Selena Van Aert, from the city of Quesnel in British Columbia, Canada, has been ice skating since she was five years old. When she was about 12, she lost her heart to “Disney’s High School Musical: The Ice Tour,” which toured the world from 2007 to 2009.
“Ever since then, I’ve wanted to do it, too,” said Van Aert.
And so she did. She followed her heart, and now she no longer cheers on her favorite fairytale characters from the audience. Now, Van Aert stars in the current Disney on Ice show, “Follow Your Heart,” as 11-year-old Riley, the main character of the popular 2015 Pixar film “Inside Out.”
“I’ve always enjoyed the performing side of figure skating, so working on characters and bringing them to life is something I enjoy,” said Van Aert. “I really enjoy seeing the kids in the audience dressed up as their favorite character. It’s really magical. And a little wave at them is as special for us as it is for them.”
The arrival of “Follow Your Heart” to the Bay Area coincides with the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games. From Feb. 21 to 25 the ice show will be in San Jose at the SAP Center (www.sapcenter.com) and from Feb. 28 to March 4 in Oakland at Oracle Arena (www.oraclearena.com).
“I like that Riley is very determined,” said Van Aert. “Even though she goes through mental struggles, she doesn’t give up. No matter what is pulling her which way, she’s able to succeed.”
Van Aert understands hard work and challenges.
“I really enjoy playing Riley, but it’s been a challenge because she plays hockey, and I’ve been a figure skater. I had to learn how to handle the puck,” she said.
“And it’s tough being on the road away from my family. Even though you have things going on in your life, you have to push through, like Riley,” continued Van Aert, who joined Feld Entertainment, the producers of the Disney on Ice shows, in 2015.
For her job “interview,” she sent Feld Entertainment an eight-minute video of her skating.
“My parents are very proud of me. [Their] waking up really early in morning to drive me to skating to rehearse has really paid off,” she said.
“It’s definitely challenging. Being in new cites every week made me more resilient. I also realize how grateful I am for what my life has offered me,” said Van Aert, who plays support characters as well as Riley.
Riley isn’t the only storybook star on the ice. Characters from “Finding Nemo” also skate into kids’ hearts for the first time. Anna and Elsa from “Frozen” have returned, along with Cinderella, Rapunzel, Tiana and the “Toy Story” gang.
The skaters—about 40— range in age from 18 to 45.
“It’s a lot of fun working and traveling together. We form really strong friendships. It’s a strong support group, which is awesome when you’re away from your family for so long,” said Van Aert.
“Follow Your Heart” opened in 2016. By the end of its 2017 – 2018 season in April, it will have traveled to 29 U.S. cities in 14 states, plus two Canadian cities. In July, it begins a tour of Asia, Australia and New Zealand.
Be sure to wave at Riley if you get to see the show. She just might wave back, give you a wink—and steal your heart.
“If you dream of doing something, it’s definitely possible. So just work hard and keep believing in yourself, and you can make your dream a reality,” said Van Aert.