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A Princess on Fire

At the tender age of 5 years old, my grandfather took me to see Disney on Ice: Beauty and the Beast. I was enthralled, watching my favorite characters come to life, dance across the ice with ease, grace — perfection on. The skaters encompassed beauty, villainy and, in the end, the classic romance between two star-crossed lovers.

Disney on Ice has captured the hearts of children everywhere, travelling around the globe since 1981. The show uses stunts, props and skilled skaters to touch audience members of all shapes and sizes with Walt Disney magic. Though young girls now come to the show dressed more often as Rapunzel than in the Cinderella outfit I grew up in, the show still holds a special place in my life. Years after first bearing witness to the magic world, I finally had the opportunity to see the man behind the green curtain — or, should I say, the woman behind the Sleeping Beauty costume.

Talking with Disney on Ice star Courtney Mew, who plays Sleeping Beauty in Disney on Ice’s latest hit, “Princesses & Heroes,” finally brought me full circle. A college graduate and skating star since the age of 8, Mew continues to burst with Disney on Ice energy and enthusiasm even after performing on the tour with them for nine years.

Mew got her start with the program after rekindling her love of skating post-college, finding a “renewed passion” for performing. But a Disney on Ice production is not like most performances. It combines the creative demands of being in an acting troupe with the physical demands of a traveling athlete. Mew has to be sure that, even when travelling with only two 50-pound suitcases for extended periods of time, she takes care of her health, fitness and morale.

As Mew described her experience, standing on stage portraying a character, the pride she takes in her work was evident, the rush she gets from performing mirroring the unbridled enthusiasm of her young fans. It is more than just skating, she said — it’s about bringing a long-lived, long-loved character the vivacity it deserves.

“Skating is an art and a way to express yourself, but it is so much further developed when it is your job — you can explore characters and it becomes a part of you,” she said.

Many of the skaters in “Princesses & Heroes” have been performing since they were the age I was when I first saw Disney on Ice with my grandfather. Each of them has honed his or her skills with extensive practicing individually and with co-skaters to create a magical show.

But it’s not just the skaters who work to make these shows fantastical. Though she loves the impressive stylistic staking, Mew said she is particularly entranced by the staging the crew creates with various lights and props.

In the opening seen, the stage becomes Aladdin’s Agrabah — transporting the audience across the world, but then, an hour later, you find yourself in Cinderella’s castle. In Mew’s portion of the show, the Sleeping Beauty scene, there is a fire-breathing dragon. And let’s not forget the bubbles that fall from the ceiling during Ariel’s scene.

Packed with action and mystery, this production is suitable for all ages and genders. Mew said she particularly loves seeing young boys dressed as sailors and princes lining the stands, or a grandmother with tears in her eyes. “You know you’re bringing enjoyment and a bright part to their day,” she said.

Mew only has a few more performances before she goes on to fulfill a new life goal as a child life specialist. We might all have to grow up, but the magic that Disney on Ice leaves us with will never go away.

Disney on Ice’s “Princesses & Heroes” comes to Charlottesville’s John Paul Jones Arena Thursday Oct. 10.