Aisha Maria Loeks slips easily into the Ice Princess get-up: red wig, drawn-on freckles and a silky green gown. She waves at identical 5-year-old twins through a computer screen. The youngsters, Remi and Roux, wear silver dresses reminiscent of Elsa in the Disney movie Frozen. Loeks' look is inspired by Elsa's sister, Anna.
In the course of a 15-minute call, Loeks, 31, plays games with the girls and tells stories inspired by the blockbuster animation. Remi and Roux can hardly sit still as their parents join in off-screen. The girls are ecstatic.
At the end of the visit, Loeks, a born and raised Santa Fean, briefly brings the subject back to a mixed reality for the kids: somewhere between the Enchanted Forest and New Mexico's stay-at-home orders because of COVID-19.
"And also girls, I want to remind you I miss my sister very much and all my princess friends because I'm staying safe in my castle," Loeks says. "Are you girls also staying safe and missing your friends and playing with your family and washing your hands?"
They are, as are many of others. That includes Loeks, who successfully transitioned her business, A Dash of Magic Events, online after Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's stay-at-home order took effect in March. She majored in costume design and musical theater at the College of Santa Fe, although she started making princess dresses in high school as part of her sewing class. She was in the last graduating class before the college closed and became the Santa Fe University of Art & Design.
Normally, she would dress in her handmade costumes and attend birthday parties or visit sick children in the hospital through her charity, which goes by the same name.
But now, Zoom calls are her medium of communication. And in an odd twist, Loeks says her two-year-old business has actually "gone up" since the arrival of COVID-19 as parents look for ways to keep their children entertained and positive through monotonous days.
Taking her business online came from both wanting to save her income and cheer up children stuck at home, away from grandparents and friends. Her husband, a professional photographer, helps her create excellent photos for her online presence.
"I think because it's online and I've made the prices very reasonable with the sliding scale, pay-what-you-can format," Loeks tells SFR. "Kids are really bummed and are staying inside. They need something to look forward to. I'm finding that many, many parents are really excited about doing it because it's a special treat for their kid. I talk about COVID on the call too unless the mom specifically requests that I don't."
A 15-minute, one-on-one session like the ones Loeks does frequently with Remi and Roux are part of the COVID pricing: a suggested sliding scale of $15 to $35. Loeks also launched a group online story time several times a week with a different character each time. Multiple families can sign up with a sliding scale of $10 to $30. Each session comes with emailed activities for after the call.
Loeks also found a way to continue custom "parties" with private group sessions that are 25 to 30 minutes long. Family members who can't physically be together for a child's birthday party can gather on Zoom. She also does pre-recorded, customizable birthday greetings as her different characters starting at $45.
A child can be nominated through her charity for a free online visit and all donations go toward upkeep of the elaborate costumes, which range from the Little Mermaid to Maleficent.
Reagan Lauritzen, Remi and Roux's mother, first booked an online session with Loeks when the state went into lockdown. The calls were immediately a welcome reprieve for the twins from days of routine, unable to leave the house.
Lauritzen says the group calls for storytime that Loeks does every week help her daughters know "they're not alone and that there are other kids in the same predicament."
"I think mentioning washing the hands is always helpful, especially when it comes from your favorite princess character," Lauritzen tells SFR. "It's offered some fun in what has otherwise been an environment that they can't escape…It's offered them a change without them having to leave the house."