Growing up, I was the kid who knew everything there was to know about Disney Princesses. I knew their names, ages, songs, what dresses they wore, and small facts most people didn’t know (like the names of Ariel’s older sisters).
At 19, I can say with certainty that my love for Disney Princesses hasn't changed. In fact, within the past year, it has grown immensely. Now, instead of watching Disney Princess movies on repeat like I used to do as I kid, I get the chance to be them.
When I started my job last year, I honestly wasn't sure what to expect. My first solo party, I went as Princess Belle from "Beauty and the Beast," and the drive to the party was terrifying. I didn't know what the kids would be like, if they'd like me, if their parents would like me, if I'd do a good enough job...the list of worries went on and on.
Although I'd acted before many times and had no problem singing on stage, this was different. I didn't have lines or stage directions to help me. I only had my knowledge of Disney and my (hopefully good) ability to improvise.
When I finally arrived, the knot in my stomach had turned from an annoying nudge into an overwhelming flood of emotions that left me with a pounding heart and shaky hands. But as soon as I gathered myself and stepped into the party room, which was inside a park clubhouse, my worries disappeared.
Kids swarmed about my skirts, asking me where the Beast was, how Cogsworth and Lumiere were doing, if I could sing for them, and if I'd been scared when the Beast had taken me prisoner.
They were so excited and enamored that I couldn't believe I'd been nervous. I spent an hour and a half at that party playing games, singing, and telling stories. By the end, I may've been even more excited than the kids!
I've been so lucky to have found and been able to have this job for the past year, not only because of the ballgowns and ability to be a princess for a few hours on the weekend (which, don't get me wrong, is absolutely wonderful for the child in me), but mostly because I've learned so much while doing it.
I've learned a lot about kids and how they think based on the stories they tell me and the questions they ask, and I remember more about myself as a kid than I did before I started working. I've learned how to improv as though my life depends on it (I don't think I've ever had a party where I'm not asked every minute detail about my life as a princess, where my carriage is, how I know the other princesses, how often we get together, and so on. I've even had a kid ask me when I was Ariel how I could possibly be "16" if my movie was released in 1989).
I've learned that one of the best ways to control a rebellious kid is to ask them to be your helper, which magically encourages them to spend the rest of the party being a model to their peers and helping get everyone's attention.
I've learned that sometimes allowing kids not to participate in games or sing-a-longs makes them more comfortable to participate later, and I've learned, most importantly, that kids are far smarter than we give them credit for.
Most importantly, I've learned how to better accept criticism (heaven knows I've had to seriously work on my face painting skills), and that parties don't need to be "perfect" to be successful.
When I started, I thought that every party had to be flawless, and even a single misstep could ruin things for the kids. But now I know that's not true. I make my fair share of mistakes - messing up lyrics on a song, occasionally looking far more tired and less princess-like than I want to, and not always being as proper as the animated ladies are. And that's okay. What matters most to me, beyond how much I "look" or "act" like a princess, is that the kids have fun and remember the party in the months to come.
I know I sure do.