ALBANY — As the newest Disney on Ice production urges audiences to “Dream Big,” its biggest storyline may just lie hidden within its cast of ensemble skaters.
For generations, Disney has sparked the imaginations of audiences, encouraging young minds to face the obstacles and pursue their dreams. As Disney On Ice presents Dream Big skates into Albany this week, audiences will embark on a triumphant journey through a collection of inspiring stories connected by a cast of characters with a desire to explore the depths, heights and horizons of their dreams. Alongside Moana and demigod Maui are nine tales of courage and heart, including Frozen, Coco, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and Tangled.
Then, there’s the tenth, untold tale that involves Mario Castro.
As an ensemble skater for Disney on Ice, Mario Castro can be lost among the faces skating by. His story, however, stands out from his peers. Where most of his castmates draw their earliest childhood memories from time spent on ice, Castro recalls buying his first pair of skates at the age of 28.
A native of Brazil, Castro was 28 years old — lifetimes older than his peers — before he laced on his first pair of ice skates. The warm-climate country known for its rain forests, its beaches and its love for soccer, has no reputation for winter sports. In fact, Brazil has amassed 128 Olympic medals to date, but none of them were earned while participating in the Winter Games. Ice, is just not common.
Castro is a natural athlete. Aside from his love of ice skating, he picked up skiing shortly after moving to the United States.
“On the same day I learned to ski,” he said, “I was going down the black diamond slopes.”
Castro was in the midst of a professional acting career before he took to skating. After studying theatre in high school, he proceeded to earn roles in commercials, radio and television dramas.
One day, he said he was in a shopping mall that had an ice rink. One visit to the rink was followed by another, and then another. He soon realized he had a passion for skating.
The pursuit of a career in ice skating presented a large obstacle for Castro. In Brazil, he said, there are no ice skating coaches. Instead, he relied on video cassette recordings of Kurt Browning, Kristi Yamaguchi and other skaters. When that wasn’t enough, he decided to move to the United States. He was attending a Disney on Ice show in Florida when he found his first opportunity to skate professionally.
Castro answered an open invitation printed on the back of his program to audition for Disney on Ice. After skating in front of the casting directors, he was encouraged to hire a coach and to come back once he improved his technique.
“You have the potential to skate in our show,” he remembered hearing.
A year later, Castro auditioned and landed a role on the production of “Aladdin.” Nearly 25 years later, at 57, he continues to skate for Feld Entertainment. Retirement, he said, is not in his immediate plans. He said he continues to do what he does because of one thing.
“My story is an inspiration to the people,” said Castro. “It doesn’t matter which profession, wherever you may go, you have to have passion. Passion for whatever you do. … You don’t go with passion, you can not go anywhere.”