Atlantic City locals might know their Miss America parades, but they’ve never seen one quite like the massive sparkly contingent that will descend on the Boardwalk tonight.
Hundreds of hours of practice contributed by thousands of performers are behind what organizers promise will be a show for the locals that’s grander than anything in the city’s memory.
Leading the glittery pack tonight will be — what else — a giant shoe. Perched atop a black runway, the larger-than-life silver high heel will be a first on Atlantic City’s Boardwalk, said parade producer John Best of JM Best Entertainment. Atlantic City’s beloved parade now even has its own original theme song also dubbed “Show Us Your Shoes,” that will play from the giant piece of footwear as it makes its way along the two-mile route.
“We wanted to kick things off with a bang,” Best said. “This is a wonderful start, and like anything else, we can get bigger and grander. We’re setting a precedent for how big this can really be.”
The lineup that will step off from Revel Casino-Hotel at 5 p.m. today boasts a contingent of 4,000 participants. Among the performers are 16 choirs, 15 marching bands and 50 dance groups. Topping that off are the Show Us Your Shoes Parade’s first group production numbers and 14 floats that have been under construction at the Atlantic City Convention Center.
The competition's faithful remember when the parade wasn’t nearly as polished but still kitschy and fun. Locals, such as Leslie Bakaric, of Pleasantville, remember the thrill of being on parade floats, but for many of the youngest performers, tonight’s parade will be their first.
Bakaric, a former Radio City Music Hall Rockette, owns Leslie’s Dance Studio in Margate. Her 31 dancers are in high school and college and will be part of the opening production number.
“I’m not so sure all the girls are excited as I am. They don’t quite realize what they’re up for yet,” she said. “A lot of their families are jazzed off the hook. This is the Super Bowl of Atlantic City.”
With performance groups coming from as far away as Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina to perform together, the large production numbers will never before have been practiced in unison until today, organizers said. In many cases, the dance studios involved were sent a tape and music to practice with. About 1,500 performers are meeting at the Atlantic City Convention Center this morning to finally rehearse together after months of preparation.
Michael Hartman, artistic director for the Greater Ocean City Theatre Company, is coordinating a patriotic routine involving 75 people. The Ocean City High School graduate has previously worked with Best on the Philadelphia Thanksgiving Day Parade.
“It sounds as though it would be difficult, but really the bulk of the work has come in the last three weeks,” Hartman said. “Fortunately, I think the kids being from this area understand how much a big deal this, even if they haven’t been a part of it before.”
Cori Jack, who runs Dance Forum South in the Smithville section of Galloway Township, said the rehearsal for her 20 dancers ranging in age from 10 to 18 hasn’t been particularly difficult, so time has been spent driving home the importance of the performance as the dancers learned their moves from a video.
“It’s exciting for them to be a part of something that’s part of New Jersey. They’ve done the Philadelphia Thanksgiving parade, but this is different,” Jack said. “Honestly, I’ve never even watched the competition since it left Atlantic City. There’s something about bringing it back.”
The last time the Miss America Competition was held in the resort was 2004. After leaving for Las Vegas, the Miss America Organization also lost the opportunity to showcase the misses in a parade.
The origin of the “show us your shoes” chant has been disputed over time. Some claim the call was started in the 1970s by men who were eager to see the contestants’ legs. Other accounts say the crowds would call out the chant to embarrass the women who were dressed impeccably but wore slippers underneath their gowns.
The version of the parade that will return to the Boardwalk tonight differs from parades of the past. With a more polished look than in previous years and a professional production team, the costs of entering a float have jumped from $200 to thousands. Even the commentary has changed.
Celebrity shoe designer Phil LaDuca, who has created shoes for Broadway musicals, including recent Tony Award winner “Kinky Boots,” will give his thoughts on the outrageous shoes and equally unbelievable outfits that will be worn by the 53 contestants as they ride along the Boardwalk in convertibles driven by local volunteers.
Organizers said they’re confident that the finished product will still appeal to the locals who have supported the parade.
By the time the Miss America Competition left the resort, some of the grandeur of past parades had waned. Casinos once filled with outrageous floats, but many had begun to forgo the expense of putting together a float. With the excitement surrounding the contest’s return and the help of some of Miss Americas sponsors, the floats will be grander this year.
Two float-making companies hired by the Miss America Organization, one based in Clifton, Passaic County, and the other based in Swanton, Md., have worked on the design of the majority of the floats for months. The bases arrived in Atlantic City Friday, and workers at the Convention Center hustled to put together the designs.
“We just want people to look at this and say ‘Wow,’” Best said. “It’s going to be spectacular.”
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