Macy’s bound: Gulf Coast High flag & dance drill agility

22 Sep

Macy’s bound: Gulf Coast High flag & dance drill agility, image

If you’re in the dance and flag line of the Gulf Coast High School Marching Band, you’ll be wearing Maybelline Painted Purple 24-Hour as your eye shadow or you won’t be on the field. Or in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

The dress code is that strict.

Still, precisely matched eye shadow is the simplest part of Friday night in sequins and jazz shoes. You can always borrow cosmetics; you can’t bluff the skills. In dance line tryouts, qualifiers include a Rockette kick close to 180 degrees — eye-high — as well as multiple executions of splits and the ability to learn a routine on the spot. You’ll have to do it all at some point.

“When someone’s sick or injured, we redo all the spots to make it work. We’ve had games where at halftime we’ve had to change the show,” explained co-director Alison Shoemaker. This year, there have been three injuries already, “but usually the girls just power through minor injuries.”

Shoemaker shares what has to be a work of love — even though they’re paid — with Kelly Rhoades. Shoemaker is a full time accountant who danced her way through college teaching and performing. Rhoades is guest services, volunteer & intern services manager for the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. After Rhoades helped found the Gulf Coast High School dance team, the FGCU Dancing Divas even hired her as their first choreographer. The two of them total 20 years experience as dance line instructors here.

Performing in a high school dance line is like climbing a mountain in a business suit. There are long gloves; tights that, in theory, will not develop a snag; bodice-skirt combinations that have to sparkle no matter how you abuse them and tan jazz shoes that will march miles of football fields, stages and parade routes.

If your heart is set on being a featured dancer, be able to do midair back flips and splits as well.

The flag line specializes in upper-body strength feats such as a prayer toss — joining the hands above the head as one throws the 4½-foot-high flag and yanks it down in time to catch it in an unfurled wave. Dropping is not an approved option.

Some girls, although none have said so here, learn to do it wearing a helmet.

All team members are expected to do conditioning work year-round. There are 49-minute strength and flexibility classes five days a week at school in addition to 2 ½-hour rehearsals with the band Tuesday and Thursday evenings, Friday performances and weekend competitions. The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade has added a rehearsal every week or two, with a different formation to be learned for New York’s narrower streets.

Flag and dance lines must smile through every minute of all this.

On a recent Tuesday, the teams were executing back flips and spine snaps, all of them with their hair pulled back into perfect 18-inch-long ponytails. Is there a hair code, too?

In a way, there is: Those waving silken manes are hairpieces clipped vigorously inside a twinkling rhinestone band that hides a knot of their natural hair. The costume addition isn’t only for Macy’s, but for the Sharkettes’ Florida football-night fans.

“The humidity is horrible for girls’ hair,” Rhoades explained. “Hair pieces are wonderful to have that polished look.”

“When you look at the great teams, the overarching image is uniformity,” Rhoades said.

“Uniformity is the biggest component we’ll be looking at for Macy’s,” Shoemaker said. “All the kicks have to be the same height.”

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade regulations have thrown their Southwest Florida perfection a curve ball, however. Warm-up suits are a requirement for all dance and flag lines in what can be brutal New York November weather. So Shoemaker and Rhoades are designing one that works with the lines’ strenuous moves. Hallandale-based Algy, a dance costume company, is working with them. Eventually, the team members will have to rehearse all their moves inside those suits.

Shoemaker hopes the warm-up will only add $100 more to each girl’s cost for the 69 flag line members and 45 dancers.

“As the uniform is custom-made, each flag and dance member is required to purchase her own,” Rhoades said, responding to an email request for prices. Already the total uniform cost, including shoes, jewelry, accessories and an extra pair of tights, is around $365.

Both Rhoades and Shoemaker also hoping a junior Sharkettes opportunity — in which girls ages 8 to 12 can learn a routine and march with them at the Oct. 2 game — will bring in part of the needed money. Rhoades and Shoemaker will direct that, too.

The two get a chuckle out of the request for a mission statement. They see their jobs more in terms of a goal.

“For every performance our goal is to get a standing ovation,” Rhoades said. “It’s a challenge on our home field, because the fans have seen so much of what we do already.”

The two study videos of California dance studios and the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders for choreography inspiration. Do parents occasionally weigh in on moves they consider too wiggly?

They can, but they haven’t had complaints, said Rhoades: “We really do try to uphold the highest level of professionalism for high school.”

IF the immediate goal is perception, the long-term results reflect character building: teamwork, discipline, focus and strength.

“We teach the kids to be responsible. If they don’t have gloves and shoes it’s their job to get them. And they have to be on time or they run laps,” Rhoades said.

“We’re really good at acting ‘in the moment,’” said Hannah Sabes, 17, current dance line captain. Part of her work is drilling discipline into her teammates. “One of the toughest things to instill is 100 percent performance in everything, including practice. It takes a lot of stamina.”

“We have to be clean on the field,” added Allison Gramer, 17, flag captain. “When you’re indoors practicing, you don’t have the elements of the wind and the crowd in front of you.”

Brittany Oldfield, a former Sharkettes dance captain who is now on the dance team at University of Central Florida, recalls her major lesson of working with the Sharkettes as learning to think of a common good.

“It really helped me learn how to work together with other people,” said Oldfield, an environmental sciences major. “I changed to thinking in a full-team aspect, rather than just thinking about myself.”

That spirit endures. She’ll be watching for the Gulf Coast High School Marching Band flagline on Thanksgiving Day: “I wouldn’t miss it!”

For more information

Gulf Coast Marching Band:

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade:

Naples News Video & Article

13 Sep

Video: Gulf Coast High School preparing to take spotlight in Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

Imagine traveling 1, 269 miles with 350 excited students for the performance of a lifetime. Gulf Coast High students will get that opportunity this Thanksgiving as they prepare to represent Southwest Florida in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Justin Goff, Gulf Coast High School band director said the logistics and planning of such a feat is a challenge. “Just the sheer magnitude of getting the kids from point A to B to C and to D is probably the biggest challenge,” said Goff “It’s a lot of planning, more than anything else.” But his love for his students makes every challenge worth it.
The band will take four different flights from three different airports, cruise in a caravan of 11 charter buses, and in a span of three hours, everyone will have made it to New York City to prepare for the show. This will be the second time since 1994 that a band from Southwest Florida has been represented in the parade. This time around, GCHS band students will perform in front of nearly 3.5 million viewers on Thanksgiving Day.
Planning and preparing for months, Goff said they have to consider so much when it comes to the students. Planning for this big trip takes place in a small office in the band room at Gulf Coast High, there, Goff and his colleagues discuss everything one could think of, even making a point to prepare in case of any scenario.
 “We have to figure out how we’re going to feed 350 students in a timely manner, getting everyone on one accord and of course making sure they are safe is our No. 1 priority.”
To date, students have put in more than 70 hours of practice to ensure their minute 1:15 (minute and 15 second) long performance goes off without a hitch. While Goff emphasizes the importance of their performance and their precision, he also wants to make sure the students are mentally prepared as well.
 “We have to learn the music, we have to lean the marching portion of it, put it all together, and then it’s a mental game at that point,” said Goff. “We are talking 350 students marching down the length of a football field with a roaring crowd remaining focused despite maybe some of their favorite celebrities and singers being nearby.”
With just a few short weeks until the band steps in to the spotlight for their special performance with months of practice and planning under their belts, Goff simply wants his students to remember to savor the moment.
“I want them to be able to go up to New York and present what they are capable of doing and looking back (at this experience as, something that they can be really, really proud of.”

Article Printed in the Neapolitan Family Magazine

10 Sep

Gulf Coast High School Band Preps for Macy’s Parade

Awesome Article by Naples Daily News

13 Aug

Here is the link to the Article in the NDN specifically, there is video along with lots of pictures.  The text from the article is provided below.

On Friday night, Gulf Coast High School band parents get an exclusive thrill: A preview of the 2015 Marching Sharks show. They can count on being knocked over by a brass-and-wind tidal wave, 363 strong and arguably the largest high school band/flag and dance line in Florida, sweeping down the field to the cadenced thunder of a supercharged drum line.

But underneath all that music and rhythm, there’s an undercurrent of sound this year, inaudible on the field, but real. Pervasive. Constant. It’s the hum of booster parents tapping in airline data, volunteers stitching up pants hemlines, the potential click of a countdown clock on displaying the countdown days, hours, minutes and seconds to the Sharks’ biggest performance ever: Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

More than 3.5 million people, lined up nearly 10 deep since dawn on either side of its route, will see the first Southwest Florida band in the parade since Port Charlotte marched in 1994 as the Sharks strut down the 2½-mile route flanking Central Park  to Herald Square in front of the famous Macy’s Department Store.
That’s where the real crowd is electronically assembled: An estimate 50 million people worldwide watch this amalgam of Broadway, Hollywood, patriots and school talent conclude their march with live TV performances in Herald Square. It is such a revered holiday tradition in the U.S. that Central Time zones tape-delay the broadcast so Santa Claus’s float can arrive exactly at noon in Illinois, as it does in New York.

The pressure is immense. The determination, even more.

Parent Marianne Rogers summarized it: “We’re not just marching in the parade. We’re representing Florida.”


Underclassmen fidgeted in a long line for uniform fittings at the high school Saturday, resigned to the trek through a 13-station assembly line doling out gloves, black-lace shoes and clothes of architecture rarely seen in hot, humid Florida. There are bibbers (suspendered pants), shakos (visored stovepipe headwear), black-and-white Hussar jackets adorned with passementerie (braided trim). Don’t forget the satin teal half-cape.

The pants hem must break at the shoelace; the coat must be loose enough to allow musicians to swing their instruments out to the side and thrust them smartly forward without stressing the fabric. Finally, this year, it needs a bit of room for a set or two of tees and Under Armor.

“It’s the constant challenge we have with Southern schools,” said Kenny Fruhauf of Wichita, Kansas, whose company produces Dacron-and-tropical-weight wool uniforms and 6-inch high black shakos that must be strapped to every head except those navigating around sousaphones. “They have to march in hot weather, so we have to construct uniforms that are light. But then they go north to competitions and they have to keep warm.”

“They haven’t seen 40-degree weather very often, and they’ll have to play in that,” mused Justin Goff, Shark band director, adding, “If they’re lucky.” The capricious New York weather on Thanksgiving Day is a dice roll: rainy (1.7 inches in 2006), snowy (4.4 inches, 1989), balmy (69 degrees, 1969) or frigid (21 degrees, 1972).

Still, the word band members could get out best was “Excited.” That’s how Danielle Griffin, 16, a baritone player, termed it: “I think we’re good enough to get chosen.” From Matthew Singleton, 15, a second-year sousaphone player “Really excited.”

Two dozen of the cadre of the 275 volunteers — the Band-Aid Club — staff the tables and move the river of teenagers through. This group keeps the Shark machine marching with its own flock of seamstresses, accountants, burger flippers for concession stand work and fundraisers.

But much of the work is trolling for basic needs: Napkins, mustard and ketchup for their evenings running the food stands at football games. Febreze and Tide to Go sticks, to keep uniforms smelling sweet and looking neat between dry cleanings. Water, water, water and frozen pops to keep kids hydrated in the Florida heat.

Former band parent Tim Gibbons, who still donates proceeds from the individual band member portraits he takes, admits he’s in awe of the group. He called Shark volunteers “a very functional support system.”

Gibbons laughed, recalling his own marching years in the 1980s: “We had 40 people in our band.”



The Sharkettes, led by longtime staff members Allison Shoemaker and Kelly Rhoades, have their own challenges, with dance uniforms, flags and pom-pons. But the band’s musical instruments and hefty uniforms, including hardside clamshell cases for the headgear, could create a logistics brain explosion.

Band-Aid President Cori Olayos has been through a Shark band appearance for Chicago’s Christmas parade, however. She has a grid of needs — and Plan Bs — already tackled, and ticks them off methodically: “We have five flights kids will be flying on, but we know that’s in flux — flights change, equipment changes and there may not be the same number of seats. So we have more than enough seats held.”

Her team has booked hotel space in New Jersey beginning the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. The current task is to get students to choose roommates and then group those pairs into blocs of 10 for chaperones. The Band-Aid Club has scheduled meals, sightseeing and a Broadway show. After the parade, for those grieving over their missed turkey feast, there’s a Thanksgiving dinner cruise.



Volunteer Tammy Chabot, a guest teacher in Collier County Public Schools, took a second job cleaning houses to help pay for her teen’s trip.

“This is the experience of a lifetime,” she explained.

The cost each student must bear is $1,500. Final payment is due Sept. 15. But the Band-Aid Club is soliciting money to pay for the transportation of instruments and staff, and to supplement the income of as many students in need as possible. There’s a fundraiser at the high school Sept. 12, and Casey Weston, a GCHS alumna, is offering her performance there. (See sidebar.)

The Band-Aid Club’s dream goal of $600,000 would allow the entire band to travel free. But right now they’re $575,000 away from that.


“A huge thank you has to be for the volunteers,” said Lindsey Haerle, a 17-year-old senior who is head drum major. “I don’t know if they know how thankful we are.”

“I’m grateful to my mom, too. I’d never be the person I am if she hadn’t persuaded me to try out for band.”



As of Monday, Justin Goff had been band director at Gulf Coast High School for, by his count, all of 12 days.

The former Golden Gate High School band director, who replaced the outgoing Steve Deladurantey, remembers the interview questions, specifically assessing his ability to lead a marching band through the rigors of the Ultimate Parade. The challenge, he said, is wedging the Gulf Coast High School Marching Sharks from the 160-foot width of its traditional football field venue into the 20-foot wide streets of Manhattan.

“I think we’re the largest band that’s ever marched in it,” he said soberly. Rehearsal for the Macy’s formations begins Aug. 29. Band students will spend at least nine nights in special practice for it. This is a man whose favorite recreation, he says, is riding roller coasters. He is in the perfect job.

Goff has already had his first challenge. A tarpaulin cut to the exact size of Herald Square to allow the band to practice its televised show is too heavy for UPS to load into a truck and deliver to the school. But no one was going to see any signs of stress as Goff strode out onto the steaming pavement of Gulf Coast High School to greet 248 teenage marchers.

“Gooooooooooood MORNING! Welcome to Week Two of band camp!”



What: Fundraiser for Gulf Coast High School Sharks Marching Band, with music from headline vocalist Casey Weston and area bands such as Yazgar’s Farm, and food from local vendors such as Organically Twisted, Sizzle, Taste of New Jersey, Rita’s Italian Ice, Sweet Caroline and more; kids’ games and activities

When: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sept. 12

Where: Gulf Coast High School, 7878 Shark Way (just east of Collier Boulevard and Immokalee Road), Naples

Tickets: $10, $20 when entertainment begins

Information: (239) 377-1400 or

Something else: Band boosters will also be selling stadium banners, $500, that will be displayed for the entire season.The Sharkettes flag and dance line will be offering youngsters a chance to be a Sharkette for an evening, with two rehearsals before young ones march in a half time, with game seats and a hot dog and chips, for $50. Proceeds will offset the warmup suits required by the parade for all flag and dance line marchers. For details, email