Rachel Halvorson, 18, of Elk River, left Saturday for a plumb of a first job — joining Disney on Ice for its Toy Story 3 show. Her Elk River Figure Skating Club coaches and fellow skaters are quite thrilled and gave her a nice send-off on Friday.
Rachel Halvorson skated with her club for the last time Friday morning before leaving for Florida. (Photo by Bruce Strand)
by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
It's been a giddy week at Elk River Figure Skating Club. One of their own, Rachel Halvorson, was chosen by Dsney on Ice for its Toy Story 3 tour starting in September.
Halvorson, 18, learned Tuesday she'd gotten the job, and left Saturday morning for Lakeland, Fla., after a farewell skating session and party Friday morning at Elk River Area with her coaches and club mates, some dressed as Disney characters in her honor.
"It's been a dream of mine for a long time to be in a Disney show one day," said Halvorson. "I'm very excited. Being the first one from here is awesome."
Halvorson sent demo tapes and resumes to Disney and two smaller shows, Knott's Berry Farm and Busch Gardens, last year. Disney called her and five other girls in for auditions at the Xcel Center last December when they had a show there.
Rachel posed with her Elk River Figure Skating Club mates. In the front, from left, are Rebecca Sultany, Annie Givens, and Emily Halvorson. In the back are Ashlee Hidde, Hannah Larson, McKenna Wilson, Rachel Halvorson, Alicen Whiting, and Alli Hansen.
(Photo by Bruce Strand)
The home-schooled Elk River resident had already gotten a job offer from Busch Gardens for a two-month engagement of Christmas shows, but then her Disney dream came true, in the form of an e-mail from Judy Thomas, director of casting for Disney.
The Toy Story 3 show has a schedule of about 200 performances, mostly on the east coast, from September though May.
"Rachel is the first one from our club to dare to take this adventure and it's very exciting for the whole club," said Sandra Johansson, one of the coaches. "Disney is an incredible opportunity, with real good money and high-level shows.
"All the girls are talking about it. They are so proud of her. And now they're thinking, it can be done."
The club, which includes Rachel's sister Emily, 15, announced her achievement on the Elk River Arena sign. Five of the younger girls have Rachel for a coach. One of them, said Johannson, was telling Rachel how proud she was, when it suddenly dawned on her that Rachel would be gone for a long time. "I won't see her until May! I'm going to miss her," the youngster said.
Halvorson had to turn over her five students to other coaches, so she neatly typed up a detailed progress report on each girl to make sure her successors knew where to start.
Asked what the Disney folks probably liked about Halvorson, Johansson said:
"She is an absolutely stunning beauty. She looks like someone in a fairy tale. That, coupled with her double gold medal, of course."
Halvorson has earned Double Gold status from the United States Figure Skating Association, achieved by passing very difficult tests before a panel of judges. She passed her Moves in the Field (the basics) test in April of 2008 and her Free Skate in May of 2009.
Rachel mugged for a photo, taken by DeeAnn Givens, by her sign at the farewell party on Friday with the Elk River Figure Skating Club.
After Halvorson earned her second gold, she did not let up a bit.
"When she passed the free skate, which had been her goal for 10 year, she never wavered," said the coach. "She still came every day and trained as hard as ever. Some people who do it think, OK, now what? But she was obviously driven … This has been her goal for the two years since then."
After earning her second gold, Halvorson geared for state and regional competition where she was to perform in Senior Ladies for the first time. She did not do well at all. Her coaches explained that Halvorson has a hard time with competition, but comes alive and skates her best during shows.
"I like shows the best," she acknowledged. "There's not so much pressure, I enjoy telling a story."
Halvorson learned she'd been accepted in a e-mail that came sometime Tuesday but she didn't see until late at night.
Rachel went into a spin at the skate-around Friday. (Photo by Bruce Strand)
"I was really happy but everyone else was asleep," she said, "so I waited until morning to tell them."
"We would have been happy if you woke us up!" her mother, Naomi interjected. "But that's Rachel. When Busch Gardens told her they might have a position for her, and then let her know two days later, she didn't even tell us until after she knew for sure."
The December audition for Disney was not for the meek.
"It's an hour-long audition, a really tough audition," said Naomi. She added: "We were thinking, even if she doesn't make it, this was so awesome to just be able to audition for a show like this."
After putting Rachel and five other prospects through all the edges, jumps, and spins, the Disney coaches showed them scenes and gave them 30 seconds to duplicate them to get into the character and act out the scene.
"They had me do the Evil Queen from Snow White, and then some monkeys," said Halvorson.
Halvorson is one of six children of Bob and Noami. Now, suddenly, she's leaving her home, along with the club that's been a second home for 10 years, and will be gone for 10 solid months, starting with eight-hour days for six days a week training for the Sept. 3 opener.
If that sounds intimidating, it certainly didn't show on Halvorson, who could not stop smiling when the Star News visited her along with her mother, coach and club mates on Thursday.
Johansson said she knew exactly what advice to give Rachel, drawing upon what her own coach told her as a teenager training in Colorado.
"Nothing you do there will be anywhere near as tough as the tests you had to take to get your double gold," said Johansson. "That's like a college degree — except it takes 10 years to learn! So, being a 'Barbie" or something in a show will be nothing compared to taking those tests. So you can do this, Rachel."
She'll be one of about 40 skaters in the Toy Story show. After the month of practice, the skaters will visit 35 cities for two shows each, starting Sept. 3 in Lakeland, Fla., and concluding May 22 in Tampa. The closest will be in February during Rachel's birthday so the family plans to be there.
An update — Noami reported some news from Florida on Aug. 4, the middle of Rachel's first week. Her parts in the show will be Barbie, a cowgirl, and a one-eyed alien (!). She will also have one solo understudy role, and she and another girl will open the shows by bringing out the toy box.
You can view Rachel's audition tape online at the following address: