March 29, 2006 - For years, aspiring fairy princesses of the greater Tucson area have convened at a facility south of Speedway Boulevard to receive their training.

In April, young royal candidates from the Northwest and Foothills will start enjoying shorter commutes as the Once Upon a Time center opens its new office at the corner of Craycroft and River roads.

The company, which also caters to aspiring divas and Round Table knights, is moving to be closer to most of its clients, owner Laura Read said.

"When I tallied zip codes, close to 60 percent lived in 85750," Read said. "The next ones down were the Northwest area and Oro Valley."

The Once Upon a Time company started about five years ago after Read's daughter requested a princess dress-up tea party for her birthday. She knew they existed, because she had attended one in Chicago.

When a citywide search turned up no Tucson facilities offering such an outing, Read decided to create one. She started small with regal festivities appropriate for young princesses and knights, but soon she added a diva glitter glamour makeover party for pre-teen princesses and a social etiquette class.

When a flip comment that Read should start a princess school inspired nods from loyal clients, the idea for a two-hour evening certification course was born.

One Friday each month, ambitious kingdom seekers ages 3 through 9 or so gather at Once Upon a Time to gain mastery of the finer skills involved in being a princess. Often they go in not even knowing how to walk in magical slippers, and they leave knowing the essential princess wave: "Elbow, elbow, wrist, wrist," they recite, waving first from the elbow up and then just with the hand.

"Touch your pearls, wipe a tear and blow a kiss," they continue, miming each gesture with great solemnity.

Princess school starts with the pupils coloring pictures of their favorite fairytale mentors - Cinderella, Ariel, Snow White - while sitting at a formal dining room table under sparkling chandeliers.

The pupils proceed to a royal dressing room, where they make selections from a large collection of gowns, tiaras, slippers and wands. After examining themselves in the room's prominent golden wall-mirror, they stand in line so a visiting princess from a magical kingdom can rub sparkling fairy dust on their cheeks.

The princess then offers a lesson on proper waving, proper curtsying and the best way to cope with uncomfortable shoes.

During a recent session of princess school, Princess Jackie, one of the young adult princesses employed by Once Upon a Time, was mentoring a young pupil on the use of elbow-length gloves when another pupil called out in distress.

"I don't know how to walk," young Daiva Scovil said, swaggering around in child-size high heel shoes.

"You'll learn," the princess said, flashing her calm, sparkling princess smile. "It's not hard at all. It's all about balance."

After a brief course in ballroom dance, during which some pupils discover that the best way to dance like a princess is to remove the shoes, tea is served in the chandeliered dining room. Gloves come off, napkins go in laps and the princesses-in-training learn a cardinal rule for tea time: "Pinkies up, please."

The soon-to-be princesses drink only magic fairy tea, which some compare to orangeade.

"Oh, you're in for such a treat, my love," Read recently told a pupil who was experiencing the tea for the first time. "Magic fairy tea gives you magical dreams, and you can be anyone you want in your dreams."

The soon-to-be princesses generally spend a good portion of tea time quizzing the visiting princess about life on the other side of coronation. Before initiating them into princessdom with a kiss on each cheek, she impresses upon them that good manners are part of the package deal.

"There's a sense of reality to it," Read said. "Princesses are respectful of their parents, and princesses treat everyone with kindness."

Read said that though her princess school is mostly for fun, it's also meant to encourage children to exhibit social graces, follow their dreams in life and always exercise their imaginations.

"Real-life princesses play soccer, do well in math and also dress up and have tea parties and have a magical edge," she said.

In addition to princess training, Once Upon a Time will continue to offer parties appropriate for princesses and knights at its new office, etiquette classes and makeover parties for the older princesses, who are generally ages 8 through 13.

In addition, it will continue to offer weeklong summer camps with historical themes and costumes, including a Victorian camp that features social graces from the period, a Japanese camp that features chopstick etiquette and flower arranging, a colonial camp and a camp featuring women of historical significance.

Once Upon a Time will hold a grand-opening celebration 1 to 6 p.m. April 8. Festivities will include free play and dress up and a chance to meet the visiting princesses.

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