When Snow White takes to the ice rinks in Baltimore, she will be on familiar territory.
It's not that Karen Preston is familiar with the Baltimore Arena, where she will be playing Snow White in a "Walt Disney's World on Ice" show from Jan. 28 to Feb. 2. It's that Preston is totally at home on the ice, no matter what city or country she is in.
She is an Olympian and Canadian national figure skating champion who decided to turn professional in 1994 in order to accept the role as Snow White.
"When the show ends its run in mid-April, my estimate is that I would have been in close to 1,000 performances," Preston says in a telephone interview from Grand Rapids, Mich., where the show was playing.
For the 25-year-old Preston, being a professional skater can be a lot more pleasant than competing as an amateur.
"There were a lot of adjustments," says Preston of turning pro. "For one thing, as an amateur, you usually spend 11 months training for one event, usually the nationals. And you usually get only one shot at it."
That is far from the case as a professional performer, she says.
"With Walt Disney, you have nine to 10 chances a week to perform," Preston says. "And you are not trying to impress
critical judges, you are trying to send families home with a smile."
She also enjoys another aspect of being a professional skater.
"Now there is a lot of acting involved," she says. "I didn't have to do that before."
The show tells the traditional tale of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" and has a cast of 45. Russian skater Serguei Tartykov performs as the prince.
The show is produced by Kenneth Feld, who also produced "Walt Disney's World On Ice" presentations of "Beauty and the Beast" and "Aladdin."
Preston, whose hometown is Toronto, has been skating since she was 5 years old. Her parents initially thought their daughter would be a championship skier instead of a skater, however.
Preston's parents are members of the Canadian Ski Patrol, an organization that assists injured skiers on the slopes. Preston was 2 years old when she first took to the slopes and still skis when she can. But the time soon came when she had to decide whether skiing or skating would have top priority in her life.
"I had to choose between skating or skiing at the age of 9, and I chose skating," Preston says. "I feel very free on the ice, like I can fly. You can't really get that feeling in skiing."
Skating as an amateur competitor has been a roller coaster ride for Preston.
She won the Canadian Ladies' National Championship in 1989 but was injured during much of the following year. Yet she remained the favorite to win the Canadian national championship in 1991.
"In order to come back from the injury and go for the title again, I made a total commitment to skating," she says. "I did nothing but skate, skate, skate. I didn't start university and rarely saw friends. Basically, I had no life outside of skating. I was consumed by the desire to make the Olympic team."
All that obsession did not pay off. Preston took a tumble three times during her final program and failed to win the title. The performance did, however, make her change her life.
"After I left the arena that day, I suddenly realized I had nothing," she says, "not even my skating."
She decided to cut her skating practice way back, enrolled in college and sought closer relationships with family and friends. "I matured enough to realize that an unbalanced life was not for me," she says.
In 1992, Preston again won the national title and made the Canadian Olympic Team. She turned professional two years later.
She has traveled all over the country with the show as well as to other countries, but "Snow White" is always fresh for her.
"Every building is different, and every audience is different," she says. "So that keeps it fresh."
The ice show recently completed a seven-month tour in Korea and Japan, which Preston found interesting.
"We did have a lot of sold-out crowds there," she says, "but their culture is different. Their culture is such that it is not the case where there will be a lot of screaming and clapping. That was something I had to adjust to."
Preston considers the way skating has shaped her life.
"I am proud of my amateur career but prouder that I turned my life around in 1992," she says. "The combination of school,
friends and skating gave me a balanced life and made me more of a complete person than I was in previous years."
Preston says she does not yet know what the future holds once "Walt Disney's World on Ice" ends it run. She's pretty sure that the future will include one thing, though.
"I am taking it one day at a time," she says. "Whatever I do will probably involve skating. I will be skating until my legs drop off."
What: "Walt Disney's World on Ice -- Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs"
Where: Baltimore Arena, 201 W. Baltimore St.
When: Tuesdayand Wednesdayat 7: 30 p.m.; Jan. 30 at 10: 30 a.m. and 7: 30 p.m.; Jan. 31 at 7: 30 p.m.; Feb. 1 at noon, 3: 30 and 7: 30 p.m.; Feb. 2 at 1 p.m. and 5 p.m.
Tickets: $9.50, $12.50, $16.50 and $28.50; tickets are $2 less for children under 12
Call: The Baltimore Arena box office at (410) 347-2010 or TicketMaster at (410) 481-SEAT
Pub Date: 1/23/97