A few days ago I saw a brief news story about a dance class for five- and six-year-olds, where the instructor had invited the little girls to wear costumes at their next rehearsal. She dubbed it “Princess Day,” knowing how many of her tiny dancers would enjoy dancing as princesses, and also how many of them already had princess costumes.
What helped the story go viral and hit the headlines, however, was the photo of seven little girls in princess costumes standing with one very unique little girl, dressed in a hot dog costume. Five-year-old Ainsley chose to come to Princess Day not with a tiara on her head, but with a stripe of mustard down her front. One of the many captions and tweets that circulated with the photo simply read, “In a world of princesses, dare to be a hot dog.”
There are so many things that encourage me about this story. First, there is the individuality, confidence, and boldness of the little girl. Many times I have found myself wanting, even needing, to be the hot dog in a group of princesses. I had a minority opinion, or a different point of view, or simply knew that the direction of the group was not right. It’s just easier to conform than to stand alone.
Then there was the dad who encouraged little Ainsley. He later tweeted, “No parent is ready to learn that their daughter is trending…Best part is it was all her idea!” The courage and confidence to be different, and the empowerment to act on that difference, often comes from those closest to us.
But for me, the most encouraging character in this little real-life drama was dance teacher Sarah, who was suddenly placed in the position of leading a group with a non-conformist. Sarah could have taken offense at the little girl who didn’t follow instructions or apparently respect her position as teacher. She could have sent her home, or embarrassed her in front of the class, or not included her in the dance or the picture.
Instead, this good-natured teacher embraced the little hot dog’s uniqueness, accepted both her and her costume into the group, and proudly took the picture that ended up making her class famous.
In doing so, Sarah challenged me as a leader. And I think she should challenge all of us who lead as pastors, Sunday school teachers, and ministry leaders. As hard as it is to be the hot dog in a group of princesses, it may be even harder to effectively lead a group of presumed princesses when a hot dog shows up.
That hot dog may be the deacon with an outreach idea that would take a church outside its comfort zone. It may be the sincere new believer in a Sunday school class who asks questions that don’t have tidy or pat answers. It may be the church member who presses an uncomfortable budget issue in a business meeting, when it would be easier to just vote yes and go home.
A confident, secure leader embraces multiple points of view and even minority opinions as ways to potentially make the final decision or outcome even better. An insecure leader wants only quick, compliant agreement.
After the picture became famous, teacher Sarah revealed that Ainsley was actually wearing a princess costume underneath her hot dog costume. Ainsley explained that she was still a princess on the inside. I found that to be an extra encouragement. When we’re patient and accepting of hot dogs, even on Princess Days, we often find that deep down they want to dance too. And God may even use them, or you or me, to make the dance more famous.
Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Respond at IllinoisBaptist@IBSA.org.