If you attended Park High during the 1950s to the ’80s, you’ll undoubtedly remember the Parkettes. Not only did they perform at school functions, but all over the Twin Cities and the world. They also served as the Vikings Cheerleaders for 20 years. Additions or corrections to this page are welcome; feel free to contact us.
For a complete history of the Parkettes, including personal stories, see their web site.
The Parkettes got their start when Mary Ann Evans, Sara Lenmark, and Diane Burger, three sophomores from Park High, watched a performance by the Roosevelt Rockettes in Minneapolis in the spring of 1956 at the State Basketball Tournament at Williams Arena. They came to Fran Libby for leadership. Libby had teaching certificates from the Ned Wayburn Studio in New York City and Fanchon & Marco in Hollywood.
The Parkettes were formed in the fall of 1956 with 16 seniors. It was the first suburban high school dance line in the Twin Cities. The Echo announced the formation of the group on November 21, 1956, and that they would perform at three basketball games. Their first three routines were described as collegiate, cowboy, and bop. Libby chose the girls, and did all the choreography and costume design. She was assisted by her daughter Debbie Libby and Kay Anderson, both 7th graders. The group’s first performance was on December 7, 1956, at a Park-Edina basketball game.
In June 1958 the Parkettes participated in the Aquatennial Pre-parade shows at Parade Stadium with dance lines from Bloomington, Edina, Hopkins, Richfield, Roosevelt, and Washburn High Schools.
In the fall of 1958 the Parkettes were so popular that 90 girls tried out for 24 spots. The line itself had 16 girls. A tradition of the Parkettes began that year, with new members surprised at their homes in the middle of the night and rousted out of bed by participating Parkettes in a chartered bus.
Six members of the Parkettes were chosen to be Lakerettes, cheerleaders for the Minneapolis Lakers basketball team.
On February 3, 1959, the Parkettes performed at the St. Paul Winter Carnival, clad in aqua satin leotards trimmed with fringe and shiny sequins designed by their choreographer, Fran Libby. They performed two numbers, “Another Opening, Another Show” and “Country Style” accompanied by a 40-piece orchestra and the 45-voice Minneapolis Choralaires.
The Parkettes numbered 24; shows included those at the Auto Show and the St. Paul Winter Carnival.
Park won the State Basketball Tournament in 1962. Steve Brown took the photo below of the Parkettes in the celebratory parade.
On September 14, 1963, the Parkettes, numbering 30, sponsored a Hootenanny to raise money for travel.
From the St. Louis Park Echo, September 1963:
Hootenanny For Dancers
What is a hootenanny? The dictionary’s slang definition is “a meeting of folk singers, especially for public entertainment.”
On September 14, St. Louis Park’s first hootenanny was presented by the Parkettes to raise funds for their planned tour of Europe next summer.
The almost four-hour festival provided entertainment for everyone who paid his $1.50. There was a wide range of folk music as well as the dancing of the Parkettes.
The show was opened with the Parkettes dancing, followed by the master of ceremonies, Hal Murray of radio station KDWB. The Contemporary Folk Group was the first of the folk singers, followed by The Countrymen.
Maury Bernstein was next, playing his accordion and telling jokes. The Flinthill Singers from Washburn High then entertained with the Goldbriers following. After the intermission, The Bondsmen, Jeff Espina, The Blues Stompers and Gary Holmberg entertained.
In January 1964 the Parkettes filed as a corporation known as The Parkettes and Fan Club, Inc. The articles of incorporation state that the group
..consists of a group of high school girls who have undertaken the study of precision dancing under the sponsorship of the high school authorities and under the tutelage of a teacher selected by the group. This organization has participated in school, community, and civic functions and has toured extensively throughout areas of the United States promoting the City of St. Louis Park, and has been a significant factor in establishing the public relations of the State of Minnesota throughout the country, and has further served to stimulate interest in the art of precision dancing throughout the entire northwest area. The general purpose of the corporation shall be the furtherance and expansion of the activities of The Parkettes and the membership of the corporation shall promote, encourage, foster, support and participate in those activities on a civic, educational and recreational basis….
The move to incorporate may have been done to allow the group to own property. Incorporators and the Board of Directors were Mrs. Frances D. Libby, Mrs. Violet I. Layman, and Mr. William Wilson.
Cindy Pratt Thayer was a Parkette in perhaps one of the most active times for the danceline. She tried out for the team in the Spring of 1962, and was one of 30 to 35 girls who were chosen. Eight of the girls also served as Pom Pom Girls, performing at football games. She was in the very first group that cheered for the Minnesota Vikings; she reveals that when it was really cold, they would wear flesh-colored tights over long underwear!
Each year the Parkettes took an exciting trip, often in combination with a performance. In Cindy’s first year they went to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. During the next year the Fan Club was formed, with the purpose of raising money for expenses and trips. That summer they went to Europe and performed on the BBC. The third year was to Colorado Springs, home of the U.S. Air Force Academy. They were invited to a dance, each paired up with a Cadet. They stayed at the Broadmoor Hotel (the Parkettes, that is, not the cadets!)
Cindy has graciously loaned us photos of herself in her Parkettes costumes, taken on March 10, 1964. She had them taken to send to her brother, who was in the service. Her descriptions were written on the backs of the photos. She says that each costume was hand made for the particular girl by a seamstress, unless the Parkette or her mother sewed and wanted to make one herself.
On April 10, 1964, the Parkettes hosted the River City Talent Tournament at the Minneapolis Auditorium. Professional acts included Jimmie Rodgers and the Big Three, a group from Greenwich Village featuring Cass Elliot. The Castaways placed first in the rock and roll category, beating out the Blazemen from North High. Their prize was $50.
In 1964 the Parkettes became the official cheerleaders for the Minnesota Vikings, a role they played into the 1980s. The girls were paid $50 per game, and answered players’ fan mail. The arrangement may have come about because Vikings owner Max Winter lived in St. Louis Park.
In late summer 1965 the Parkettes competed on the popular TV show, Ted Mack’s Amateur Hour. They traveled to Chicago to be on the program. The Forum newspaper reported that they competed under the name “Park Petites” because they were scheduled to appear on a subsequent show under their regular name.
The photo above, courtesy of Sally Watz Braatz, shows the Parkettes marching in the Tournament of Roses Parade, New Years’ Day 1966. Cindy Lubet Kalland remembers: “We marched right behind the Queen of the Roses float. We also danced at the Coronation of the Queen of the Roses a night or two before.” Lawrence Welk provided the music. Later, the girls were treated to a concert by Sonny and Cher at a non-alcoholic bar on the Sunset Strip called “It’s Boss.” It was a small club and they were only about 20 feet away from the coolest couple on the Strip.
On September 30, 1967, the Parkettes won a city-wide dance line competition held at Donaldson’s Department Store. They received $200 for winning first prize, and $50 more for drawing the largest crowd from their school. They competed against dance lines from the Lake and City Conferences. Judges included WCCO-TV personality Bill Carlson and Minneapolis Star columnist Barbara Flanagan.
Tom Mueller absconded with the poster below while stationed in Germany in 1968 and kept it for decades as a reminder of home when so far away from home:
The Parkettes were invited to perform the half-time show at one of the Vikings’ games, which would become an annual event.
On January 11, 1970, the Parkettes were the Vikings’ cheerleaders at their first Super Bowl, held in New Orleans. The girls spent 33 hours on a bus to get to the game – and 33 hours back!
Fran Libby died suddenly on March 26, 1970, at age 53 while the girls were on spring break in Hawaii. Her obituary said that she had founded the Parkettes about 15 years ago, and that most of the 48 current Parkettes and many former Parkettes were at the service. The obituary stated, “Mrs. Libby had been active in the direction of the group and assistant program director for them at all Viking football games. She went to the Super Bowl game with the girls but has not attended rehearsals since then.”
Carol Wexler, a former Parkette, acted as interim leader until the Parents’ Board chose Toni Swiggum.
In January 1974 the Vikings invited the Parkettes to attend their second Super Bowl, held in Houston. Instead of a 33 hour bus ride, the girls enjoyed a chartered plane.
In 1975 the girls numbered 40. It was in December 1975 that the troupe held a 20 year reunion, organized by Parkette mother Barbara Davis. The many costumes of the dance line were made by Mrs. Richard Gibbs.
The Parkettes performed for more than sports teams, as evidence by their performance at the Cooper Theater in May 1976 for a preview of the movie “That’s Entertainment, Part 2.”
In 1976 the Parkettes celebrated their 20th Anniversary, as noted in the photo below from the 1976 Echowan yearbook. They held a reunion at the Ambassador Motor Hotel on Highway 12.
On January 9, 1977, the Parkettes were the Vikings’ cheerleaders at the Super Bowl, held in Pasadena. Oakland won.
By 1977 the troupe knew 250 routines.
In the summer of 1977 the Parkettes were the Grand Champions of the Hopkins Raspberry Festival parade. In August they danced with the Park Petites during halftime at a Vikings pre-game show.
In June 1977 the Parkettes were asked to act as hostesses at the premier of the movie “A Bridge Too Far,” held at the Cooper Theater. They also danced at the event. Actor Sean Connery was in attendance.
In 1978 the Parkettes modified their Vikings Cheerleaders costumes to look more mature. The posters below were made that included at least one former Parkette who had graduated in 1975.
This trend started with the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders. Wikipedia reports that the concept of a sexier image for NFL cheerleaders started in 1967 when a stripper named Bubbles Cash “caused a tremendous stir in the crowd that turned to cheers when she walked down the staircase stands on the 50-yard line carrying cotton candy in each hand.” Cowboys General Manager Tex Schramm was inspired to form a cheerleading squad dressed in similar fashion to Cash. For the 1970 season, Schramm decided to change the uniforms and style of cheerleading routines to be more primarily dance and less like traditional acrobatic routines like that of high school or college cheerleading squads. In 1972 Texie Waterman, a New York choreographer, auditioned and trained an entirely new female squad which would all be over 18 years of age, searching for attractive appearance and athletic ability. Posters, articles, and TV shows followed, and NFL cheerleading would be changed forever.
On December 6, 1979, the Parkettes were pictured in the Sun helping at a Vikings Childrens Fund Charity dinner, wearing their leotards and boots.
The first “Battle of the NFL Cheerleaders” was held in 1979 in Hollywood, Florida. Two cheerleaders from each cheerleading team compete against other mini-teams in various athletic events. The events include kayaking, 100 yard dash, obstacle courses, and other events. The Minnesota Vikings Cheerleaders took home the title in 1979. (Wikipedia)
As always, the Parkettes performed at Vikings games at Met Stadium and during halftime at Park High basketball games.
The Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome opened in downtown Minneapolis in 1982, saving our poor Parkettes from cheering in subzero temperatures.
The Parkettes continued cheering for the Vikings during the 1983-84 season.
In the summer of 1984 the Vikings decided to follow the trend for older cheerleaders, and ended their 20 year association with the Parkettes.
In 1984 Lisa Thompson (formerly Passolt) was chosen as the new choreographer and she directed the group for about a year.
During Lisa Thompson’s tenure the Parkettes performed a huge half time show in 1985 celebrating the Vikings’ Anniversary, their 25th season in the NFL. Unfortunately, Lisa experienced a difficult pregnancy and was put on bed rest, so she could not continue.The Parkettes kept going through the year, but but it was the last year they danced.
Click Here for a clip of the Park Petites and the Parkettes performing the “Neutron Dance” at the halftime show at a 1986 Vikings game. (Courtesy Nancy Pearson)
The Parkettes held a 50 year reunion on April 22, 2006. Bob Reiss reported on the event in the Re-Echo:
Over 350 Parkettes, parents, and Fan Club members attended. They came from all over the United States to celebrate the memories and friendships of their dancing years. Mark Rosen was the Master of Ceremonies for the event. Although it has been over ten years since the Parkettes last performed, a group of former Parkettes danced to “One Step at a Time” for the reunion.
The evening was full of smaller groups extemporaneously demonstrating that they remembered the teamwork and the steps. The formal program ended with a style show of Parkettes costumes.
As part of the reunion, the Parkettes were asked to recall their memories and the effect being a Parkette had on their lives. Just about everyone called the experience “the highlight of my life.” The discipline and friendships were mentioned many times. They knew the tough discipline of practices made them very good dancers, and they were proud of being good. They learned to give 110 percent and to smile and keep dancing!
They remembered the practices, the points-off for slipups, and the support they got from their fellow dancers during on-stage mistakes. They all remembered the night the Parkettes arrived at their homes to tell them they were new Parkettes. They also remembered the white GoGo boots…..without love.
It was a gala affair and one to be remembered!
Bud Grant sent this letter of congratulations.
Every summer since 1964 the Parkettes would work with a large group of girls in Grades 7 – 10 and teach them dances. During the school year each Petite would pay $1/hour for ten weeks to work with the Parkettes. In 1964 100 Park Petities were chosen to participate in the Winter Carnival. The Petites would do a performance for parents and family and also got to perform with the Parkettes during half-time at a Vikings pre-season game at the Metrodome. Many went on to become Parkettes. In 1980 a group of 200 Park Petites performed at a Vikings game. In 1983 they performed at the Vikings season opener, now inside the Metrodome.
Note: In 2012 the Parkettes were brought back to Park High.