Anna Bradshaw is living every little girl’s dream. Not only does she spend her life travelling around the world as a professional figure skater, she gets to do it surrounded by Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy and countless other cherished childhood characters as a performer in the much-loved Disney on Ice production.
To cap it all off, Anna herself takes to the ice as a Princess, donning the iconic golden locks and stunning purple dress of Rapunzel.
For the former English tutor, being able to combine her love of performing with her passion for figure skating is, in itself, a dream come true.
Anna took up ice skating after watching it on television as a nine-year-old and instantly fell in love with its artistry and athleticism.
She spent 15 years as a competitive figure skater before giving it away to concentrate on her college studies.
But it wasn’t until she was working in various odd jobs, including tutoring high school students in English, that she considered turning her passion for skating into a career.
She joined Feld Entertainment (the company behind various live touring family entertainment experiences) in 2015 after successfully auditioning for a role in Disney on Ice, and since then hasn’t looked back.
“Before I took up ice skating, I was doing track and field, as well as ballet,” Anna said.
“I was a very active kid so I was always wanting to do something and I thought that figure skating, when I saw it on TV, was the perfect blend of artistry and athleticism.
“I wanted to give it a try, and I just fell in love. I even told my Mum, ‘This is like ballet and track and field on ice!’ and she was just like, ‘Oh okay, here we go’.
“I fell in love immediately, and I couldn't get enough of it.
“I was pretty serious about competing; I was a competitive figure skater for about 15 years. I didn’t really know much about show skating until I got older and one of my choreographers told me about Disney on Ice and shows in general and said I should give it a try once I’m finished competing.
“The funny thing was that even back then, it was still really thrilling to be able to perform in front of people, especially the judges because the hardest thing to do is to perform for the judges.
“At the time that I finished competing, I was focusing on college, and after that, I was doing various jobs. But I thought to myself – ‘I should give (show skating) a chance’. I’d spent so much of my life devoting myself to a sport; I might as well do something with it. For me, it just seemed natural to just go on performing.”
The Los Angeles-based skater is currently in Australia as part of the international Disney On Ice celebrates Mickey and Friends tour.
The show celebrates 90 years of Mickey Mouse and honours Walt Disney’s legacy by bringing the acclaimed stories to life on the ice.
Mickey Mouse is joined by Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck and Goofy on a journey to discover his favourite memory of all time. Using Mickey’s ‘Mouse Pad’, the show’s hosts encourage fans to be part of the action and help the gang venture through Disney stories, sharing memorable moments from treasured tales. Along the way, families sail away with Moana as she displays the courage to save her island on a high-seas adventure with the demigod, Maui.
Families will continue the journey to the wintery world of Arendelle as royal sisters Anna and Elsa discover true love, and experience the mysterious magic of Fantasia as the Sorcerer’s Apprentice makes brooms come to life. The show also follows the unforgettable Dory through the unexplored seas of the Pacific Ocean, joins the Toy Story pals on an exciting adventure and experiences the emotional rollercoaster of Inside Out.
Audience members will also be encouraged to “Live Your Story” alongside Disney Princesses including Rapunzel, as they use perseverance, determination and hard work to inspire Mickey and children around the world to share their favourite Disney memories.
After kicking off in Perth last month, the show will travel around the country until July 23, visiting Adelaide, Wollongong, Canberra, Brisbane, Melbourne, Newcastle and Sydney.
It will stop off in Newcastle from July 12–14, with the Newcastle Entertainment Centre transformed into a wintery wonderland for eight performances across the three days.
Anna travelled to Newcastle during a quick pre-show publicity tour in May, taking to the ice at the Hunter Ice Skating Stadium to share a few of her skills with a handful of lucky fans alongside the region’s own ice skating champion, Olympian Kailani Craine.
“It was wonderful,” Anna said.
“Sometimes you don’t get a chance to interact with locals, so it was really wonderful to be able to do that with some of the local skaters and to talk with them and hopefully help inspire them to achieve their dreams, no matter what it is.
“They ask you what you do in the show and what kind of skills are required, but they also ask how you got into Disney, and what your background is. There’s always a lot of questions, but it’s super flattering, and it’s awesome to be able to answer as many as I can.
“The advice I would give kids who want to be performers is practice, practice, practice. Hone your skills, step outside your comfort zone, and above all, if it’s something you love to do, don’t stop.”
While Anna clearly had plenty of expertise on the ice before she joined the Disney production, the highly-awarded skater has picked up a few new skills, including how to take her performance up a notch – literally.
As part of her role as Rapunzel, Anna completes a section of her routine high above the ice using aerial silks.
“When we take off for our first trick, there is this audible gasp (from the audience) because they see we are preparing for the routine, but they don’t exactly know what's going to happen."
“Perhaps my toughest challenge during my performance career has been to learn a completely new apparatus, the silks, which is now part of my normal performance role,”
“It was quite a challenge because as a figure skater, most of our strength is in our lower body, but to learn an aerial act that’s all upper body and a lot of core strength, with some lower body as well.
“It was kind of interesting to be able to turn yourself on your own head so to speak, to suddenly develop all of these new muscles and strengths in your upper body that you’ve never even tried before.
“I remember the first time I flew in front of a crowd, it was exhilarating, and it has honestly been the most rewarding experience to be able to perform this for the audience.
“When we take off for our first trick, there is this audible gasp (from the audience) because they see we are preparing for the routine, but they don’t exactly know what's going to happen.
“When we go to take off, and we’re getting into the air, the gasps are pretty special… that’s probably the most rewarding aspect of performing. And then getting to see the kids’ faces light up, it sounds clichéd, but it is really special, it does not get old.’
Aside from learning how to control her movements in the air, Anna also had to master the art of using her skating to tell a story, which in the case of this Disney on Ice production, involves packing the key elements from the movie Tangled into a tiny three-minute routine.
Anna said it is both fun and challenging to combine this aspect with the more technical skills of skating.
“I find it a blend of both because the particular routine that I do on the ice is supposed to convey fun and adventure as well as the character I portray – I’m supposed to convey her story of getting away from being sheltered and going outside her comfort zone,” Anna said.
“So having to try and convey that to the audience and still interact with them while also performing the tricks is a bit challenging, especially because the routine is only three minutes long.
“It’s a lot to put into three minutes, but it’s fun, and I really enjoy my job being able to try and do that.
“I’m also in the ensemble number, ‘Round Up’, which is our Toy Story segment and I’m an ensemble cowgirl, and I also portray young Anna in Frozen, so you’ll see me throughout the show.
"[When I perform] I want the audience to get the feeling of being drawn away from the worries and cares of daily life, to remember what it is to dream with childlike splendour."
“I love seeing the joy and excitement on the crowd’s faces when I get to do what I love. Knowing I’ve made their day or helped them dream, even for a moment, gives me happiness.”
Anna has been performing with Disney on Ice for the past five years and said the experience has been amazing, allowing the 32-year-old to travel to places she might never have otherwise got to see.
While being paid to travel around the world may sound like a dream, it does have its downsides, including being away from home for such a long time. But with all the benefits of the job, Anna doesn’t see herself wanting to take off her skates any time soon.
“Well, sometimes you tend to get homesick, which is completely normal when you’re on the road for ten months out of the year,” she said.
“Perhaps the worst thing about living on the road is making sure your luggage isn’t overweight at the airport!”
“But you get to see the world, and you get to go to places and experience things that not a lot of people get to experience, so I would say that it balances itself out.
“There are far too many memories to choose from [for a travel highlight], but most of them involve being surrounded by my friends when we take side trips to national parks.
“Perhaps my favourite thing to do in my free time is to explore the culture of the city I’m in or go see a play, concert or other kind of live performance.
“Experiencing local cuisine is another favourite thing I like to do.”
Aside from her laptop and her camera, which are the essential items she takes with her on the road, Anna never travels anywhere without her most prized possession, her journal, which you will often find her writing in during downtime between rehearsals and performances.
“I’ve been writing some short stories [on this tour]. I’ve actually been able to write a lot because even though our schedule is pretty busy, we do get downtime and days off and on travel days I get time to sit and write and collect my thoughts, so I do actually get a bit of writing done, which is great,” Anna said.
“I’m a huge fan of historical fiction, so that is probably my favourite subject to write and to read about. I also like modern fiction as well, but I like to explore all avenues, and I think writing a really good autobiography, or a biography of someone else, would be something really amazing to be able to accomplish.”
With celebrated author JK Rowling among her role models, it’s not surprising that writing has always been one of Anna’s cherished creative outlets. But while it may be just a hobby for now, Anna hopes it will also form the basis of her post-performance career.
“My major life goals outside of my performing career include furthering my education and getting a Masters in English Literature, travelling the world and becoming a successful writer,” she said.
“As of right now performing is my main job but going back and getting my Masters, whether it’s online or at a university, is still a huge goal of mine because I would love to be able to teach English someday.
“I tutored high school English for two years, mainly doing summer courses with athletes and tutoring them after school.
“I felt that was a great blend of my two passions because I was able to help athletes achieve their goals, and I could understand what they were going through, having to balance and maintain their academics with their sport. I loved being able to do that.
“I still love to write, I still love to read, and my most prized possession is my journal.
“It’s kind of the same thing that skating is, it’s another outlet, it’s another way to express yourself and to be able to be creative. It’s almost therapeutic.
“Being able to skate is therapeutic; writing is therapeutic, so I find it’s a great way to maintain those creative juices and be able to inspire.
“For me, one of my greatest goals in life is to be able to inspire people, whether it’s through skating or writing or helping them by teaching.”
Disney On Ice celebrates Mickey and Friends will open in Newcastle on Friday, July 12 with performances at 10am and 1.30pm. Additional sessions will also be held on July 13 and 14 at 10am, 1.30pm and 5.30pm each day. Tickets are on sale from $33 through Ticketek: