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How to train like a ‘Disney on Ice’ performer

To pull off the aerial stunts and skating feats in 'Disney on Ice' — at Philadelphia's Wells Fargo Center Dec. 24-31 — actors follow intense workout regimens that include pull-ups, leg raises, flips, and ab training. Performer Melodee Clysdale shares insights into her seven-day-a-week routine.

Disney on Ice's latest show, 'Mickey’s Search Party,' heads to the Wells Fargo Center December 24-31.
Disney on Ice's latest show, 'Mickey’s Search Party,' heads to the Wells Fargo Center December 24-31.Read moreCourtesy Feld Entertainment / Courtesy Feld Entertainment

For one of her stunts in the Disney on Ice production of Mickey’s Search Party, performer Melodee Clysdale climbs a 20-foot rope and holds on as a fellow performer spins it as fast as possible. As the spinning accelerates, Clysdale’s body flies straight out to the side, her hands gripped tight around the rope. It’s an awe-inspiring move — one that requires immense physical strength.

“For a lot of these tricks, you want to be stiff as a board but light as a feather, so you end up engaging every muscle in your body,” Clysdale, 51, says.

She switches between skates and shoes to play her five roles in this year’s show, running at the Wells Fargo Center Dec. 24 through 31. She’s been gearing up for the performance since June with an intense, near-daily exercise regimen.

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But though she’s experienced soreness from head to toe, you’ll rarely hear her complain. She knows aching is part of the gig. “I’ve never been in better shape, ever,” says Clysdale, who has performed with Disney on Ice for 23 years. “If you line up all of our girls, almost everyone has a six-pack.”

Train like a Disney on Ice athlete-performer, and you’d likely have a six-pack, too. The newest version of the high-energy act features figure-skating choreography, aerial stunts, acrobatics, hoverboard tricks, and other moves that require equal parts strength and agility.

Like many of the other 44 performers in the production, Clysdale works out seven days a week to prepare. The only time she takes a day off is when her body absolutely mandates it or when she has three live shows in a single day (which adds up to nearly six hours of movement).

Toning all those muscles means running through a daily 60- to 90-minute workout, plus 10 to 15 minutes of abdominal exercises (usually done in the company of her coworkers), and often a two-mile run.

It may seem like a grueling routine, but Clysdale maintains a positive attitude. She says she thanks the universe every morning when she wakes to find that both her arms are still attached; it’s important to celebrate the little things, she says. She also nods to the long-term benefits of working out.

“If you just did a quarter of what we do, your posture would improve, your back pain would likely go away, and you’d be one of those spunky people into their older years walking around with a smile on their face at the grocery store,” she says, adding that anyone can benefit from aspects of a performer’s training regimen.

Intrigued? If you want to join in, Clysdale suggests two starting points: abdominal training and pull-ups.

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“Performer or not, core strength is so important for virtually everything that you do,” she says. Her ab routine consists primarily of Shaun T’s Insanity Max:30 Ab Attack, a 10-minute program that Clysdale half-jokingly describes as “nauseating.” (She occasionally swaps it out for the 15-minute ab workout from P90X.)

To supplement that, she does a daily pull-up session, which includes five sets of six pull-ups each, four sets of 20 90-degree leg lifts (done while hanging from a trapeze), four sets of eight to 10 180-degree leg lifts, , and “dead hangs,” an arm-strength exercise in which one hangs from a trapeze for four 45-second rounds. Clysdale also completes an array of exercises on the aerial straps.

“Just about every move we do with aerials — like flipping and tumbling on the silks — requires pulling up our entire body weight, so we really can’t skip the pull-ups," she says.

For those exercising at home or in a gym, Clysdale suggests using a chin-up bar for pull-ups and leg lifts. “Any kind of rope you can climb is great for you, too.”

Clysdale credits sleep (at least eight or nine hours a night), “horizontal time” (whether a nap or 10 minutes of simply lying down), and regular three-minute meditation sessions for keeping her energized throughout the day. When she’s not working out, she’s likely rehearsing or performing, both draining activities in themselves. And when she’s not busy with those, she’s almost always chowing down — perhaps the most important of all, she says.

“Diet is huge” for maintaining energy. “I’m always eating. I eat like a 200-pound man. If I get enough protein throughout the day, I can often go home and still feel good.”

Just shy of 5-foot-4 and slim as can be, Clysdale hasn’t looked at a scale in 20 years. She follows a pescatarian diet and begins nearly every day with a plate of three scrambled eggs and veggies like avocado, tomatoes, and purple potatoes.

“If I don’t have time to make eggs, I’ll eat a can of tuna," she laughs. "It’s not great.”

For lunch, she opens a large can of soup, like minestrone, and adds “enough rice or quinoa to feed a family.” She’ll also snack on fruit and nuts throughout the day. “If we want candy, we eat dates,” she says. “There’s something about those creamy medjool dates — uhh, just so good.”

Dinner depends on whether she’s on the road or whether her husband, who has a background as a chef, is cooking. Party-size salads are in regular rotation, topped with two eggs, half a can of chickpeas, cheese, a tin of anchovies, and lots of veggies.

Clysdale also drinks plenty of water and takes an iron supplement. Occasionally, she’ll have a glass of wine, which she notes not only helps with relaxation but also provides a small shot of iron.

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Once she’s finished with this year’s Disney on Ice production, she doesn’t plan to take it any easier.

“In the offseason, I work out even harder because I don’t have to perform and have time to try new classes and new workouts,” says Clysdale, who plans to stay with Disney on Ice for 20 more years. “I’m sore a lot, but ... it’s nice to know and feel how strong you can be.”

She champions the idea of staying positive and notes its importance for anyone starting a new workout regimen.

“It’s really important to understand that it’s going to hurt and there will be days where you won’t feel like training," she says, "but if you just show up, and show up with a good attitude, you’ll continue to improve and succeed. Also, don’t underestimate the power of an Epsom salt bath.”