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Local skater performs with Disney on Ice at Xcel Center Dec. 5-8

Mitchel Markkanen began skating with the Willmar figure skating club when he was 5 years old. Now he's living his dream and performing with Disney on Ice.

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Elsa is one of the many Disney characters featured in the “Worlds of Enchantment” Disney on Ice show in St. Paul on Dec. 5-8 at the Xcel Energy Center. Photo courtesy of Feld Entertainment

SPICER – When Mitchel Markkanen was 5 years old and began performing at the Willmar Civic Center with the Diamond Edge Figure Skating Club, he dreamed of skating in the big leagues.

His dream has come true.

Markkanen, a 2016 graduate of New London-Spicer, landed his first professional skating job this summer with Feld Entertainment and he is now skating with Disney on Ice.

He is skating in a show called “World of Enchantment” that features beloved children’s Disney characters, including Woody and Buzz from “Toy Story,” Elsa, Anna and Olaf from “Frozen” and Ariel and Prince Eric from “Under the Sea.”

The show will be in St. Paul on Dec. 5-8 at the Xcel Energy Center.

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During a telephone interview, Markkanen talked about his experiences performing with Disney on Ice, which takes him to a new city about every seven days.

After getting hired in June, he spent about a month with the cast – which he said ranges in age from 18 to people in their 40s – learning the steps and choreography. His first show was in July in the Dominican Republic.

Markkanen said they perform from seven to 12 shows in each town before moving to a new location by either bus or plane.

“We travel all over,” he said, naming states like Tennessee, New Mexico, Iowa, California, Utah, Illinois and recent shows in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where his parents, Marilee Dorn and Michael Markkanen, watched him perform.

He’s performed before crowds ranging in size from 800 to 8,000.

“It’s always nice when there’s more people there and it’s more fun when it’s loud,” he said, adding that the performers love to hear the crowd during the show.

While Markkanen was performing or competing locally he said he’d typically where a comfortable T-shirt and performance-style skating pants.

The Disney full-body costumes are considerably more complex and designed to replicate the Disney characters in order to keep the “Disney magic alive for the kids,” he said.

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Quick costume changes are required behind the scenes, with his shortest time allowed for a change clocking in at 35 seconds.

Markkanen said he’s had a few surprises while working with the show, with the biggest being how quickly being a performer has become routine – in a good way.

After he had several performances in different cities under his belt, Markkanen said he’s gotten into the rhythm of the show and how to come to life as a performer after rolling into a new town and doing a brief warm-up on the ice before showtime.

“You figure everything out and do it out of habit,” he said. “You become very good at it and just have fun.”

That quick adjustment may come from Markkanen’s personal drive to succeed on skates.

He said he started skating when he was 5 and after he’d accomplished what he could locally, he taught himself new moves and at 15 worked with a coach in the Twin Cities and skated in high-level competitions.

An injury while attending Ridgewater College sidelined him and he weighed the pros and cons of having a professional career in skating or continuing to compete and risk more injuries.

While both avenues involve physical abilities, skills and learning choreography, Markkanen said performing in a show is “so much more fun” and less stressful than competing.

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When he was competing, Markkanen said he was worrying about his point score.

Performing with the Disney on Ice show, he said, involves a point score of “seeing the kids smile.”

Instead of doing the complex and dangerous jumps and twirls that are required during competition, he said the show routine involves intricate footwork and keeping time with the count of the music and being synchronized with other performers.

“You can’t fall behind or you’ll fall out of place and people will notice it,” he said.

Since he began skating with the show, Markkanen said he’s learned different step sequences, how to make better jumps and spins and is learning from the older, more experienced skaters.

When asked where he sees himself in the future, Markkanen said ice skating on a national level was his main goal – and he’s doing it.

“I’m going to enjoy this and see where it goes,” he said. Although it is a physically demanding job, he said it can become a “career for life if you want it to be.”

His advice to other young skaters is to work hard, take lessons and pass their tests. “You really have to work hard,” he said. “You can’t be lazy with your skating.”

He also said they should know they don’t have to master a Salchow or Lutz to be a good skater.

“You don’t have to be the best jumper to get a job or be in the show,” he said.

Markkanen said he’s heard that some members of the Diamond Edge Figure Skating Club may come to watch a show in Minneapolis.

“I hope that people can come to the show,” he said.

And if they do come, he hopes they clap and cheer loudly.

Carolyn Lange is a features writer at the West Central Tribune. She can be reached at clange@wctrib.com or 320-894-9750
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