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The Secret Behind the Magic of Disney

The dress-code rules at Disney theme parks may go father than the normal dress code for a day at work, but it’s not easy for Disney employees to maintain the magic of Disney. Just ask anyone who works there.

Email icon  jbo207@nyu.edu

For women, earrings can be no larger than a quarter, and fingernails can be no longer than an eraser. For men, beards are strictly forbidden, sideburns can’t be longer than their earlobes, and fingernails must always be short and clean.

These rules may go father than the normal dress code for a day at work, but it’s not easy for Disney employees to maintain the magic of Disney. Just ask anyone who works there.

Even before starting his first rehearsal, Dustin Phillips, who danced at Disney World for eight months in the “Kids of the Kingdom” show, had to attend a course from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. for several days.

“It was like going to school to learn the Disney way,” he said.

Disney employees have to adhere to strict guidelines and rules for their behavior and appearance. Once hired, they have to maintain the “Disney Look,” said Angela Bliss, spokesperson for Disneyland.

“The Disney look is a fresh, clean and approachable look, ensuring that every guest feels comfortable with our entire cast,” Bliss said.

“Cast members,” Disney’s way of referring to their employees, receive a “Disney look book” that details all of the requirements, emphasizing a natural look with natural hair color and makeup.

“The purpose in doing this is to keep the focus on the ‘show’ and not on the individual cast member,” Bliss said. “Also, a cast member with purple hair may not appear approachable to all of our guests.”

According to Disney rules, anytime a cast member confronts a guest who appears lost or frazzled, the employee must offer their help and point them in the right direction. Pointing must always be done with either two fingers or the full hand.

“Disney even has a way to pick up trash,” said Melissa VanDyke, who danced at Disney World in the “Tarzan Rocks” show for 10 months. “You can’t stop and pick it up. You need to swoop it up gracefully.”

Disney officials believe these requirements are essential to making guests feel comfortable and enhancing their magical experiences.

Despite all these rules, a job at Disney is still a coveted position. Dancers vie for a chance to perform at Disney parks and cruise ships, and college students compete for limited summer positions.

This year, cast members may have to work a little bit harder to uphold the Disney image as Disney celebrates its 50th anniversary. On May 5, Disney kicks off its 18-month-long “Happiest Celebration on Earth” to commemorate Disneyland’s original opening in July 1955. Since then, the park has welcomed more than 500 million guests from all over the world. For the first time ever, the 10 Disney theme parks around the world, including parks in California, Florida, Japan and France, will join together to celebrate the anniversary.

Cast members at Disney are key in welcoming and interacting with guests to make their experiences more magical, and employees take that responsibility seriously.

“Kids would wave at the characters with big smiles, jumping up and down and singing along,” Phillips said about reactions to his show. “Boys and girls would cry because they loved the characters so much.”

Often, Disney welcomes special groups of disabled or underprivileged children to the parks and sets up meet-and-greets with cast members after the shows.

“That was my favorite part,” VanDyke said. “The kids loved it, and I loved doing it.”

On their days off from work, Disney employees are offered a plethora perks. Cast members can enter any park and bring family members for free, and they get discounts for hotels, food and merchandise from Disney parks and resorts.

VanDyke, who was 18 at the time and too young to enter the famous 21-and-over Pleasure Island night scene, would spend her days off in Downtown Disney, dining at top-notch restaurants and watching $2 movies at huge theaters.

Phillips, who worked five days a week, also took full advantage of the Disney perks in his down time.

“I played on the Disney men’s softball team, I tried to play golf, and I fell in love and had a girlfriend,” he said. “It was a blast — just a bunch of young people all working together.”

Spending their spare time soaking up the Disney magic, cast members appreciate the Disney experience as much as the guests they entertain.

“Visiting Disney, you really do get a feeling of being in another world,” Phillips said. “Even at 27, I think it’s cool to get that feeling.”

Janna Oberdorf - 201-694-2636; jbo207 (AT) nyu.edu