Growing up on Michigan’s western, Nikki Czuhajewski’s interest in ice skating sparked after attending a birthday party at a rink. At the young age of 4, Czuhajewski knew that she wanted a career performing on the ice.
“I had never skated prior to that, but when I got on the ice, it was supernatural,” she says. “I fell in love with it and stuck with it.”
The professional ice skater has achieved her goal in many ways. Working as a figure skating coach throughout her time at Adrian College, Czuhajewski went on to compete with Team USA from 2015 through 2022 as a synchronized skater.
Fresh from her last competition as part of Team USA, Czuhajewski laced up her skates for another endeavor — skating alongside beloved Walt Disney Studios characters in Feld Entertainment and Disney’s ice show, Disney on Ice: Frozen and Encanto.
The Michigan-native spoke to Hour Detroit about her favorite performances, Disney characters, and more, ahead of the Detroit leg of the tour.
Who do you play in the Disney on Ice show?
I’m a member of the ensemble, which means I get to be in so many of the different production numbers throughout act one and act two.
Who’s your favorite character to play in the ensemble?
They’re more supporting roles throughout the show, so they don’t always have a character name specifically, but they’re there to help enhance the whole production and performance. I really enjoy “We Don’t Talk About Bruno ” as a favorite number to perform as an ensemble member or “Surface Pressure.” We have some ensemble donkeys, which is really fun. They’re all really great numbers.
If you were to break out from the ensemble, do you have a character you’d like to play in the future?
I really love Anna from Frozen. I think she is incredibly brave and confident and super fun and bubbly at the same time. I also really love Tinkerbell. Peter Pan is my favorite movie, so I love Tinkerbell’s spunk and sass. She just has so much personality.
What would you say are the biggest differences between training for Team USA and preparing for a Disney on Ice performance?
For my past training, we would train for one or two competitive programs. Especially with synchronized skating, which I was on Team USA for, we would train one specific spot in a program out of a team of 16. In the show, the mind-shift is a little different. You’re expected to know every single number, every single spot because you never know when an opportunity may arise where you’re asked to step in. The focus is a little bit different.
In terms of the competitive skating side, you’re focused on all these really hard technical elements a little more. While you’re still performing many of the same technical skills in the ice show, it’s a little bit more focused on the performance quality and developing the character and training those characters on more than just interpreting music. I really like the shift through Disney on Ice that we get to portray more specific characters or themes and try to bring these movies to life.
And you’re not getting scored or judged for it.
Exactly. We’re doing it because it’s something you love. You love performing; you get to perform with incredible castmates who are extremely talented. It’s a really cool opportunity.
How long does it take for you to learn all of the routines?
There’s a lot of different numbers featured in both act one and act two, which makes it so much fun because it feels like you get to keep seeing really exciting numbers. We spent five weeks at rehearsal in Lakeland, Florida learning the entire show. Throughout that entire time, we learned different parts off the ice first, then we took it to the ice. It was a really good time to break it down and make sure everyone knew everything.
Since this tour features Frozen and Encanto, is there a character from either of these movies that you personally relate to?
I would say Anna is the number one character that I would find myself most relating to. I think there’s little bits within each character that you can always be like, “Wow, I relate with Elsa” in certain aspects here, or with Mirabel and how she feels throughout parts of the show. I think it’s cool that you can find little bits and pieces within all of our characters.
Is there any tour stop that you are looking forward to? Is there a city that you haven’t been to yet?
I’m really excited for Montreal, Canada, coming up in a few weeks after this. I have a college roommate who lives there, so I’m really excited for her to come out and watch us, and to perform our show in a second language as well.
What is the most satisfying part of working with Disney on Ice?
Getting to perform and bring these stories to life and seeing how our guests love these stories just as much as we do. Getting them to interact — getting up and dancing, singing along — just seeing that and being a part of that feels so magical.
Disney on Ice: Frozen and Encanto brings Anna, Elsa, Olaf, and the Madrigal family to Little Caesars Arena from Feb. 16 through 19. Tickets start at $20. Little Caesars Arena, 2645 Woodward Ave., Detroit; ticketmaster.com.