Hey y’all! Welcome to the second edition of the When I Grow Up… series. Today we’re talking about how my friend Jennifer Payne became a professional figure skater! Talk about living your dream, huh?
I’ve known Jennifer for years and years. We grew up in Ada, Oklahoma together and bonded over a shared name. I remember watching Boy Meets World in the den of her parents’ house, going trick or treating in her neighborhood, and taking dance class together. At around ten years old she began to take skating lessons. That meant one of her parents had to drive her to Oklahoma City multiple times a week to train. I’m sure that couldn’t have been easy on any of them, but today Jennifer is a professional figure skater who travels the world with Disney on Ice. And she has agreed to answer some questions about how she ended up in this envious career!
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? Well, I think I first wanted to get into figure skating in the 2nd grade when I would go watch my niece's skating lessons. That was right around the Nancy Kerrigan/Tonya Harding scandal as well, so skating was on TV all the time. I am sure that at some point when I was little that I wanted to be something else, but all I can remember ever wanting to be is a professional figure skater.
How close (or far) is your current career from that dream? By the grace of God, that is my career. That’s what I get to wake up and do every single day. People always tell me they don't know many people who have a dream and actually get to go out and chase that dream and make it a reality. God has blessed me so much to be able to follow my dream and live it every day. I am very thankful.
What is your official job title? My official title would probably be "Professional Figure Skater and Performer with Disney on Ice".
Ok, now what does that really mean? There are nine different Disney on Ice shows and I have been on three of them. Currently, I am on tour with Princesses and Heroes. I'm an ensemble skater with the company, which means I perform lots of different roles throughout the show. I skate singles and pairs numbers. I also understudy a lot of principle roles and get to go in to those a lot.
What is a typical day like? Tour life is not very consistent as far as schedules go because it just depends on which city we're in and how busy the show schedule is or if we have rehearsals. We generally start with about two weeks of rehearsals at the beginning of the tour season (which can be anywhere from 6-9 months long and then we get to come home for a few weeks while the show is shipped by boat to whichever country our summer show is in). After rehearsals, we start the tour and typically spend one week in each city. During the holidays or in bigger cities like London and Paris we perform for two weeks. We normally open the show on Wednesday or Thursday night and have one show a night Wed-Friday. Occasionally we have two or three shows on Friday. Saturdays and Sundays are mostly 3-show days. We also have all kinds of PR engagements we're required to do each week. I love doing PRs because I love interacting with the kids. They get SO excited when they get to meet their favorite characters.
But overall a typical day at work starts off with a charter bus coming to get us from the hotel. Once we get to the building we set up our make-up spots and check our costumes. Then we check the "board" which is a giant dry erase board/cork board and has all the vital info we need for the week. If someone is injured or "out" for some reason, or someone goes into an understudy, it will be on the board and the list of "spares" (people filling in for the empty spots) will be posted. The whole thing is a domino effect and our Performance Director has a lot of work to do to make sure every role is covered. This means that every skater must know EVERY role in the show in case they are needed to "spare" the number. Once we check the board and put on our make-up, we are required to do a 15 minute warm up. At "half hour" before the show we have notes from our performance director on the previous show. Then finally it's show time!
There is absolutely NOTHING like stepping on to that frozen stage and having the audience sing along with every song or freak out because they believe you REALLY ARE that character! It's so amazing! We get to bring everyone's favorite characters to life night after night, and the look on those sweet little kids faces when they see us….there is nothing more magical than that! It makes the hours of practice and living out of a hotel and two suitcases all worth it!! It's my absolute favorite part of the job! Plus, what little girl didn't want to grow up and be a Disney Princess? I get to do what I love (skate), entertain little kids, and play dress up every day. Best. Job. Ever.
Every Sunday night, at the end of an engagement, we pack up all of our costumes and our makeup spots and, if it's a driving city, get on two charter buses and head for the next city. If we're flying we do so with the crew on Monday. The crew has to come in before we do and leave after we do to load all of our costumes and props and the huge set on to 10 semi's to travel to the next city. So they have a huge job to do.
In my time with the company I have been to 29 different countries. I started on the Asia tour, have been to Western Europe 3 times and South America twice. I have be so blessed to be able to experience so many different cultures and make friends all around the world. Without a doubt my favorite three countries are Thailand, England, and Japan. I would tell anyone looking for a vacation spot to hit the beaches of Thailand. I have never seen such beauty! And if you can afford the place ticket it's SO cheap once you're there. You can get your own private beach for $25 a night! Japan has more positives to it than I could ever account for. From the culture to the food, it is practically everyone on tour's favorite place! I could go on for days about all of the amazing things Japan has to offer. I just can't put in to words the uniqueness/awesomeness that is Japan. And England….if given half a chance I would move to England and live there for the rest of my life! I adore everything about England. I've been there 3 different times for a total of about 7 months and I just can't get enough. It feels like home to me. I don't even mind the rainy weather. I guess you can say that tour has made me an Anglophile.
How did you end up in this career, and what kind of education or training did you complete for this career? I majored in Figure Skating Science at the University of Delaware. It's a real degree, I swear. It's mostly an exercise science degree but there was a practicum each semester my last two years of school in which we got to sit in on lessons with National, International and Olympic coaches and skaters. It was such great exposure and experience. I have always known I wanted to be a show skater and my senior year of college I applied to Disney on Ice. I got offered a contract just before I graduated and one month later I was flying to Japan…my first time ever out of the country.
What advice would you give to someone who wants a similar career? I would advise anyone who wants to do this career to absolutely go for it! It was the best decision I've ever made. And while the touring lifestyle is not for everyone, you get invaluable experiences on the road that you'll never get anywhere else. The memories you make and places you get to see that you might otherwise never get to are so worth it. Even if you only do it for a couple of years…DO IT! There is a great big world out there! So get out of your safe little corner of the world and find some adventure!! I can't stress that enough!!!
Do you have any other career dreams? What do you want to be when you grow up? After I get off the road I would love to be a coach/choreographer but I am also very interested in being an event planner. So I imagine I'll be an event planner full-time and give a few hours of skating lessons per week. I am getting a chance to practice my wedding planning skills on tour right now as I am planning my own wedding. On my last tour I met my fiancé, Colin Howie, who is from Long Island, NY. He is head props on the crew for our show. It is absolutely the best being on tour with your fiancé. Tour is such a different experience and it's so nice that the person I'll get to spend forever with understands this thing that has been such a huge part of my life. And getting to travel together and see all of these amazing places and having these wonderful experiences together is just priceless. I can't imagine not sharing this with him. And seeing each other at work and backstage all the time is really fun for us. Some couples might not like not having that separation of work and home life but we love it!
Any last thoughts or encouragement for others trying to decide what they want to do "when they grow up"? My advice for people trying to decide what they want to do when they grow up is to find your passion, your dream…and GO FOR IT!! Nothing is too big. Pursue it with all your heart and you never know where you'll end up. Don't just give up because it seems too big. My dad had to drive me two hours one way to get to my dream and I only got to skate four hours a week while most girls got to skate over 4 hours a day every day. All of that and I STILL am living out my dream. It seems only appropriate that my final piece of advice comes from the man himself, Walt Disney, "If you can dream it, you can do it!"
A huge thanks to Jennifer for taking time out of her busy schedule to answer all these questions! In case you can't tell, she's a busy woman. But hey, she is following her dreams and LOVES her career. Really, how cool is it that she is a professional figure skater?