Disney skating star inspires Terrace, B.C. club

A Terrace skater is returning to coach after six years in pros, touring with Disney on Ice, Holiday on Ice, and performing on cruise ships.

Terrace skater Heather Hanna soars across the ice in a lift during a cruise ship performance several years ago. It was one of her highlights of the last six years in professional skating.

The packed arena roared with applause as the professional Terrace skater landed her final jump as Princess Anna from Frozen.

The tour with Disney on Ice was performed before thousands across Eastern Europe and Southern Asia, and for Terrace-raised Heather Hanna it was one of her biggest spotlights during her last six years in professional skating.

Disney on Ice was the third leg of her top-level skating, which also included roles in extravagant skating productions on cruise ships and with Holiday on Ice (similar to Ice Capades).

Still invigorated by the thrill of her professional stint, Hanna is now returning to her roots and coaching this year for the Terrace Skating Club.

“I have learned a ton, especially working with people from all over the world. You learn so many different ways of doing things and different techniques,” she said.

She decided to coach because she wanted to stay involved in skating.

“I thought, I could just go home and skate, but then I started thinking ‘I have all these things to share… I will get more satisfaction passing on some of the stuff that I’ve learned,” she said.

Terrace coach Jennifer Kuehne said that having Hanna join the skating club staff is a real boost for local skaters, particularly those whose goal is to perform.

“Knowing that she was a skater in Terrace and knowing that she got to skate with Disney on Ice is very inspiring,” said Kuehne.

It motivates them to see that their skating does not have to end after graduation, and with Hanna fresh from professionals, she  skates with speed and poise as she demonstrates even simple moves.

“They can see her speed and her presence on the ice and how she projects her body… For the figure skaters, just watching [Hanna] skate around to show them something, they get more of that ‘wow’ look.”

Hanna is also full of tips to point a toe or lift a hand to add elegance to each performance, Kuehne said.

Hanna grew up in Terrace and started skating with the Terrace club at age 10. After graduation she moved to Parksville and then Victoria to pursue higher training, which included learning under Gary Beacom, a 1988 world champion skater and renowned coach at the time.

She took part in several skating tours and skated in 2009 Star Skate Nationals, which was one of her ambitions with skating.

After that she shifted gears from competitive skating into performance skating — where she thrived.

“I thought I was going to tour for a year, and then come back and go to school, but I just loved it so much,” she said, adding she kept going back to try new shows.

“I realized I was more of a performer than a competitor,” she explained. “There was less pressure… it became more about the audience, putting on a show for them.”

First, she got a job performing with nine other skaters on a cruise ship, alternating between nine-day trips in Bermuda and then in the Caribbean. They put on four skating shows during the nine day trips, ran a few short public skate sessions and helped dancers with their costumes and makeup.

“It was not a lot of work,” Hanna confessed. “We got to be guests in a way. We got off the ship with the guests and mingled with them.”

Next she joined a nine-month tour with Holiday on Ice, putting on a show called Speed in Eastern Europe, which melded dancers, acrobats and skaters under bright, flashing lights.

“Holiday was probably my favourite show, it was such an amazing production,” Hanna said, describing intricate numbers full of jumps and spins.

In 2013, she went back to the cruise ship for four months, this time as a pair skater, which was another highlight.

“I always wanted to do pairs, but coming from a small town like this… I never got the chance,” she said.

It was invigorating for her to face a new challenge, learning and mastering lifts which she had never done before.

“And I liked being in the air,” she said, explaining that there is a thrill and adrenaline in soaring across the ice in a lift.

After that, in 2014, Hanna signed a contract with Disney on Ice, performing in the “Magical Ice Festival,” a show involving characters from Little Mermaid, Beauty & the Beast, Tangled, and Frozen.

First up was a tour through Europe, which circled through Germany, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Poland, Netherlands, Czech Republic, England and Ireland. Next the group did an Asian tour, mostly in Japan but then traveling into South Korea, China and the Philippines.

Hanna said the Asian tour was insanely busy, with up to three shows a day at times.

But during the tours, they always had a few days to check out the sights, and Hanna said it was amazing to visit so many travel destinations.

Two of her highlights were climbing Mount Fuji in Japan and visiting Norway where her family roots are.

Skating with Disney on Ice, Hanna said she discovered a joy for acting as well, and had a special thrill in the big spotlight as an understudy for Princess Anna – performing several shows to relieve the main actress.

“We would skate in front of huge audiences, thousands and thousands of people,” she described, adding that it was cool, for a short time, to be the idol of thousands of young girls at the shows.

But this January, Hanna left behind the high-thrill skating adventures to return to Terrace. She decided that, at age 28, it was time to pursue an education, move towards a career, and settle in one place.

“Even though I loved skating and performing, I wanted to just be in one place,” she said, adding that travelling was fun but it was hard for relationships with family and friends to be gone for such long periods of time.

“I guess I was over the travelling, being gone for so long… I wanted to spend time with my family,” said Hanna.

This summer she upgraded several courses to prepare for the nursing program which she started at NWCC early this month. She also took courses to get certified to coach skating, and joined the staff at the skating club. The club is gearing up for a new season, with new elements shaping the Can Skate program, which will be coached by three certified coaches and including lots of fun circuits that keep children moving.

Can Skate hones skills for all ice sports including hockey, ringette and figure skating, and this year the circuits include a fast track for young skaters to burn off energy.

“There’s a fast track where skaters get to go and burn around as fast as they can, which a lot of the kids really like,” Kuehne said of the revised Can Skate program. Can Skate starts on Oct. 11 at the Sportsplex.