Mardi Gras has always held a special place in my heart and those closest to me know it’s my favorite holiday. It was a large part of my life, starting at a very young age (4 to be exact), when I made my first appearance as a page in a Mardi Gras ball. Our living room was always full of costumes, and many Friday nights were spent painting backdrops with the family. This was the life of a child whose parents belonged to Mardi Gras Krewes; a mother whose spare time was spent sewing and decorating many, many costumes. This clearly jump started a fire in my heart, and, I quickly learned that sequins and glitter are a necessary staple. But this year, Mardi Gras took on a whole new meaning as I danced my way through the streets as a Mande Milkshaker.
I first spotted the dots in a video that appeared on Facebook and was left wanting to know more about this group of ladies in red & white polka dots that appeared out of nowhere. Who are these brave ladies??? So I ventured out on a beautiful King’s Day last year to watch them sashay their way down the Mandeville Lakefront. And it happened – a tug on the old Mardi Gras heartstrings, and I knew right then and there that I wanted to experience this for myself. I needed that polka dotted dress in my life!! It was that day that I made the decision to apply and audition to become a Mande Milkshaker.
And here I am, 11 parades later, in what I can easily sum up as the most fantabulous Mardi Gras of my life. With what seemed like a lifetime of practices, sweat, achy muscles, mosquito bites and many Bleu-chip dinners, it was finally time to line up and step off for the ride of my life.
My feelings were all over the place!! It was happiness, excitement, nervousness, anticipation – you name it – all wrapped up into one emotion. Secretly, I didn’t think I could do it physically, after dealing with some low back and hip issues. Oh, and let’s not forget that being-completely-out-of-shape thing. After the Krewe of Poseidon parade, I tossed and turned all night with tears in my eyes as my hip screamed out some serious obscenities.
But the next morning, I felt amazing! I did it. I danced through a five (5) mile parade and survived! Bring on the next one, please!! I’m ready to jump around some more to Brass Monkey while wanting you to want me!!! Take me back right now to a land of 1000 dances!! The parade hype for me was truly electrifying and enticing. And the crowds – oh, the crowds!! The cheers, the laughter, the compliments, light-heartedly dancing in the streets, wobbling & baby sharkin’ with fans!! A valid excuse to wear glitter all the time!!!
My first parade season as a Mande was a success!! A whole-hearted passion has consumed me and I can’t wait to do more.
The Mande Milkshakers are a group of very diverse women of different sizes, shapes, personalities, and abilities. We call these differences our special flavor of Shakes. My special flavor includes a disability; I am deaf. I was born deaf, and learning to speak hasn’t been easy for me. Think about it; when you can’t hear, how do you learn to speak? Or even hear the music, people talking, etc.
Yep, I’m deaf and proud of it!!
As a founding member of the Mande Milkshakers, I love dancing, music and get togethers. I’m sure you’re wondering how can a deaf person dance and hear the music? I have hearing aids and recently got cochlear implants, which helps with the hearing. Although, at times, when it’s really noisy and my brain is on override… I rely on my Mandes! They are all about empowering, helping, supporting each other. At times, when it’s parade season and it’s raining… I have to take my aids off and really pay attention, which can be a handful. But it doesn’t stop me…at all!! The Mandes help me out and focus on me to be with them! During those moments, it can be very easy to think, “I can’t”…”I can’t have normal social life like anyone else.” However, I have learned over time one important thing: I have a choice. I might not be able to choose what is easy or difficult for me; but, I can choose the abilities that I do have by embracing the choices that work for me. I have experienced many rewarding things as a result. Let’s resist the temptations to classify other people based on disabilities or challenges. Let’s help others to focus on their abilities, even if it’s difficult at times. The rewards can be something as wonderful as being a Mande and having so many supportive Mande sisters.
The Mande Milkshakers are so much more than just a women’s dance krewe – it empowers women. We have fun, we make friends and it welcomes our families inside. I love that I can have mommy time, but then also include my husband (Milkman Chris) and my 10-year-old twins Gabby (Mini Mande) and Grayson (Mini Milkman).
My family was excited that I had found something to keep me busy but never imagined that they too would be along for the ride; once that polka-dot bug bit them, they were all in. Gabby was the first to get on board and she became an amazing “Mini Mande”. I was a little concerned because she can be such a tom-boy at times and I wasn’t sure how I was going to get her into a dress, but, she became so excited once I became a Mande that she jumped straight into those polka dots and never looked back. Now, for my sweet boy Grayson is the quiet, shy and reserved one. Never wanting to be in the spot light (unlike his mom and sister). He took a while to warm- up to the idea of being a “Mini Milkman”. The morning of group pictures in January was a complete fight to get him into his Milkman shirt as it would draw attention to him. Not given an option, he reluctantly put on his shirt and we headed off for Mande pictures….and Mom got her way and got her Mande Family pictures.
Once pictures were over, we lined up on the lakefront for the Mande dress rehearsal where we would parade down the lakefront. Grayson was asked to carry the banner with his sister. He surprised me when he agreed to do it. It was at that moment that he too got bit by the Mande bug. Something happened that afternoon in my sweet boy. He marched the entire parade with a smile on his face and never looked back for Chris or me. This was a huge turning point for Grayson. That night at dinner all he could talk about was being a Milkman. His hope that night and still today, is for ‘Wild Bill’ from ‘News with a Twist’ to show up and interview him about the importance of the Milkmen and how much fun he has being a Milkman. That interview hasn’t happened yet but who knows, maybe one day it will.
My husband Chris is by no means an outgoing, in-your-face kind-a-guy…but….he does love participating as a ‘Milkman’. First and foremost he gets to help ensure the safety of his wife as well as all the other ladies out there doing their thing. Secondly, he sees it as a way of exercising and staying fit. Lastly, he knows it makes me happy and allows me to be the ‘social butterfly’ that I am.
Our first parade season with the ‘Mandes’ has come to an end and not only has it been great for mom, it has been a great family experience. When I asked Gabby and Grayson what their favorite things were about the ‘Mandes’ here is what they had to say: Gabby says the parades are a blast. Gabby loves being a Mini Mande and getting to hear the crowds cheer as we come down the road. She also says she loves how each Mande has her own fun personality. Grayson says he loves being a Milkman and carrying the banner during parades. He also says he likes how nice all the ‘Mandes’ are and how energetic they all are. I would have to agree with both my kiddos, these ladies really are amazing.
The Mande Milkshakers…embracing and extending families every day.
As I finish my second season parading, I find myself reflecting on the past few weeks and I wanted to share my thoughts with you.
After dancing in 11 parades, beginning with Twelfth Night and ending with Irish Italian, we have sore muscles, and achy bones but a huge smile in our hearts. Needless to say, it is so worth it! YOU are worth it!
Whether it’s the gorgeous oak lined streets of Old Mandeville, The quaint small town streets of Covington, Hammond, and Independence, the bustling business lined streets of Metairie and Slidell, or the historically aesthetic streets of New Orleans, YOU remain the same.
You wake up at the crack of dawn, to pack the car, squeeze into a spot, stake out a place, commune with nature, and you wait for me.
You sit through torrential rain, frigid cold, and blazing heat, with children, chairs, and chests in tow, and you wait for me.
The sights, the sounds, the symphony of carnival entertains the masses as you wait for me.
The hours tick by, the crowd thickens, Uncle Joe gets rowdy from too much Schlitz, and yet you wait for me.
We too wake early and pack the car with water, and music, and glitter galore, while you wait.
We primp and fluff and color our faces, lengthen our lashes, and don our pearls, all while you wait.
We anxiously arrive and speedily stage, putting out fires, and making sure every dot’s in its place, while you wait.
We pass a myriad of faces in the crowd who smile and clap and wave and we know our moment is soon upon us, while you wait.
Our arms grow weak, and our shakes get softer as we proceed through the muck and the mush that has become of the streets, while you wait.
Then the moment arrives and in mid shimmy our eyes meet. You cheer, you yell, you sing along, and we know you are in this with us and you no longer wait.
What you do not, could not, know is, that moment, that wonderful moment we share with each and every one of you, that moment is why we shake.
When you begin to dance the routine like you’ve been practicing with us since August, when in fact it’s the first time you saw it, We Shake for You!
When you sing along to our song, at the top of your lungs, because you feel what we feel, in the bottom of your soul, WE Shake for You!
When you yell our name, shout encouragement, hype us up, or just say “I Love You”, WE Shake for You!
Our shakes become bigger and bigger each time we see you and our hearts get fuller and fuller. Our shakes are always for you.
You are what carries us through the 30,000 steps it takes to dance a 5 mile parade. Like the song says, “You shook me all night long”, and for that We Thank You!
“We’ll call ourselves the Mande Mawmaws!” Wow….that started out as a joke because we thought we were really too old to be part of any kind of marching group, especially one full of women young enough to be our daughters.
While at a planning meeting for a Mandeville High School Reunion (the number is best kept secret), we learned the new Mande Milkshakers group was still recruiting ladies so that they could march in a couple of local parades. Some quick phone calls and a couple of key strokes on the computer to order costumes and three weeks later we were marching down the streets as Mande Milkshakers.
So what does it mean to be a Mande Mawmaw?
Well, it means we sometimes must work a little harder at things. We watched our younger counter parts memorize and do the fancy moves and footsteps in awe. We would raise our arms and under our breath say “OUCH” that joint hurts. But, here is the funny thing, soon we realized the joints didn’t hurt as bad, the moves came easier, and remembering the sequences of the moves became second nature.
Others began to notice too. The health benefits of the movement and exercise began to show. Smiles returned to our faces, fun returned to our lives, and joy became part of living life to its fullest…..or as our fearless leader would probably tell us, living life a “Little Extra!”
When we added new ladies for our second season, our Mande Mawmaw numbers grew too. A new Mande Mawmaw recently joined our ranks when she announced the birth of her first grandchild. We now have nine members who carry the title of Grandmother.
As I shimmy and shake down the parade route, I am reminded that age is just a number, and it is OK to redefine what grandmother-hood is all about.
Mande Milkshakers officially kicked off Mardi Gras with a their 2nd annual “Meet the Mandes” live dress rehearsal down the Mandeville Lakefront on January 6th.
In one short year the Mande Milkshakers Marching Group has gone from a little group of friends and family who loved to dance and have fun, to a BIG group of friends and family who love to dance so much they just can’t get enough!
To understand the incredible achievements these ladies have made, you need to hear this story.
Mande Milkshakers was conceived many moons ago when our fearless leader, whom we all call “Big Red”, saw a marching group at a parade in New Orleans and she thought…Hmmm…I live in Mandeville….Mandeville has lots of housewives…..Wouldn’t it be fun if we had a marching group of Housewives?
Fast forward a few years, a chance gathering of four friends sparked the energy needed to get this idea rolling. Although simply a coincidence, the very first correspondence related to the founding of the group took place on August 1, 2016 which happened to be National Milkshake Day and served as perhaps the first hint that there may be divine intervention at work with this group. Without the knowledge that a National Milkshake Day even existed, our founders called us the “Mande Milkshakers!”
By January of 2017, the group had grown to about 30 ladies who enjoyed hanging out and learning some dance routines. With their eyes on taking a year to perfect everything and to be ready to roll in 2018, the ladies just shimmied along at weekly gatherings.
Believe it or not, there are no instruction manuals on how to start a marching group or even how to get involved in marching in parades. One day “Big Red” said….Let me call some of the Krewes to find out how we get invited to march in their parade. To our surprise, one of the Krewes said…How about this year!!!?
WHAT???? OK, we can do that. All we need is a costume, routines, a truck, and a D.J. We can pull this off in 3 weeks, right?! Yep, about 3 weeks. The 30 ladies ordered costumes, wigs, and sunglasses off Amazon (thank goodness for Prime!) and before long we were ready to go.
The wigs and glasses were important for all the first time shakers in sexy dresses because what if any of our friends saw us along the parade route…oh horrors! It would take some time to get used to the idea of putting yourself out there and for many of the ladies, myself included, it took all my bravery to execute a scantily clad shimmy in front of people I knew.
Meanwhile, the ladies gave serious thought to what they wanted the group to ultimately be. Fun (of course); Friendship (because friendship is what gets us through life); Fitness (no excuses!) and last and most important, Philanthropy. The ladies chose Miracle League Northshore as their dedicated Charity for their first year.
Continuing to practice and learn their routines, they soon realized they had no idea if the routines were march-able or if the costumes would work, thus the very first Mande Milkshakers Live Dress Rehearsal was born. The City of Mandeville embraced the ladies and allowed them to march down Lakeshore Drive on the way to a local restaurant where they topped off the day with a fundraiser for their chosen charity.
The nervousness, butterflies, and jitters all disappeared however the moment we took our first steps on Lakeshore Drive that beautiful Saturday in January. I knew in that moment, I was living out loud. I can not begin to explain the exhilaration I felt dancing and interacting with the crowds, cameras, and cheers. I felt like a teenager again with all the excitement. You’d be surprised how quickly a parade goes by when you you’re have some of the most fun in your life.
The “Parade Bug” bit every Mande and the ladies just couldn’t get enough. Every chance they had, they marched. The fun shined through everyone’s faces and by the end of the Parade Season, there were over 100 inquiries from ladies asking how to join the group.
January 6, 2018, our newest Mande Milkshakers experienced their very first Mardi Gras Live Dress Rehearsal down the Mandeville Lakefront. It was an incredible experience to see a sea of Red and White Polka Dots laughing, dancing, and simply having fun as they shimmied down the steet to some of their favorite songs.
This year the Mande Milkshakers have a full schedule of parades spanning the North and South shores of the Lake. The group is very excited to be included in their first New Orleans Parade!
What can be more festive and exciting than the Christmas season? Well, throw in two Mande Milkshakers Christmas parades, and the ante goes way up!
The Mandes were proud to be invited to perform in two parades this Christmas season. Our group wasn’t even performing last Christmas, so these would be the Mande’s first Christmas performances, and us newbies first-ever parades as a Mande. We started learning our Christmas routines in November, and the excitement was building with each practice!
Our first Christmas parade was on the evening of Saturday, December 2 in Hammond, Louisiana for the Hammond Rotary Club. The theme was “Cypress Tree O’ Cypress Tree”, and the weather was absolutely perfect.
We went all out in full “Christmas flair”. Accessories included headbands, Santa hats, light-up jewelry, jingle bells, crazy Christmas socks, and even a fully lit petticoat courtesy of Julie Drago. Our Milkmen and Cherries looked great too! The parade began at dusk, and once darkness fell, everyone’s light-up accessories really added to our festiveness. The scenery was beautiful with large crowds along the route, and I made sure to take it all in. The beginning and end of the route was at Southeastern’s Strawberry Stadium. We marched through some charming neighborhoods, and the large Southern homes were decorated in their Christmas finest. We even passed a park that was all aglow with Christmas lights. Then we turned into downtown Hammond where the crowds were the thickest, and reminded me a little bit of the French Quarter at Mardi Gras. Lots of restaurants, businesses and balconies were decorated – it was very small town, and so very cool!. We danced non-stop from start to finish, and since this was the first parade for many of us, I think we did pretty darn good! The crowds seemed to really enjoy it too, as there were tons of people taking pictures and videos. You could hear a chorus of Mandes wishing “Merry Christmas” to the children throughout the parade. The icing on our Christmas cake was that we won best marching group! Not bad at all, since the Mandes started less than a year ago, and were participating in our first ever Christmas parade!
The following Saturday, December 9, was our second Christmas parade. We began the day by performing two routines at the Christmas Past Festival in Old Mandeville, and then immediately lined up for the “Winter on the Water” parade along the scenic Mandeville Lakefront. The weather was quite chilly, and everyone added Christmas scarfs, hats, gloves and leg warmers to our already over the top Christmas flair.
The Mandes were near the beginning of the lineup, and had a great red and white antique car right in front of us as if it was all planned! We experienced some audio issues during the parade, but as in life, things happen and you have to learn to adjust and make the best of it. And that’s just what we did. So whenever the audio would go out, we would simply sing louder and keep our dance routines going. The crowds were thickest toward the end of the route, where everyone gathered near the Gazebo for the tree lighting and sail boat parade. And then, just like that, we’d completed our second Christmas parade!
I’m a huge Gilmore Girls fan, and both of the Christmas parades were definitely “Stars Hollow” worthy. I’m sad that the Christmas events are over, but that just means that Mardi Gras is that much closer! So until then, keep on shaking!
I have a friend in who lives in Alaska that I met in Germany, and, not two people could have looked so different or anyone thought would be friends. To digress, living in Germany creates a very cohesive community with all the Americans working together. And, I made a friend for life. I moved to Seattle and she moved to Alaska. She became a roller derby girl which is something she had always wanted to do. I went to visit her not long after she moved and met the fantastic ladies who speed along the rink. While enjoying our evening beverages as had done so many times in Germany, we talked about her new life and the derby girls. How she had found an instant family and what a family it was. Ladies from all walks of life with a joy for life and just plain fun supporting each other with love and grace. How I missed that! Fast forward to me moving back home after many many years gone. The need to make new friends and establish a social life. Family was the reason to move back home and I am enjoying every minute of family time with parents, kids and grandkids. But, I needed something for myself. By luck, I discover the Mande Milkshakers who happen to be holding their first audition process. See they are a new marching group on the Northshore wearing red and white polka dots dresses 50s housewife style. Anyone who knows me knows that is tailored made for me. I start the audition process and meet these wonderful group of ladies going through the process with me. I spent weeks learning new dances, practicing, laughing and stressing on whether we will make the team. Ladies from all walks of life with a joy for life and just plain fun supporting each other with love and grace. Helping each other with dance moves, laughing when we mess up and having so much fun in the process. We auditioned on a Sunday at a local Italian restaurant which was a crazy and fun day. We anxiously waited for announcement day. We supported each other while we learned who made the group and celebrated all whose name was called. We made the group! Now we continue to learn new dances, practice, make more friendships and always there’s laughter. A FAMILY IS BORN!!!!
The Mande Milkshakers are stepping up the #shakelife and getting intimate with their fans. We are allowing you peek behind the curtain so you can see how the shakes are made. Below are 6 reasons why the Mande Milkshakers are worth following.
Our Milkshake brings all the girls to the yard…
The Mande Milkshakers are a group of friends who love to hang out and have a good time.
And they’re like…
For some reason people enjoy watching us have a good time.
It’s Better than Yours
I’ve always believed in the philosophy “The More the Merrier” and there truly is no better way to party than with 30 of your friends!
Damn Right! It’s Better than Yours
We are a “party with a purpose” because behind every shake is a lady who is looking to give back to the community. We aim to raise money for local charities and represent Mandeville pride through participation in community events.
I could Teach You
And because we are about having a good time, we empower each other to see ourselves as beautiful, sexy, amazing, active women who live out loud.
But I’d have to Charge
Not only can you catch the Mandes on the parade route during Mardi Gras, but you can also expect to see the Mandes around town at Grand Openings, Community Celebrations, and private parties.
We look forward to catching up with you soon! Until then…. Keep on Shaking!!!