Have you ever dreamed of travelling the world with your best friends? Shelley Bindon is getting paid to do just that. The figure skater, who is on the Wonderful World of Disney on Ice crew, is coming to Hong Kong in December with all of your favourite Disney characters, from classics such as Simba and Snow White, to Elsa and Dory, who are new to the family.
“A lot of people don’t get to go to Disneyland or Disney World, so we travel the world to give them the opportunities to see Mickey, Minnie Mouse or their favourite Disney characters,” says Stuart McDonald, performance director of Disney on Ice. McDonald’s been working with the company for more than 20 years.
“We create dreams and emotions,” McDonald told Young Post at Festival Walk Glacier. “The kids you see skating on the ice today, I was one of those kids. I grew up skating and competing.”
So did Bindon. One of the show’s 45 performers, she joined Disney on Ice nine years ago. She’s met her best friends and her husband on the show.
“It’s amazing to travel the world with people who you want to spend time with, we [cast members] really get along,” she says. “It’s cool to be somewhere you never thought you’d ever go.”
Michael Helgren, who grew up practising on the same rink in California as Bindon, also joined the company nine years ago. In that time he has toured with the show to 36 countries. He says his favourite moment playing Simba in South Africa: “It was very surreal ... and it felt like I was in the real Lion King.”
This year is special for the pair of long-time friends. “It’s exciting because we’ve both been professionals for a really long time and this is the first year we’ve been on the same show and performing next to each other on the ice,” says Helgren.
Bindon quit college once Disney offered her a role. “I don’t regret it at all,” she says. “When you see the little kids dress up as the character you’re playing, it’s just ... you can’t even describe the feeling.”
Helgren used to represent the United States in figure skating, but joined the company after he finished competing. He says it is “the best way to still have that love for the sport, still be able to skate, and travel the world”.
But while travelling the world is a lot of fun, it is also very challenging. Aside from feeling homesick, the crew have to change their choreography every week because the ice surface is a different size in every city.
“It’s also hard to figure out what to eat when you’re on the road and in a hotel room,” says Helgren. But while he finds it a challenge to keep a healthy lifestyle, Bindon has a different headache: having to fit all her clothes in only two suitcases: “We are girls,” she says. “We like to go shopping!”
The crew have to pack those suitcases and move every week, for six months straight while they’re on tour.
It seems easy when these pros dance along the ice, but the performers are well aware that it’s an extreme thing that they’re doing. “We’re on blades, we’re throwing people in the air, we’re doing jumps and tricks…Injuries are going to happen in any kind of sport, but we just try to take care of ourselves so we can be at our best performance everyday,” says Bindon.
That means a lot of practising, the thought of which makes Helgren sigh. “Rehearsals are the hardest part of the entire six months,” he says. “We have really long days – almost 12 hours – and our brains and bodies get tired. But once the show opens and the product is there, the lights are out there, and the costumes are on, it’s an incredible feeling to have that audience in front of you. It makes it all worth it.”
Bindon agrees: “It’s amazing to get an audience to share all that hard work with.”
The Wonderful World of Disney on Ice opens from December 8 to 11, tickets available at HK Ticketing.