Hundreds of Minnesota high school and university students harbored a supersized secret in the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl — they were going to back up Justin Timberlake during his high-energy halftime performance.
And they managed to keep the secret despite long practices and mounting excitement as the Big Game approached.
It wasn't easy, they said, despite warnings from Super Bowl organizers to avoid sharing anything about the show on social media.
The dancers "had to lie to all their friends about where they were going to those rehearsals," said Monica Fredrickson coach of the dance team at Lakeville North High School. "I think it was difficult for them, and I'm surprised more people didn't ask questions."
Dance teams from 14 metro-area high schools, along with the University of Minnesota marching band, performed in the show Sunday night at U.S. Bank Stadium. High schools represented were the Academy of Holy Angels in Richfield, Burnsville, Eastview in Apple Valley, Eden Prairie, Farmington, Hopkins, Lakeville North and South, Maple Grove, Minnetonka, Prior Lake, Rockford, Spring Lake Park and Wayzata.
The recruitment of dancers began back in December, coaches said. That's when Jenny Whiteley, head coach of the Spring Lake Park High dance team, said a Super Bowl casting director found her on social media and asked whether her team would be interested in performing.
"Of course I was absolutely shocked," said Whiteley, who submitted a video of her team.
Only dancers older than 16 could participate, which left 21 students on Whiteley's team eligible. They all agreed to do it despite the overlap between Super Bowl rehearsals and their busy tournament season.
Rehearsals, which moved to U.S. Bank Stadium the week before the game, sometimes lasted eight hours, coaches said. Teams put in more than 50 hours over two weeks.
Parents of dance team members knew about the performance because they had to sign permission slips, Whiteley said, and school administrators knew, too. Other than that, the show was top secret.
"If it got out to the public that we're a part of this, it would have been a breach of contract and we would have been let go," Whiteley said.
Dancers donned brightly colored jackets provided by Super Bowl officials but brought their own black pants or skirts. They wore headsets so they could hear the music.
Mandie Flint, 16, a sophomore at Holy Angels, said she found out she would be dancing at the Super Bowl while out to eat with her family. Her mother accidentally told her grandparents, who somehow managed to keep it in the bag.
"I'm proud of them, because they're not really good at that," she said.
Flint, who wore a teal jacket, said at one point she was just feet away from Timberlake. While learning the dance steps was easy, she said, the part of the routine where they held up mirrors was taxing.
"A lot of hard work was put into it and it really just paid off," Flint said.
Suits, ties and trombones
In early December, members of the U marching band learned they would be performing at the Super Bowl. Their director, Betsy McCann, had been lobbying for the gig since the year before, and students started a social media campaign last fall to help.
Once they found out they were in, however, they had to keep their enthusiasm under wraps. When asked if they were playing, they could only say that the details hadn't been worked out yet, McCann said.
"I don't know that any student leaked any information," she said.
During the halftime show, 240 band members wore tuxedos and played during the song "Suit and Tie." Another 75 members acted as fans and held up mirrors. Both groups participated in the finale "Can't Stop the Feeling."
McCann said that students "got pretty pumped up" as the second quarter ended and they realized the world would be watching.
"I know that this wasn't everyone's favorite halftime show," said Jack Dougherty, a trombone player. "But no one can ever take away the joy that each of us experienced while performing on the world's largest stage."
Erin Adler • 612-673-1781