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Siesta resident Judy Thomas receiving accolades for skating career

By Jane Bartnett

There’s something magical about dancing on ice.

“It’s a sport, an art, and a combination of ballet and gymnastics. It’s the closest thing to flying.” That is how Judy Thomas, one of the most celebrated figure skaters in the world, describes the magic that happens when a brilliant ice skater performs.

It’s been a busy, rewarding and exciting time for this Siesta Key resident whose career in the ice-skating world has spanned more than 50 years. In May, Thomas was inducted into the U.S. Figure Skating/Professional Skaters Hall of Fame. A year earlier, in 2023, she was inducted into the ProSkaters Hall of Fame and, in 2017, the Professional Skaters Association awarded Thomas the Sonja Henie Edi Award.

Only a few months ago, Thomas also stepped away from her role as the woman who held the power to create ice skating stars, the performers who dance and spin and bring Disney on Ice to life. After a 30-year career, she retired from Feld Entertainment, the Ellenton-based company that produces Disney on Ice.

As casting director and production coordinator for Feld Entertainment, Thomas discovered and recruited talented ice skaters from around the world. Those that she chose would become traveling cast members of the nine Disney on Ice productions, as well as several other non-touring Feld ice skating productions. Disney reports that in the past year, more than 400 Disney on Ice performers entertained audiences in 16 countries.

At Feld, Thomas also was a part of the Disney on Ice team that oversaw the development of new shows while maintaining that special magical element in existing productions. Throughout the years, stars such as Nancy Kerrigan and U.S. national champion Scott Davis performed with the company.

Thomas estimates that during the past 30 years, she recruited more than 1,000 skaters. According to the Professional Skaters Association, she enjoyed a longer career with a singular employer than anyone else in the world of ice shows.

In the beginning

As a young girl growing up in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Thomas could never have known what an exciting and successful career lay before her. As one of three daughters of Pentti Lund, a Finnish-born Boston Bruins and New York Rangers professional hockey player who won the Calder Memorial Trophy as Rookie of the Year in 1949, Thomas was enrolled, along with her two sisters, in local figure skating clubs. She was a natural.

After a move to Vancouver in the early 1970s, as a high school student Thomas and a friend visited Seattle and saw a recruiting poster for the Ice Follies, one of the most prestigious touring ice companies of its time. Thomas auditioned and in 1973 she joined the company and began her professional ice-skating career.

In 1979, Feld Entertainment began producing the Ice Follies. In 1981, the company took over the Disney-themed ice shows. “It was a good change,” Thomas said. “Disney brought families and multi-generations to the shows.”

Thomas was cast in the first show, Walt Disney’s World on Ice. “It was a variety show and the premiere was at the Meadowlands in New Jersey. On opening night, it was full to the roof,” she said. “From that day on I never looked back. I made incredible friendships. It became family as we lived and worked together. It was a remarkable environment because there’s a shared passion for skating and travel.”

During those years, she also performed in some of the first Disney on Ice shows to tour outside of the U.S. They included Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom on Ice — Sport Goofy, Snow White and Pinocchio.

Thomas continued to tour with the company as a performance director. In 1991, she became the company’s recruiting manager and four years later Thomas began the job that would carry her through to 2024.

In addition to overseeing a cast of close to 450 touring performers, on occasion she was also called on to choreograph. The number of skaters who have Thomas to thank for their careers and those who have stayed in contact with her are too many to count.

During Thomas’ 30 years at Feld Entertainment, she also met her husband, Dave. He also began his career as a performer but transitioned to management and completed his career as a senior executive at Feld. The couple made Siesta Key their home in 1991.

After taking a few months off, Thomas is moving onto her next project. As a member of the board of directors of the non-profit ProSkaters.org, she has plenty to do. In her free time, she hopes to spend some time kayaking the waters of Siesta Key.

“As long as you do what you love, you won’t work at day in your life,” she said. “Looking back, I don’t know if I could have scripted it any better.”

Jane Bartnett
Author: Jane Bartnett

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