Natalie Rithaler has seen the world, from Australia to Thailand to Germany.
Just 24 years old, the Chilliwack native has enjoyed more experiences than most people get in a lifetime, traveling with Disney on Ice.
But when she’s asked about her most memorable moments, it’s not some marvel of modern architecture she talks about.
It’s not a sunset in Sydney, a boat-ride in Berlin or a beach day in Brazil that springs to mind.
“It’s seeing the children in the seats, dressed up, singing along and dancing,” she says. “Once the show starts, I feel like I’m a little girl again.”
For seven years the former Cheam Skating Club member has been on tour, living the life of a rock-star.
Once upon a time, Rithaler was a competitive ice-dancer, skating alongside current Cheam coach Denis Kondrashin.
“When I first started (with Disney on Ice) I was just out of competition, and wanted to keep skating,” she says. “I thought I’d do it for maybe a couple years. But every year it gets harder and harder to think of something else I’d want to do.”
Rithaler’s season starts in August, with cast and crew gathering for two weeks of rehearsals.
“Two weeks doesn’t sound like a lot, but it feels like it because we’re on the ice from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day,” she notes. “Once the show starts, we’re in a different city every week.”
Rithaler usually skates in eight to 12 shows per week — including three apiece on Saturdays and Sundays. You’d think it’d be a grind, but she doesn’t seem to mind at all.
“Seeing all the children in the audience refreshes each show,” she smiles.
In her first year with this particular show, (Disney on Ice’s Let’s Party!) Rithaler plays the role of Belle from Beauty and the Beast. The popular princess was one of her favourites growing up, along with Snow White.
“We definitely try to portray our character, and there’s a lot of research and getting in the right mind-frame before we go out to skate,” she explains. “Bell is a very graceful and sophisticated princess, so I try to show that with my skating. That means long lines and pointed toes and bent knees. All of us try to morph our own style into it.”
Rithaler’s favourite scene in the show is one she skates in. Minnie Mouse and the Fairy Godmother gather the princesses to tell their love stories.
“It’s all about the princesses trying to find true love,” Rithaler says. “The entire show is awesome. There’s Alice and the Mad Hatter and an unbirthday party. There’s a dragon in the Chinese New Year number. Being in the middle of it is so great, because I love to perform.”
Rithaler is one of 50ish skaters on tour, a group she calls her second family.
They travel with 13 or so crew members — carpenters, electricians, sound technicians and the like.
The massive production includes more than 100 props and 155 costumes.
“We have a set that goes up in 12 hours and comes down in about four hours,” she said. “When we’re all back-stage, there’s some panic moments here and there. But we do this so often that it’s definitely more controlled chaos.”
For all the shows she’s done all over the world, Rithaler has never performed as close to home as she’ll be over the next few days.
Her tour has set up camp at Vancouver’s Pacific Coliseum, with shows running Nov. 26 to 30.
“This is my first time playing Vancouver, and the closest I’ve ever been is Victoria in my very first year,” Rithaler said. “I keep getting messages from family and friends who’ve bought tickets to watch me skate, so many I’ve lost count. I think it’s going to be really special.”
Weekdays shows start at 7 p.m. Weekend shows will begin at 11:30 a.m., 3:30 p.m., and 7 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
Tickets are on sale at TicketLeader.ca, ranging from $25 to $85 for rinkside seats. Kids tickets are available for $15.