SALT LAKE CITY — For the figure skaters who “Dare to Dream” of becoming working professionals, the path to one’s first paid ice show is a difficult one.
“I started when I was 10, which is late for a skater,” Disney On Ice performer Jennifer Payne told the Deseret News. “I’m from Oklahoma — the nearest rink was actually two hours away from me. So skating when I was growing up was pretty difficult.
“I’d leave school early one day a week, my dad and I would drive up to Oklahoma City, I’d skate for a couple hours, stay the night, skate in the morning and drive back the next day and get to school late,” she continued. “In the summers, my dad and I would move away … then we’d come home on the weekends to see my mom and my sister.”
For an ice skater, Payne's childhood story is not atypical. Disney On Ice cast members Daniel Arsenault and Emily Pestka report similar, if not more intensive, training schedules in their youth — however, their dedication seems to have proven worthwhile.
“I think that we have the best job in the world,” Payne, an ensemble skater, said about her role in the production. “Because we get to do what we love, which is skate, and perform for kids and families.”
This year’s Disney On Ice, titled “Dare to Dream,” comes to Vivint Arena March 7-10 and makes dreams come true for more than just figure skaters. The program features Disney classics such as “Beauty and the Beast” and “Cinderella” and modern hits including “Tangled,” “Frozen” and “Moana.” It also explores the impossible dreams of various Disney characters through song, story, figure skating and more.
“This show does have the Disney magic that takes you to a different world and really does a good job of portraying that element of a Disney film or park,” Aresenaut, a pair skater who skates the role of Prince Adam in “Beauty and the Beast,” said about the production. “That’s the feeling you get when you watch the show — every so often, I do get to watch the show, and I enjoy it very much every time.”
While the completed production brings joy to international audiences, the preparation process requires intensive daily involvement from all members of the cast. The show’s figure skating numbers challenge the skaters to act, skate and perform multiple, often consecutive pieces of ensemble choreography and advanced technical tricks.
“During our six-week rehearsal period, we spend about eight hours a day as a group working on the show,” Arsenault said. “Obviously, for an athletic activity, that’s quite a bit.”
Another important part of preparation, the skaters said, is setting the choreography “on the floor.”
“A majority of our time is spent on the ice (rehearsing),” Arsenault said, “but there still is a significant portion spent off the ice learning the steps in a dance studio format, and practicing generally the blocking of who goes where and things like that before we put it on the ice where we have blades on our feet and higher speeds.”
While the show recruits expert figure skaters — individuals who have developed advanced technical abilities and a natural comfort level on the ice — the production does not limit itself to figure skating alone.
“Rapunzel and Flynn do this high-flying aerial silk routine that’s super dynamic, and they’re doing it all on skates so it adds another level of risk,” Payne said about the “Tangled” portion of the show. “I think, as far as the 'wow factor' goes, that section’s probably my favorite.”
But the joy of performing doesn’t come without costs. Payne, who majored in figure skating and has skated in Disney On Ice shows for 11 seasons, has visited more than 36 countries — apparently, a number much lower than that of some other skaters in the company.
“You know, it’s a tough job because you're away from your family and (often in) a hotel room. So it's not as glamorous as everybody thinks it is all of the time,” Payne said. “But it's totally worth it because we're getting to live our dream, and we're getting to see the world while doing it.Comment on this story
“We talk about the princesses' dreams and being brave and finding your inner hero — that’s an important message that we want the kids to know and the adults to remember,” Payne continued. “We want the kids to find the strength to chase after their dreams. I mean, that’s why we’re all here: because we had this dream to skate for a living, and we went after it and we did it.”
If you go …
What: Disney On Ice’s “Dare to Dream”
When: March 7-10, times vary
Where: Vivint Arena, 301 W. South Temple
How much: $17-$40