Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Thoughts on Disneyland

I've said it before: Disneyland isn't for everybody. Even within the classification of Disneyland people, there are subsets of us who just feel at home there, who want to find every hidden Mickey, who want to know every piece of trivia and remember the Disneyland of yesteryear. You already know which one of those I am.

How can such a small piece of real estate be so familiar? Being there is like being home. Everywhere I walk I hear my family's voices, I feel the lump in my throat I felt the first time I took my children. I feel the anticipation I felt when I was about 8 or 9, wanting to RUN to Space Mountain before anybody else got there in the morning. I feel the excitement I felt as an early teen, being allowed to go out on my own with Lis, with synchronized watches and the distinct instruction that I should be back on time, or else. Of course there were years in there where I was too cool for Disneyland, TCFD, as Dad would say. But about high school I started to see that my interest in visiting the park wasn't just in racing from roller coaster to roller coaster like so many of my friends (that's fun for about an hour, and then what do you do the rest of the day?); my desire was to take it all in. Every last silly bit of it. Every song, every Mickey pretzel, every ride in Fantasyland and Tomorrowland alike.

There are those who think that Disneyland is for pretenders, for those who live in a constant state of fantasy about the world, or who want to avoid reality, but I disagree. I accept the hokeyness, or the smarmyness, because to me it represents such an idealized version of life. I know that in terms of suspension of disbelief, I am able to turn it on pretty easily. That's okay. It's a safe place, a place to be a kid myself and to set my kids free to live in their dreams, if only for two or three days.

I've had the chance to go "behind the scenes" with my dancers and see the backside of Disneyland for years. I've had so many people ask if that killed it for me. It really didn't. It's akin to being a performer and being backstage--the surroundings in Disneyland are called "sets" and the workers "cast members"--to me it's a perpetual state of being on stage; we all know how much I love that. Having stood in the wings for Swan Lake didn't make it any less magical to perform--seeing the back of Disneyland didn't make it any less extraordinary. I think it made me fall even deeper in love because it spoke to my experience as a performer.

The sound of the theme from Fantasmic in my ears as we walk in to the park (Mom, encouraging me to skip), the feel of the worn wood railings in Fantasyland against my palm, the humid, still air in my nose as I float off the ramp to Pirates of the Caribbean, the easy sway of my tired feet on Soarin' Over California, the boom in my chest when the giant ball drops on Indiana Jones, the smooth lacquer paint that shines on every surface of Main Street: all these are artifacts a part of the collection of memories, the familiar friends that greet me every time we're there. Yes, I know at a moment's notice where the bathroom is without consulting a map. Yes, I know shortcuts through Main Street shops and to Frontierland. Yes, I know how to work that FastPass system and when to take the Tomorrowland side of the Matterhorn rather than the Fantasyland side. Yes, I have the movement pattern of Indiana Jones set in my mind and body and I can tell you how the car is "choreographed" with the music. I know to go early and take a nap at the hotel so I can go back and stay until Fireworks and then park closing. I know to ride the train when I'm tired because I don't have to get off. I know to ask for a single rider pass. But it's more than that.

I can pin it all on one single moment, the moment that I crossed over and became a true, dyed in the wool, unashamed adult fan. When Ad was two, we went with the whole family and we took her to a Princess breakfast. She saw those princesses and it her whole world just lit up. It was just over for me. I mean, over. Lump in my throat, tears in my eyes, over. Get the mop and wipe me off the floor over. That was her whole world. And Disneyland made it happen. I've had innumerable run-ins with pleasant princesses that went beyond their job description, choreographers teaching workshops that made even a dance class a magical experience, and just many, many people who looked at it like more than a job, but as an opportunity to make a kiddos' day.

So now, even when the monkeys aren't with me, though I miss them, I just dig it--the sense of what Disneyland has been for our family. It can be a trip during a busy season like this last one where we just do the favorites, or one with E where we try to hit every ride and show. Doesn't matter. Aunts, uncles, cousins, kiddos, husband, even with my students, I have been so many times with everyone I know, that it's a part of my history. I don't mind the shameless consumerism. I wish there were more things to consume that celebrated family, wholesomeness, tradition, and imagination. Bring it on.


  1. It has been exactly one month since I was last at Disneyland, and now you are making me miss it again.

    Thanks. :)

  2. I have a autobiography on Walt Disney. It is an awesome book... It tells everything about his life from childhood.. If you ever want to read it just let me know... It makes going to disneyland even better because you know so more of the background of why he created specific things....

  3. I know that moment your referencing...mine was a little different, though. It was when I took T and L for the first time, but it was during the parade of characters at the end of the day. They were exhausted from our DAY-O-FUN and were starting to melt down, when all of a sudden the music started and in came the characters. T and L were starstruck! They got sooo excited when each character waved to them and then when we got to dance with them, they were in heaven! I balled like a baby and will cherish that moment forever!