The months following an Olympic Winter Games can be tough for skaters who have recently retired, and are unsure what to do next. One option that has worked for countless athletes over the past few decades is to look at the professional skating opportunities available.
Feld Entertainment produces nine Disney on Ice tours around the world, four of which are based in the U.S. We have four international tours and one that covers both the domestic and international circuits.
In the U.S., our tours run on both the east and west coast. Internationally, they go to Japan, China, Southeast Asia, Australia, New Zealand, Europe and South America. These tours also extend into the Middle East and South Africa. Each tour runs between 10 and 11 months a year, affording skaters the opportunity and possibility of seeing the entire world in a five-year span.
For those of you who have put many years into what you love to do, this is a way to let your skating give back to you. In some countries, there is such a depth of talent that not everyone makes it to the top, so it is wonderful that there are avenues such as this to continue to pursue your love of skating.
If you are thinking about applying to skate with a professional tour company, my advice is to become as versatile as possible. Take ice dance lessons or do some theatre on ice to expand your horizons. It will better prepare you for professional show skating. Versatility is definitely an asset. I tell everyone before the hiring process begins — if they have not skated as part of a pairs or ice dance team before — to take some lessons and get some experience.
We look for skaters at the junior and senior levels — ice dancers, singles and pairs — that not only have technical skills, but can also demonstrate a performance aspect. During our hiring process, we look at the potential each skater has to really blossom into a show performer.
At Feld, we strive to create an encouraging work environment because we want everyone to succeed. Not only is the touring experience itself an education, I would say at least 40 percent of our skaters are continuing with their studies online while they tour and perform.
One of the biggest challenges is being away from home for long periods of time, so it is important for each individual on a tour to be a team player. The busiest time for our shows is during the holidays, so skaters are not home for anniversaries and birthdays or Thanksgiving and Christmas. But the wonderful thing is that we try to create an environment on each of the tours in which skaters become family and celebrate holidays and special days together. One of the things former skaters say they miss the most about these tours is that camaraderie.
Once hired and prior to rehearsals, we meet with and set out our expectations for each skater. The more informed and aware a person is of what we expect coming into a show, the easier the transition. With any new show, the cast is in rehearsals for five to six weeks. If aerials or silks are part of a show, a couple more weeks can be added to that time frame.
We have coaches who work with skaters to identify potential pairs partnerships. Once teams have been matched, they then work off ice on basic lifting techniques, as well as safety and basic skills — especially those who have never done pairs before. We then take that to the ice and each team has individual sessions to develop at its own pace. Once a program is ready, a coach will work with the team on presentation and lifts, musicality, storytelling and the connection with each other and the audience.
It can be a little intimidating at first, but once skaters see how to do a basic lift, it is like, ‘Oh I can do this,’ which then gives them the confidence to move on to the next level of lifts. We encourage new teams to study videos of competitions, ballet and performance to help them develop.
We also have a coach who comes in to teach web, silks and aerial skills. There are usually 12-14 skaters learning these techniques at one time. The first time a skater starts climbing silks or web, they are like, ‘What did I get myself into?’ But by the end of the session, they are so proud of themselves for what they achieved.
Our organization constantly rewards a strong work ethic and good attitude for understudy and principal lead roles and we aggressively promote from within the company. We know our skaters want these opportunities and we do what we need to do to create them.
Our application process requires submission of a portfolio, a résumé that includes your experience, not only on the competitive circuit, but also music theatre, ballet and/or dance companies, photos and a video (three to five minutes long) that shows your technical skills, plus an exhibition program. The video should have an introduction so we get to know a little bit about you.
If I don’t have the opportunity to personally meet a skater, this information gives me a feeling for who the person is. We try to do in-person interviews, but if we do not have that opportunity, we ask skaters to audition at a show in a location close to them so that we can see them demonstrate their skills.
We are always looking for enthusiastic, performing spirits that want to take their skating to the next level. We offer the opportunity to work with amazing people, travel the world and get paid to skate.
Judy Thomas is the casting director and production coordinator for Feld Entertainment.
She can be reached at JThomas@feldinc.com or at 941-721-1234.