Sheraton in one of the ballrooms for our mandatory pre-parade practice. Badges are given out which are our only admittance into the parade, no exceptions. Everyone is in attendance save for two. Surprisingly, the Tone arrives an hour and a half late. Not surprisingly, Drunk Jesus staggers in, sleepless and still rolling from the previous night’s adventures (involving an adult film actress and cab fare). Another gray hair sprouts from The Cooler’s scalp as he is in charge of making sure everyone gets to the parade on time, and more importantly, stone cold sober. This ain’t a New Orleans parade, as we’ve been reminded countless times, and we’ve worked too hard and too long to lose this opportunity. Fortunately, Drunk J sleeps it off and performs admirably the following day.
Thursday: Macy’s Parade
Laforet: Alarm and wake-up call spring me out of bed. One of the many good things about having a uniform is not having to decide what to wear. Headband, check. Sunglasses, optional. Tanktop, check. Jacket, check. Coaches’ Shorts: check. Tube Socks: check. Gold Shoes: check and done. Luckily, the temperature outside is a mere 45 degrees, much warmer than the Super Bowl and Muses parade of a couple years ago.
Monahan: Up very early and down in the lobby by 6:15. Left money with my daughter and instructions on how to get to Legends, where she would watch the parade on TV and wait for us to get there. She is 16, so I was a little nervous, but she is a smart kid and she was teamed up with the son of another Stomper—Stewbacca—so I felt pretty good about the situation. We went out the back door of the Sheraton and walked down the parade route looking for the proper subway entrance. We were getting applause just walking down the street. One guy yells out “All right! It’s the clowns! Woohoo!” Nice.
Laforet: We catch the correct subway after a few missteps and are on our way to the parade lineup at the Natural History Museum on 81st and Central Park West. A band of Mexican minstrels board our train and briefly serenade the passengers for tips. This feels like a scene in a David Lynch movie.
We arrive and quickly realize we are the only adult males around. A group of approximately 500 teenage girls in fluorescent outfits are seemingly everywhere, and we spot another group of girls in Southern Belle hoop skirts huddled together in the cold. Mr. Sunshine had arranged for breakfast delivery for the Stompers and our escorts, the 610 Splits. Sausage, egg and cheese bagels and orange juice were perfect fuel for our upcoming adventure. The famous balloons were all queued up in order on the side street next to Jerry Seinfeld’s condominium, but we still had an hour or two to wait.
The museum was open for bathroom use and warmth and we took full advantage of both. As the fluorescent girls all assembled and filed downstairs to their lineup spot, I saw Crack-on-a-Stick at the foot of the stairs, seemingly in awe of the wave of color descending past him. He remarked that he’d “never seen so many training bras in one place.”
Monahan: All of the balloons were inflated but strapped down, and we were corralled into a small area in the direct wind and in the shade, where we got to enjoy the famous New York wait yet again! This time it was freezing cold. There were other groups out there, but none of them were in shorts. We were allowed to go in the museum and use the restroom, which I did several times, mostly because it was warm inside.
There was a huge group of veterans near us, and when they filed through we started a chant of USA! USA! USA!
Laforet: Finally, we are led down a narrow path onto Central Park West and take our positions behind a Basketball balloon and in front of the huge, inflatable Energizer Bunny. In New Orleans parades, we have a huge sound system mounted on our support truck, which also pulls our trailer equipped with two much-needed portalets. In New York, we got a wooden cutout star on wheels with what sounded like a Fisher-Price boombox. Not good. Those of us in the front row could barely hear it, and those behind us were at the mercy of following our moves, right or wrong. In my case, mostly wrong.
What struck most of us about the Macy’s parade, particularly the beginning, was the eerie silence ahead. Vastly different from any New Orleans parade that we had ever performed in, much less attended. That all changed once we began our performance. It seemed to take most in the audience by surprise, and as it turns out, most “performers” in the Macy’s Parade save their performing for Herald Square only, merely waving to the crowd along the route. Not us. We danced the entire route, with no breaks.
Monahan: The crowd loved us from the start of the first song! Cameras were everywhere! The parade moved at a very fast pace, much faster than we are used to, so we had to put it all out there for a solid two miles non-stop! We were dying—well, most of us. There are a couple of runners in the group.
Laforet: Cops along the route shook their heads in disbelief, and we heard the occasional “Who Dat!” and “Yeah you right!” but not all were amused. After a vigorous series of our booty shakes, I heard one man say to no one in particular, “I did not have to see that this morning!”
Monahan: So two problems with the marching part of this parade: 1) the music was way too low. We get better crowd response when they can feel the music; and 2) No gaps between songs and going all out for two miles left us with little energy during our time for free style. We were simply too wiped out to go nuts for the crowd, but we gave it our all for each routine and the crowd’s response told us we were doing okay.
When we came around the last corner, you could feel the electricity. Everyone was bouncing around. This was it and we were ready! Last minute instructions were being thrown at us, something about lining up in position so the cameras could get a feel for our positions—this was supposed to happen Tuesday night, but we were rained out.
Laforet: We arrived at Macy’s and waited for our cue, whereupon we formed our giant huddle in the center of the Macy’s star in the center of the performance area. 5…4…3…2…1…hearts racing, we break huddle, running backwards, bent low (Whose idea was this?) towards our marks. Mine was directly across the “C” in the Foot Locker store across from Macy’s. I am nervous as can be, as this is my first performance in the front row, and cannot follow anybody’s lead but my own. “I Need a Hero” blares from the speakers and we fly into our steps with reckless abandon. Al Roker and Matt Lauer’s laughs and commentary are heard over the music, and before you know it, it’s over. Despite having been lectured to leave the performance area immediately following our dance, most of us unconsciously need to bask in the afterglow just a bit longer and run alongside those assembled stageside and dole out high fives and freestyle moves until we absolutely have to exit. The rush is tangible and lasting. We did it! We just hope that the camera doesn’t really add 10 pounds.
Monahan: We were scheduled to show up at the afterparty directly after the parade, but we had to walk through the parade crowd to get to Legends. When we arrived, we were treated like rock stars! We weren’t there five minutes when we were informed that our website had just crashed. We gained 500 new Facebook friends in the first hour after our performance, around 2,000 all told before the flight home on Friday.
We took over the third floor of the bar and most of the second. Lots of love, lots of hugs, lots of high fives! We were served turkey and dressing and three hours of open bar! Some—myself included—stayed in uniform and went out to an Asian bar for karaoke. I could tell some stories about the karaoke bar, but I’d make some guys pretty unhappy.
Monahan: We got back to New Orleans about an hour early. We screwed up plans for our welcoming committee by showing up too early, but there were a few of the new guys from the Stompers Class of 2011 and a few Splits there to greet us. Some people headed to the bar; I headed home with my daughter, completely wiped out!
It’s been two months since the trip, and we can’t go anywhere without hearing people say they loved us in the Macy’s Parade. People from out of state have contacted us via Facebook and said they loved us. The online store has been crazy with sales to all parts of the country. Even sold two calendars to two girls in the Netherlands. How cool is that?
The trip was a life changer for me. Hope they invite us back.
During Carnival, you can catch the 610 Stompers in action at:
Muses: Thursday, February 16, 6:30 p.m.
Thoth: Sunday, February 19, noon
Orpheus: Monday, February 20, 6 p.m.