Ice Sisters: Two friends cosplay for children in the High Country


Anna Muckenfuss

Emily Rayner, 25 (left) and Moriah McKinney, 28 (right) are best friends and roommates who love to visit community events such as Boone BOO! and the Blowing Rock WinterFest dressed up as their favorite Disney characters, Elsa and Anna from the movie “Frozen.” Emily Rayner said Disney princesses are their favorite to dress up as “especially when we’re around all the little kids.”

Harley Nefe, Reporter

Queen Elsa and Princess Anna from Arendelle have made their way to Boone as two best friends and roommates cosplay the characters from Disney’s “Frozen” at different community events, such as Boone BOO!, the Boone Christmas Parade and the Blowing Rock WinterFest.

Emily Rayner, 25, and Moriah McKinney, 28, met when they went to Watauga High School, when Emily Rayner was a freshman and Moriah McKinney was a sophomore. 

“They both share a love for costumes — Emily out of her interest in cosplay and drama, and Moriah more from costumes for costumes sake,” Moriah McKinney’s mom, Cathy McKinney, wrote in an email. “They would have sleepovers at each other’s houses, and inevitably, when they were at my house, I would be digging out materials that could help create the desired look. Emily would assign a role, and Moriah would happily assume it.”

Emily Rayner and Moriah McKinney both said they enjoy dressing up as characters and greeting and taking photos with kids.

“(Emily’s) face just breaks into a huge smile when the kids come up for a hug, a photo or just to talk,” Emily Rayners’s mom, Karen Rayner, wrote in an email. “(Emily) just loves interacting with the children and their parents.” 

The duo also participated in Frozen Days at Watauga County Public Library, where they played “Frozen” and sang some of the songs from the movie, Emily Rayner said. They volunteer on a weekly basis at the library.

The friends dress up as other characters including Disney princesses Snow White and Cinderella.

“Disney princesses are our favorite to do, especially when we’re around all the little kids, and they love it,” Emily Rayner said.

Elsa and Anna are the main characters they dress up as. 

“I love dressing up as Anna because she has the same attitude that I do,” Emily Rayner said. “We do it mainly for all the little kids because they love seeing all of their princesses come to life and thinking we’re actually real.”

Emily Rayner recounted when they went to Boone Mall last year dressed as Anna and Elsa for children. 

“They were going trick-or-treating around the mall, and this lady came up with her daughter and said, ‘Hey, can my daughter have a picture with you guys? She thinks you guys are the real thing,’” Emily Rayner said. “It makes us very happy.”

After Emily Rayner and Moriah McKinney began cosplaying the “Frozen” characters, Karen Rayner named them the Ice Sisters.

“Their friendship is like that of two sisters — they have their ups and downs, but they are always there to support each other,” Karen Rayner wrote.

Moriah McKinney said she chose Elsa because she’s older and because she loves the character’s attitude. 

“She is sassy like me and serious like I am,” Moriah McKinney said. “I just want to be like her.”

Cathy McKinney wrote that Moriah loves fashion and has a good eye for style.

“She has let me know more than once that the outfit I had put on was not acceptable,” wrote Cathy McKinney, who is also a professor and director of music therapy at App State.

Emily Rayner said she wants to be a lot like Anna because “she’s very brave, and she never gives up. She keeps going.”

Karen Rayner wrote that Emily is “a very happy, confident and resilient young lady,” who loves her life in Boone.

Inspiration for their time cosplaying comes from merciless bullying they both faced growing up at school, Karen Rayner wrote.

“So, this warms my heart so much because the girls are so positive and encouraging with all the kids,” Karen Rayner wrote. “I think they feel like they are giving back to the community, and in such a wonderful, supporting way. They are negating all that bullying by turning it around.”

Emily Rayner and Moriah McKinney are both App State alumnae and graduated from the Scholars with Diverse Abilities Program, which “aims to prepare college-aged students with intellectual disabilities for personal growth and occupational success,” according to the SDAP website.

“Our goals as a program (are) to provide students with an opportunity to take classes and experience college life as neurotypical students do, with an emphasis on helping them develop their strengths and skills,” wrote Anna Ward, SDAP director.

Emily Rayner and Moriah McKinney graduated from SDAP in 2016 and 2015 respectively; however, they both chose to continue their education by auditing classes at App State, meaning they take courses without receiving assessment.

“Now that we’re in college, (bullying) doesn’t happen anymore, which makes us happier,” Emily Rayner said. “College is way better because we have more friends, and there are more clubs you can join and so many different things that are there, and we just think of App State as another home.”

Emily Rayner and Moriah McKinney have participated in classes involving theater, dancing and the arts. Ward wrote their choices in classes helped develop their interest in cosplay.

“(Moriah) took cosmetology classes in high school and can give an awesome head massage during shampooing. For years she did her nails every night to match the outfit she had planned for the next day,” Cathy McKinney wrote. “This and her interest in fashion evolved into her focus on theater — especially costumes, makeup and hair — during her time in SDAP.”

After Emily Rayner and Moriah McKinney graduated from SDAP, they began living with each other as roommates. Their families realized they could live independently, so they arranged for Emily Rayner and Moriah McKinney to live downtown so they had access to AppalCart, App State’s campus and activities Boone offers. 

“It’s been a great success,” Karen Rayner wrote. “They buy their own groceries, cook their own food, keep up with the apartment and laundry.”

Emily Rayner and Moriah McKinney both volunteer, work part-time jobs, and attend classes, club meetings and events on campus.

Emily Rayner has two part-time jobs, at the Appalachian New River Vet and Stick Boy Bakery.

Moriah McKinney has held a summer position at the Horn in the West costume shop and has worked part time for several years in a local hair salon.

 Emily Rayner and Moriah McKinney have also been involved with the BeanStalk Community Theatre in Boone.

Although Emily Rayner and Moriah McKinney enjoy being best friends, they both said they are waiting for their happily ever after when they find their special someone who is also interested in doing cosplay.

The next event Emily Rayner and Moriah McKinney are looking to go to as the Ice Sisters is Christmas in July in West Jefferson.

“It’s a really amazing thing,” Emily Rayner said. “It’s a lot of fun. We love doing it because we get to be a different character for a couple of days, and it just makes us really happy.”