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Disney’s ice princess has Nashville roots

  • Written by Dr. Sybill C. Mitchell

Disney on Ice has thrilled audiences since its inception in 1981. Queens and princesses, villains and rascals, fairies, elves and all things magical have graced the ice on skates in the most beloved fairy tales.

Friday through Sunday, Sept. 21-23, the currently touring production will be staged at the FedExForum. "Dare to Dream" is a variety show featuring color, comedy and pageantry that promises not to disappoint.

Spence SoniahLong-time fans are well acquainted with Disney's signature princesses. There is Cinderella, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty. This year's production crowns new royalty – Tiana, Disney's premiere African-American princess.

Nashville native Soniah Spence, 24, portrays Tiana, the headline character in "The Princess and the Frog." You might say performing on ice skates was Spence's inescapable destiny.

"Both my parents are gymnasts," Spence said in an interview with The New Tri-State Defender on Wednesday (Sept. 12). "That's how they met. My mother is Caucasian, and my father is African American. I have been involved in gymnastics from a very early age."

At age 11, Spence showed extreme interest in developing her skills in ice skating. World champion figure skater Michelle Kwan was her inspiration. Spence racked up four first-place crowns and several other second-, third-, and fourth-place awards.

"I skated competitively for 10 years, but by the age of 21, the grueling practice schedule took its toll," said Spence. "Skating wasn't fun anymore, and I felt like quitting. But I loved skating and I loved performing. I auditioned for the Disney program and the rest is history."

Spence is in her fifth year of Disney performances, taking to the ice as a fairy or some other character in various productions. Playing Tiana is a real dream come true.

"I love my job. It's awesome to come out and perform and see the faces of all the kids. It's wonderful. I love every minute of it."

This year's exhibition is worth the viewing, just for the unique twist of "The Princess and the Frog." The traditional tale goes that there is, of course, a princess and a prince. The prince is turned into a frog by some evil magic spell, and he has to get a princess to kiss him to turn him back into a dashing prince.

Well, in this updated drama, Tiana is an African-American princess in "The Big Easy," and her prince is turned into a frog by a hoodoo man. The frog begins talking to her, she eventually gives him a kiss, but something totally unexpected happens.

"You'll have to come to the show to see what's next," said Spence.

"I know the audience will have just as much fun as we have performing. Children come to learn what every princess knows: 'A dream is a wish your heart makes, and if you keep believing, the dream that you wish will come true.' That's the magic of Disney."

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