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As a young girl growing up in Canmore, Kirstie Nelson was a Disney kid.
“I lived and breathed those movies,” says Nelson, one of the principal skaters with Disney on Ice, which sets down with eight performances of Into the Magic at the Edmonton Expo Centre starting Thursday. “We always had them on in the house, and we were lucky enough to be able to go to Disneyland on holidays.”
Nelson wasn’t simply a Disney fan, however. As a five-year-old she became obsessed with show skating, joining the Canmore Skating Club and taking part in their yearly shows. It was a passion she continued with through high school, and only hung up her skates when she moved to Edmonton to study at the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Engineering.
“I loved it so much, but I didn’t really think that it was a realistic possibility as a job for me,” she says. “I missed it, though, and when I saw that some of my friends were with Disney on Ice I thought, ‘I have to give this a shot.’”
There was a very short period during which she did some coaching and worked in the engineering field, but that was 11 years ago. Nelson has been making her living with the touring outfit ever since. It’s a full-time job, and Nelson often doesn’t get back home for more than a month at a time, but she’s not complaining. After all, not everybody gets to do what they love for their day job.
Nelson started out as part of the large ensemble of skaters used in every show, but through the years she’s worked her way up to principal roles. Like Cinderella, who she’s playing in Into the Magic this weekend, which features characters from Moana, Beauty and the Beast, Frozen, Coco and more. Nelson is particularly happy to be playing the princess with the glass slipper, as it was her favourite character growing up.
“It was on repeat as a kid,” she admits. “I always wanted that nice, beautiful blue ball gown. So it’s pretty special that things have kind of come full circle for me on this, and I get to portray the character every day.”
It takes a high level of skill to be able to skate a show like Disney on Ice, but Nelson says there’s more to it than that.
“Like they say, talent gets you in the door but it’s character that’ll keep you in the room,” she notes. “They’re looking for people with a certain skill set and talent, but that isn’t the only thing that they look at. You’re travelling all over the world representing this company, and you’re also living with up to 100 people. These people become your family. So, they look for people with character, who have a good head on their shoulders and a work ethic as well.”
Having a solid work ethic is especially important for Disney on Ice because performers can’t simply go into cruise control once the show has been rehearsed to perfection. There are always tweaks, new skills and tricks, and every performer is expected to know the entire show inside out. This means Nelson might go in as a featured performer garnering all of the plaudits as Cinderella, but if there’s a need she’ll slip on another costume and take part in one of the ensemble pieces as well.
“You have to be really good at multitasking,” she laughs. “It can get a little chaotic backstage and you’ll be thrown into things at the last minute. You have to be willing to jump in sometimes with little notice because someone has turned an ankle. But that’s also what makes this so exciting. It’s never boring for us, you get to do different things all the time.”
Disney on Ice is most assuredly a spectacle full of colour, sound and costumes, but Nelson sees it as more than that. She notes the characters represented are all faced with obstacles they need to overcome, but they never give up. It’s a philosophy she can get behind as a young skater from Alberta who dreamed of performing in front of thousands of people as her job.
“This is what we want the audience to take away,” says Nelson, who for the first time in her career with Disney on Ice will be performing in Edmonton in front of friends and family. “Just the fact that you can overcome any obstacle you’re faced with. Keep following your dreams. Don’t stop, don’t give up. Anything is possible and I know that because I live that way. That’s how I got to where I am right now, by working hard, not giving up, and overcoming tons of obstacles throughout my life and my skating career. So yes, it’s about following your dreams and I feel like I’ve really, really done that.”
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Disney on Ice presents Into the Magic
When Thursday to Sunday
Where Edmonton Expo Centre, 7515 118 Ave.
Tickets Starting at $43 from disneyonice.com