Most of the dancers came to class at Holly Springs School of Dance in sparkly, pouffy dresses.
Then 6-year-old Ainsley Turner showed up in a hot dog costume, and the internet swooned over the girl quickly dubbed the “Hot Dog Princess.”
“That’s my favorite of all the dress-up costumes,” said Ainsley, of Apex, explaining why she wore the hooded hot dog outfit, with a drizzle of mustard down the middle, to the princess-themed dress-up day May 9 at Holly Springs School of Dance.
Ainsley’s frank disregard for the sartorial conventions of princesshood has gone viral and is being celebrated around the world as a symbol of girlhood independence and creativity.
A picture tweeted by her dance instructor, Grayson LaMontagne, almost a month ago has garnered thousands of retweets and favorites and has spurred the creation of the “#hotdogprincess” hashtag. The photo features Ainsley as a hot dog among a group of girls wearing princess dresses. It has been featured by “Today,” NPR, Cosmopolitan and BuzzFeed, to name just a few of the outlets that have taken notice. Even the UK Comedy Central website digitally added Ainsley, in hot dog costume, to scenes from Disney films in place of the traditional princesses.
LaMontagne, who taught Ainsley’s tap and ballet classes, said she was alarmed at first by the 500 or so retweets the picture earned when she posted it May 9.
“She’s not my child, so I kind of freaked out,” LaMontagne said. “I put my (Twitter account) on private, but like a month later, I thought it’d been long enough, so I unlocked my account. Overnight, it had like 10,000 favorites, and a million accounts had posted screen shots of it.”
Brandon Turner, Ainsley’s father, said he’s pleased with the positive, you-do-you message that has been the popular takeaway from his daughter’s viral superstardom.
A family friend had donated the hot dog outfit in a bundle of outgrown dress-up clothes, which also included dragon, knight and ninja costumes, Turner said.
The princess day in early May was one of the themed activities used by the Holly Springs dance school to keep kids entertained during the post-recital final classes.
Brandon and his wife, Tirzah Turner, relayed the dance school’s dress-up directive loosely enough that their daughter felt comfortable announcing she’d chosen the hot dog – with a dress underneath in case the outfit became too hot.
He said neither Ainsley nor her parents harbor any ill will toward princesses or their traditional attire.
“I think ballerinas can wear dresses, and they could wear T-shirts, and whatever they wanted,” Ainsley said. “I like to dance at home, and I don’t always like getting fancy and dressed up.”
But Ainsley, who has two siblings, is generous with her fancy clothes, sparkly dresses included. Before Ainsley and her father left for class that day, she ran upstairs to grab a dress.
“The only real princess dress she has,” Turner said.
She wanted to bring it with her in case one of her classmates had forgotten to bring a costume, or as Ainsley said, “So they could have fun, too.”
It came in handy. In the now-viral photo, the girl in light blue next to Ainsley is wearing Ainsley’s spare dress.
“I asked Ainsley if she’d be embarrassed if she were the only one dressed up,” Turner said. “She was quiet for a second, but then she said, ‘No, I could give someone my dress and there’d be two of us.’ ”
At first, Ainsley’s classmates pointed and laughed, but the affable girl quickly won them over, Turner said. As word spread, older kids and instructors began pouring into Ainsley’s studio to see the dancing hot dog.
“She’s so bubbly and so happy to talk to everybody,” LaMontagne said, laughing. “And she’s so confident in herself. You’d have to be to wear a hot dog costume to class.”
Turner credited LaMontagne and other instructors for validating Ainsley’s choice and letting the rest of the class know it’s OK to be different.
While Ainsley has become the latest internet star, Turner said he and his wife want to limit her media exposure, in part to preserve their daughter’s notion that dressing up as a hot dog is something one ought to do for oneself rather than for fame.
“We were worried that if we did 17 ‘Today’ show appearances, she’d stop being the kid who does awesome things because she wants to and then start doing them because she wants the attention,” Turner said. “She made that choice because she’s a cool, quirky kid – not because she’s popular.”
For now, Ainsley doesn’t seem to have lost sight of that concept.
“You should do whatever you want,” she advises grownups who like her costume. “Don’t be scared of what other people think.”
Gargan: 919-460-2604; @hgargan