Not your average queen

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Spray tans, fake nails, elaborate eveningwear? Check. Oh, and don’t forget the flippers: they’re fake teeth that give the appearance of a pearly white smile, and almost everyone competing has a pair.

These days, many view pageants as anachronistic, if not degrading to women. But in Wisconsin, the world of pageants is not all glam and glitz. Events like Alice in Dairyland, along with “natural” pageants like Dream Girls USA, aim to celebrate confidence, intelligence and altruism, with a tiara or two thrown in.

The Queen of Community Service

Samanthat Hoerman, Dream Girls USA National Lifetime Queen 2010

On a recent night at the Ramada Inn in Steven’s Point, Wis., Bailey Brandner sits in the audience of a darkened room. She is 11 years old, still baby-faced, and tonight she twirls her hair around her finger as her blue eyes dart around the room. She tries not to look at the trophies, tiaras and sashes that crowd the curtained stage. The crowning ceremony for Dream Girls USA is about to begin.

Dream Girls is a so-called “natural” pageant, which means the contestants, ranging in age from 2 to 41, must make do without flippers, $900 dresses, spray tans or elaborate hairstyles and makeup. Brandner, a fifth-grader, has been competing since she was 4 years old.

Her mother, Sherry Brandner, appreciates the pageant’s emphasis on volunteer work. Prior to entering the contest, Dream Girls contestants must complete 10 hours of community service. Bailey Brandner has far surpassed that minimum – in any given week, she spends 10 to 20 hours volunteering at the local library or the Parent Resource Center, [a center for children with special needs]. Since Bailey entered the pageant, Sherry Brandner says her daughter has grown more self-assured, outgoing and involved in their community.

The Dream Girls pageant is for children who want to help their communities and “better themselves,” Samantha Hoerman, 19-year-old pageant coach and pageant coordinator for Dream Girls USA, says. It’s crucial, she says, to “instill in our girls and boys that it’s very important for them to help out in the community around them.”

Since joining Dream Girls USA in 2005, Hoerman has performed over 35,000 hours of community service. Volunteering, she says, can shape children’s values, expose them to new challenges and make them more confident.

At the Dream Girls crowning ceremony, Bailey Brandner’s name is called twice. The first time, she is crowned the Wisconsin Supreme State Ambassador. Then she receives the title for Wisconsin Supreme Runway Model.

While the tiaras are nice, Brandner says what she likes most about Dream Girls is that it gives her self-confidence.

“You seem to be more outgoing once you’re on the stage,” she says. “You forget about all your frights, if you’re afraid of anything. You just get up and do it.”

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