Many little girls dream of being crowned a princess, complete with a sash and bouquet of fragrant flowers.
Those dreams will become a reality for a select few this weekend when sparkling tiaras, flowing gowns and million-dollar smiles fill the room as young women from the Black Hills area compete for the Miss Rapid City and Miss Central States Fair titles.
The winner of this weekend’s pageant will go on to represent her community in the Miss South Dakota pageant in Hot Springs in June. From there, the Miss South Dakota winner is eligible to participate in the Miss America pageant in Atlantic City, N.J., in September.
The Miss Rapid City pageant is a scholarship-based program through the Miss America Organization, the world’s largest provider of scholarship assistance for women.
The pageant originated in 1921 as a bathing beauty revue. It is now judged on competitors' talent performances and interviews, in addition to physical appearance. The 96-year-old program includes a local, state and national program and gives young women ages 17-24 the opportunity to win college scholarship funds.
The winner of Miss Central States Fair is required to make an appearance during the annual event. Her duties include handing out awards, introducing acts, and putting on talent shows. The winner of the Miss Rapid City pageant doesn’t have any required duties for her title, but is expected to make at least one public appearance during her reign. She is also expected to post to Twitter and Instagram from public events to promote her platform and showcase the organization.
“There are a ton of events and schools close by, and she can be as active as she wants,” Sara Frankenstein, executive director of the program, said.
Titles for Miss Rushmore and Miss Badlands are given to girls who don’t live in the Rapid City area and want to participate. Frankenstein said those title winners are also free to use them as they wish.
Many of the contestants use their title as a chance to build a platform for causes that are important to them. Alexia Wright, winner of the Miss Once upon a Festival's Outstanding Teen, and Teen Congeniality, uses her platform to help kids with disabilities. Her platform, “Down with Dance,” gives children with Down syndrome a chance to participate in a dance.
“It gave me the chance to work with them to see exactly what I want to do with my future, which is to work with kids with different disabilities,” she said.
Wright has been competing in the pageant for three years. She enjoys working with kids and takes full advantage of her titles, especially the Miss Once upon a Festival. The Once upon a Festival started in 2008 as a fundraiser to keep Storybook Island admission free during the summer. Wright makes frequent public appearances for the park when it has special events.
“Participating in festivals is perfect for me, because I love kids. I’ve done ‘Scare in the Square,’ the Christmas lights, and ‘Princess and Pirate Day,’ " she said. "I stay there to greet and talk to kids and just enjoy the day. I try to get up there three or four times a month."
She hopes that Storybook Island will one day have the chance sponsor a scholarship for the Miss Rapid City program.
For Wright, using her title to impact the community is an important part of the role, and she encourages future winners to do the same.
“Use your title to the best of your ability. You don't realize how much of an impact you might have on someone’s life, so enjoy every second of it,” she said.
The Miss Rapid City pageant takes place at 6 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 6, and the Miss Central States Fair pageant is at 2 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 7, at the Performing Arts Center in Rapid City. Ticket prices were not immediately available. They can be purchased at the door one hour prior to the event. For more information, visit performingartsrc.org or call the box office at 394-1786.