She smiles as she walks around the mall in her sparkly, fitted gown. Her white braid falls down to her navel, and she adjusts the silver-sequined snowflakes pinned into her wig. She’s sweating but she’s smiling as people stop to look at her.
“Look mommy! It’s Elsa!” a little girl of about four screams. “Do you want to build a snowman?” she asks the child. The little girl looks up at the ice queen in amazement as her parents snap pictures on their cell phones in the middle of Smithaven Mall in Lake Grove, New York.
Dina Dolan is 35 and has been a princess since she was 15. Her signature look was always Ariel, the Little Mermaid, and she was always told that she had the typical princess look. She has wide eyes; fair, clear skin and a white smile that holds straight teeth. She is an artist, a recognized singer and actress who has performed in shows at Disney World and on Broadway.
“You have to remember all of us grew up on these fairytales. Every mommy was one of these princesses and every dad would put a towel on his back and be Superman jumping off the bed,” she says.
Disney princesses have perfect hair, their figures are perfect, and their skin is perfect; they are always happy and in a princess’ world, nothing can go wrong – well, except maybe getting kidnapped by an evil witch or forced to clean the family home by your evil stepmother or maybe losing your voice to the evil sea queen in return for legs.
But before the event at the mall begins, Dina slides on her sequined gowns; crinoline tutus puff the skirts out underneath. She goes to her dining room table to begin the process of becoming a princess.
“You get a lot of looks,” she says. “People will say, ‘You know it’s not Halloween, right?’”
She plays with her faux braid and unloads the foundation, blush, eye shadows and palettes of different lipstick colors.
The red-haired stepmother of two and the new mommy to infant, Quinten, brushes on her white powder and clips sparkly glittered snowflakes into the white plastic headpiece. Her mother sits across from her on her black laptop while Dina’s baby son bounces in his play seat, smiling. A happy child, he looked up in wonder at his mom, laughing that tiny baby laugh, as she kept singing to him.
The struggles of making a living on Long Island as a “princess,” however, dominate and often make Dina depressed. The woman who came to New York in May 2013 with big dreams and the high of falling in love soon fell into darkness when her business started to suffer.
While Dina was growing up in Florida with her mother and father, her talent helped her make a living. By auditioning – and getting the part – for different shows, being featured as a voice actress on Dora the Explorer CDs and by eventually leaving her former character-entertainment employers to create her own company, Dolan Entertainment was born.
While her late father, Bill, and mother,Theresa, ran Dolan Entertainment, Dina made the costumes for each character.
“I remember her sewing dresses on me until 2 a.m. while I stood there on a stool and just laughed with her, “ Danae Nurczyk, a friend and former actress with Dina’s company, said. “She made all her costumes and they were gorgeous. She always looked at every detail to make sure it was perfect.”
While Dina was known to play a perfect Little Mermaid, Nurczyk was always Cinderella.
In Florida, Dina was a big success. Families would book Dolan Entertainment over and over again,pleased with what she brought to the table. Even the rich and famous would hire Dina to play a part at their children’s birthday parties.
“Meeting celebrities is fun because they’ll say how happy they are to meet me as a princess and I’m thinking to myself, ‘No, Gloria Estefan, it’s really nice to meet you,’” She laughs, thinking back to the time she dressed up as Wonder Woman and took pictures in the singer’s backyard.
The lifestyle of a princess may seem glamorous and great but in reality it can be hard. Dina experienced every part of life while acting as a character but still had to maintain her cool and always smile.
But behind the smiles, a princess cries.
Dina sits in her kitchen and remembers the difficult times in her life. She gets quiet and says that when you get sick while playing a princess, if you’re having a bad day, if someone you love passes away or if you break up with your fiancé, the show must still go on.
“We are creating a fantasy for people. We create that happiness in that moment and they forget about all the seriousness and just laugh in joy.” But when the happiness is taken away from a performer, she still has to act like nothing is eating away at her.
While performing when she was younger, Dina ended up dating one of her co-actors, a man who played Prince Eric. But when they broke up, Dina still had to be Ariel and he still had to be the mermaid’s lover. “It’s no one else’s problem but my own,” she said. “All in all, you get through it. If you’re a professional, you get through it.”
Experiencing heartbreak is natural, Dina experienced the worst heartbreak of all four years ago, when her father was diagnosed with cancer and died shortly after.
“I miss him every day,” she says quietly.
But after his passing, Dina and Theresa decided to start fresh and rename the company Little Redhead Entertainment. Booking birthday parties and still attending corporate events, Dina also became a certified fitness instructor and a freelance makeup artist to make ends meat. Then, in December 2012, her life completely changed.
Dina met Bill Lanzetta on Christmas while at a family friend’s home, and they immediately hit it off. They sat outside in the snow talking for hours and fell in love. By February, the two were engaged.
The couple kept up a long distance relationship in those two months, so following her heart, Dina decided to move from Florida to New York in May. They got married in August and shortly after had her first child.
“People still called and asked for her after she moved away because there was no one like her,” Danae says. “She is beyond talented and can literally do it all.”
While living on Long Island, Dina strived to make a name for herself again.
In New York, Dina’s company began to expand but not with the reputation she had in Florida. It was around this past January that she, her husband and Theresa decided that it was time to change.
Living on Long Island is tough. The taxes in many areas are more than what most families can afford. Dina and her husband realized this when Bill could not find work as a skilled carpenter, as well as her mother who also moved into their Medford home.
“Living on Long Island is a lot different than being in Florida,” Kristine Nacchio, a friend and actress known for playing Anna from Frozen with Dina’s New York company says. “I know because I lived there for a few months.
“Down there, they work to play. Here on Long Island, we work to survive. There isn’t a lot extra for the fun stuff since most of us are middle class,” Nacchio added.
Dina and her family decided to move out of New York after struggling to keep their home and raise an infant. After a lot of tears, a lot of fighting and a lot of thinking, they knew to pack up their bags and go back to the Sunshine State filled with magic.
Tom Catt, who was cast as the Genie from Aladdin with Dina’s performances, says that Dina tried the best that she could while she was in New York. “Dina is a savvy woman and New York gave her a run for her money. In Florida, she had built up a good source for her business and her niche was well received.”
“In New York,” he adds, “the taste was different and Dina tried as hard as she could to ‘make it work.’ It was a question of where she could do the most good, given her location and how to start her thriving business in a new state.”
She left for Southern Florida in March, and Dina says that things are still rough. Her husband got a new job, but Dina is still struggling to find her place back where it all started.
“I never had to fight so hard for a job before,” she says. “I never had to work so hard for it.”
Despite the struggles that Dina faced throughout her career, the actress, mom, company owner and star still stays optimistic.
“Life changes so quickly that you just have to go with it,” she smiles.
The princess smiled for the cameras and hugged the boys and girls who were star struck as they met Elsa. Even though she smiled her white smile in front of the crowds, her emotions ate away inside. Holding back tears and not thinking about whatever devastation was on her mind, she played the part of a pretty, pretty princess.
Catt said he still believed in Dina’s capabilities, “[She] will do as well as she did before she came to New York. Her business savvy and her zest and passion for the product with which she delivers will continue to tickle and delight.”