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The Saintsations are a cheerleading and dance squad that performs at New Orleans Saints football games. The Saintsations are involved in several community projects, and the squad is featured each year in a special swimsuit calendar.
The New Orleans Saints had two different sets of dance teams prior to the Saintsations: From 1967-71, the original Saints dance team went by several different names including the Lousiannes in 1967 (which was changed to the Saints Dancers after one pre-season game for that name had been copyrighted by a Louisiana-based high school), the Mademoiselles in 1968, and the Mam'selles from 1969-71. The roster size averaged 48 active dancers per year (up to 12 "reserve" dancers).
The original dance team was put together by Tommy Walker, the long-time entertainment director of Disneyland who worked for the Saints during the 1967-70 football seasons. His choreographer was Phyllis Nelson, New Orleans based dance instructor and voice coach who worked as a film actress for RKO pictures in the mid-1950s, was Miss New Orleans USA in 1954, and was a frequent on-air personality at WDSU-TV in the 1950s. Mrs. Nelson was also team director from 1969-71, replacing Joannie Husser (1967-68). In 1968, Mrs. Nelson was assisted in the months leading into the season by Tommy Mahoney, a long-time Hollywood choreographer who worked with Tommy Walker at Disneyland. Mr. Mahoney helped stage numbers for the dancers at their practice studio which was the U.S. Naval Reserve Training Center on Lakeshore Drive in New Orleans. Once the season started, Mahoney focused on helping Walker with the production of pre-game & halftime shows. One of Mr. Walker's assistant entertainment directors was Rhonda Shear, who became a popular TV commercial actress in New Orleans before becoming a national TV star primarily thanks to the USA Network's "Up All Night" series that ran in the 1980s and 1990s. Rhonda worked in her capacity with the Saints for most of the 1970s, prior to that Rhonda was a Saints Mam'selles dancer in 1970 & 71.
Saints dancer Sandra Labourdette (1967-70) was the original dance team's captain and later became the first Saintsations choreographer (1987-93).
The second set of Saints dance teams were from 1975-77 called the Bonnes Amiees (French term meaning "Good Friends"). This dance team was very supportive of many charities including the Muscular Dystrophy Association where they annually performed on the local TV affiliate's telethon in addition to having their own exclusive fundraiser for MDA. In 1978, the team was re-organized as the Angels. Unfortunately, this version of the team didn't last very long for in early October 1978 a person who was hired to be a staff assistant to the Angels was discovered to have been arrested for drug possession, but when the New Orleans Saints issued a press statement on this situation the club wouldn't specify that none of the dancers nor their choreographer were involved in the arrest. When the Saints organization refused to allow anyone on the Angels to speak to the press on this matter, the dance team's ties with the Saints ended. The disbanding was so noteworthy that a "radio cartoon" was produced by famed New Orleans broadcaster Ed Clancy called "Saints Angels" which was a parody of the 1950s hit "Earth Angel" by the Crew Cuts where Ed was able to get Crew Cuts lead singer John Perkins to sing lead on his parody as well. The Bonnes Amiees averaged 16 dancers per year on their roster, the Angels 24.
In 1987, Saints General Manager Jim Finks suggested bringing back a dance team to the sidelines which would work in conjunction with the Saints cheerleaders (acrobatic), which had been part of the team since 1967. Under further organizational thought from Saints entertainment director Barra Birrcher (director from 1971-2007), a tryout was held in the spring of 1987. 27 dancers were chosen to be part of what was initially called "The Saints Dancers" before a contest was held where more fans chose the name "Saintsations". Ironically, the first year of the Saintsations the Saints had their first-ever winning season and first playoff appearance. The roster size would vary over the years from 30, 32, 36, 37, and as high as 40 dancers in 1997.
Original Saintsation Angie Waguespack took over as choreographer from 1994-1999. Another one-time Saintsation Lani Quaglino-Neil (1994-99) would follow as choreographer in 2000.
The greatest change in Saintsations history occurred in 2001 when American All-Star Inc., based on the North shore of Lake Ponchartrain (north of New Orleans), took over the rights to the dance team and created new marketing, promotions, and costume designs that gave the fans a greater variety of dance routines and looks. American All-Star is operated by Leslee Fitzmorris and Royce Mitchell. Saintsations choreographers since 2001 included Angie Waguespack, Elizabeth Portwood-Gibson, Steven Boss, and director Kristen Rapp. The average roster size under American All-Star has been in the low 30s (28 in 2008).
Under American All-Star, the Saintsations have especially become international ambassadors of goodwill by touring with the USO to military bases in Iraq, Kuwait, Afghanistan, and other locations to provide entertainment and reassurance for the U.S. Military. They also appear at countless functions in the New Orleans area for charitable, non-profit, and commercial organizations. The Saintsations also have their own charitable foundations including the Saintsations Inspiration Program. Every year the Junior Saintsations program allows girls under 18 get to perform on the Superdome floor with the dance team before a Saints game.
The Saintsations are no secret to the international stage as their first border-crossing performance was in 1990 at London when the Saints played the Raiders in a pre-season contest where they did countless appearances during the week leading into the game and on game day, they would repeat this in 1993 when the Saints played in Tokyo for a pre-season game vs the Eagles. Since February 2004, the Saintsations have been the invited guests of the NFL to perform at the annual London Superbash, the official NFL Super Bowl party in Great Britain. In Feb.2008, they also performed at the official NFL party in Mexico City called "Fiesta Super Bowl." The Saintsations returned to London in late October 2008 when the Saints played the Chargers in a regular-season game at Wembley Stadium.
Historically, the Saintsations biggest merchandise sales comes from their annual calendar sales. Most of American All-Stars' calendars (2002-2006, 2008) were shot along the Gulf Coast, 2007 edition was done in New Orleans. Most of the calendar shoots were also covered by Cox Sports Television of New Orleans resulting in an annual half-hour special (since 2003). The first Saintsations calendars ran from 1989-1995 and were mainly shot in the New Orleans metro area.
The Saintsations have also sent a member to the Pro Bowl every year since February 1993.