By TOM LAVENTURE
AAP staff writer
Disney On Ice returns to Saint Paul on December 9-12, 2010 with its “Mickey & Minnie’s Magical Journey” tour at the Xcel Energy Center. The tour is designed to activate the imaginations of Disney fans young and old and bring along some very talented Asian figure skaters as well.
Japanese skaters Hirata Hanakot, Mai Omiya and Hiroe Kakisawa join Boston native Young-In Bae and the cast of talented performers.
Mickey and Minnie’s Magical Journey to magical worlds based on Disney stories, The Little Mermaid, The Lion King, Peter Pan, and Lilo & Stitch. From Ariel’s under kingdom to Never Land with Peter Pan, the fairy tales, captivating music and the awe inspiring beauty of the sets, costumes and lighting, all make the talented skaters seem even more fun as they make the kids laugh and stir their imaginations.
Hirata Hanakot spoke to AAP via phone recently when the tour was in Salt Lake City. She is featured as the elder sister in the Lilo & Stitch piece
“I grew up watching Disney and this is almost like its becoming real,” said Hanakot. “Its almost like going to Disneyworld and Disneyland from watching the audience singing along with the music and waving at us.”
The skating routines take a lot of coordination and hard work but Hanakot said she enjoys it as much now as when she started the tour. She said that portraying a character is challenging to be convincing the children that watch your every move.
“It’s a very magical performance and everyday it is a new show to me,” she said. “Everything is very fun and I enjoy it from the bottom of my heart.”
Hanakot enjoys it so much she still watches the routines from the side when she’s not on the ice. She admires her line captain, Becky Rebecca Vandenberg for her leadership and as a performance director.
“She keeps us in good shape during the show,” she added. “She is a beautiful skater and I look up to her.”
Hanakot, 24, is a native of Tokyo, Japan. She emerged from the Naijijingu Figure Skating Club under coach Miwa Sukuhara.
Her parents were athletes but not skaters. She tried many sports at a young age but said she really took to skating.
Hanakot had another dream as well, however, and went to Canada to study English as an exchange student in Hope, British Columbia, where she completed high school. It would be easy to believe that Hanakot was also training but she wasn’t.
“I went to Canada to study English,” she said. “I did some volunteer teaching but I was not competing.”
When she returned to Japan, Hanakot’s talent was still there but her competition days were slipping by her. She went to a few competitions including the Japan Nationals.
After eight years of skating she began to focus on her college studies at age 20. A friend of hers joined Disney of Ice and urged her to audition and she joined the Disney Eastern Asia Tour a year later.
“The difference from amateur competition is that this is more relaxing and with a lot more joy,” she said. “I would get very nervous at competitions where they would be judging.
“But, not with the show,” she added. “I think I just really like performing to the audience instead of competing.”
Three years later Hanakot joined the U.S. tour and is now in her first season. She enjoyed touring the Asian countries and said the U.S. cities are just as amazing.
While in Salt Lake City she planned to visit the U.S. Olympic Training Center. There is always time for touring and shopping but says the skaters try not to get too weighted down with souvenirs.
The other challenges are sticking to a daily exercise regimen, taking advantage of the gymnasium availability at each stop and staying away from the junk food and sticking to a good diet.
She usually tours with her skating friends and said the performing and company helps the homesickness a lot.
“I mostly miss my mother’s cooking and we can keep in touch on Skype,” she said. “My parent’s miss me lot but I keep busy and try not to think about it too much.”
Hanakot is all about skating right now but say she would like to complete her education degree and teach kindergarten, settle down, and raise her own family and settle down.
“I like working with children and want to stay around children for the rest of my life.”
The other skaters include Hiroe Kakisawa, a 2002 Juniors champion in Canada, and the Japan national Champion from 2004 to 2006. Known for her high jumps, she enjoys the Lilo & Stitch and Peter Pan segments in her first season with Disney.
The Tokyo and Yokohama native was trained at the Shin-Yokohama skate rink under coaches Nobuo Sato and Kumiko Sato. She is also a graduate of the University in Japan.
Another first year skater, Mai Omiya hails from Hokkaido and grew up near Sapporo and trained under Katsue Omiya at North Wing, FC.
Omiya began skating at a young age with her skating teacher mother. She said the Disney tour allows her to get into character and “enter the world of the story.”
Omiya graduated from Sirakaba Gakuen High School and she looks forward to college. She enjoys dance, swimming, penmanship and calligraphy. When she finishes her skating career she may become a coach like her mother.
Young-In Bae was raised near Boston in the town of Dennisport, Mass. She trains at the Skating Club of Boston under Evy and Mary Scotvold.
Bae enjoyed success in amateur competitions out east and joined the Disney tour in 2008. She said life on the road takes some getting used to, but its part of her goal to perform as long as she can and to coach someday.
She said skating keeps her fit on the road, and her routine of music and dance class keeps her in balance physically and emotionally. She also gets by with her computer and iPod.
She said shopping is fun on the road and that it takes a while to develop a system for packing. She is also considering a career in fashion merchandising.