Before Nikki Czuhajewski can join local friends and family for turkey and cranberry sauce this Thanksgiving, she has to hit the ice.
“This is a special weekend for me,” said Czuhajewski, a ensemble skater at Disney on Ice. “My mother is originally from Iowa. She hails from a small town west of Des Moines: Dexter, Iowa.”
Located about 30 minutes west of the State Capitol, Dexter is a town of about 600 where Czuhajewski’s mother lived before attending Iowa State University and eventually ending up in Kalamazoo, Michigan where Czuhajewski began ice skating at the age of 4 began taking the first steps on a path that now brings them to Des Moines with Disney on Ice.
This station’s first show is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day at the Wells Fargo Arena, 233 Center St., with the final show scheduled for 5 p.m. this Sunday -day engagement.
“I’ve been through Iowa and Des Moines before. I skate (at the Coral Ridge Mall) so many times,” Czuhajewski said, referring to the Coralville mall in east Iowa. However, she said this year’s Disney on Ice show is her first appearance in Des Moines.
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What Disney on Ice audiences will see from Des Moines
This tour company has a cool adaptation of the Disney movie Encanto for the second act of their show. Although a version of “Frozen” appeared in Des Moines with Disney on Ice last year, Czuhajeski said part of the show has been “completely remastered,” from choreographic changes to narrative improvements. The “Frozen” part is told this time by Olaf the snowman.
“We actually started building the ‘Encanto’ part first because it was brand new,” Czuhajewski said of the four-week rehearsals she and her collaborators prepared for their September debut. “We worked with various choreographers who worked on the film itself…to bring (film choreography) to life in our skating.”
While Czuhajewski mentioned a love for all of the songs and sequences on the show, her favorite may be “Surface Pressure,” which was also one of the more difficult segments to master.
In the “Encanto” film, “Surface Pressure” is sung by Luisa – the strongest sister of the main character Mirabel. The lyrics explain the daily burdens she struggles to balance. As the song’s tempo picks up in the cartoon, Luisa is shown holding up tons of boulders and fighting Cerberus, with donkeys appearing throughout the number by dancing or contributing to Luisa’s fights.
“Our ‘Surface Pressure’ number has cast members on the ice – they’re actually skate donkeys. It’s really fun. It’s high energy,” she said. “It’s a bit (challenging because) the costumes … but part of that is due to the fast movement of the music itself.”
However, what Czuhajewski loves most about the production is the audience’s reactions.
“Something that we’ve really encouraged throughout the show is interactivity,” she said. “The audience can get up and dance…some of them are in costume…that energy is brought to us on the ice.”
But even without crowd reaction, Czuhajewski has plenty of enthusiasm to be on the ice, built through years of passion and training.
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A childhood wish that turned her heart into ice skating
She grew up taking lessons at the Kalamazoo Skating Club in her hometown, inspired to do so after a childhood friend hosted a birthday party at a local rink. From there, Czuhajewski’s love of skating led her to graduate from Adrian College with degrees in Marketing and Sports Marketing, coach other aspiring skaters and compete in a synchronized skating competition in Switzerland earlier this year.
While Czuhajewski noted that she is a huge fan of Disney movies, being able to skate for her career represents the fulfillment of a childhood wish her heart had.
“It’s been a dream of mine since I was very young,” said Czuhajewski. “When they asked me in kindergarten what you wanted to be when I was little, I always wanted to be a skater.”
Tickets for the event range from $19 to $118 depending on the date and seat. For more information about the event, visit iowaeventscenter.com.
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