A career in ballet or ballet teaching isn’t necessarily a linear career.
And that’s a fact former ballet instructor and current figure skating coach Jenn Edwards knows intimately. “I’ve done the freelance thing where I had to temp, tend bar, or trek out to the suburbs to teach. That’s the life of a dancer.”
While Edwards lives and works in Lab West, she grew up in Vancouver, took dance from ages 3-8, and became obsessed with figure skating. “I lived for figure skating. Still, when I graduated from high school, I discovered I hated the competition part of figure skating but loved the movement. I applied for the contemporary dance program at Simon Fraser University, and dance became my career and calling.” She says.
After finishing the program, Edwards started a dance collective, cut her teeth on choreography, organized and produced shows, and taught all over Vancouver. Eventually, she heard rumours of a land of plenty. “I started hearing the dance scene in Germany was unreal, that there were companies and opportunities, so I moved on a whim.”
Although she planned to stay for three months, Edwards found work with a Shadow Theatre Company that created custom shows for corporations and toured family-friendly shows, and spent years splitting her time between Berlin and Vienna. “I worked out of Vienna but had an apartment in Berlin. Berlin is a city with a terrific pulse. You could see an experimental contemporary dance show each night. You had your choice of about ten different professional-level dance classes every day. I took full advantage.”
In 2017, Edwards moved to Toronto. “I wanted a change, so I found myself freelancing again and getting into yoga teaching, but I had this burnout from living in a big city, trying to stay on top of bills. Pre-pandemic, in 2019, I applied to teach ballet, jazz, and modern dance in Labrador West. I loved the idea of steady work and living closer to nature.”
Upon moving to Labrador, Edwards immediately felt the challenges of teaching in a small place. She explains. “Well, there’s no anonymity. Very quickly, everyone knows that you’re the new dance instructor. But, on the plus side, you get very attached to the students and want to ensure they have opportunities.” She continues, “there’s a lot I love about teaching, but learning to explain things in the simplest possible way has been an exciting challenge, and it’s helped me understand movement better.”
Edwards recently made another change and became the figure skating coach in Wabush. “It’s a rewarding change. I get to instruct students one-on-one, and there’s not much room for that in dance sometimes.”
What is the biggest misconception about teaching?
“I think people assume teachers aren’t practicing artists, but each year I’ve been in Labrador, I’ve focused on creating a piece. Last year, I flew in dancers from Vancouver and created new work. Next week, I’m shooting a music video for a band I’m in. I also still skate with a group out of Montreal. Teaching is artful, and teachers are artists.”
The following year is shaping up to be a busy one for Edwards. She’ll be touring a show with her skating group Le Patin Libre, her music project Ptarmageddon will be traveling and recording, and teaching and working with figure skaters in Wabush will continue to be a part of her life. “I love doing a little bit of everything. “Performing, traveling, teaching, and choreographing. I also do some writing for Dance International and some grant writing. It’s going to be a good year.”
RAPID FIRE with Jenn Edwards
Favorite Ballet: Giselle. I saw it in New York once, and it’s just this reference point for me.
Favorite Choreographer: Crystal Pite. She’s amazing.
My favorite thing in the natural world to be inspired by is Snow; how it falls and looks here in Labrador is inspiring. I snowboard too, and I find inspiration in that movement.
Favorite Dance Festival: I have two. The first is Impulstanz in Austria. It’s an incredible summer-long festival. You can rent an Impulstanz bike to attend the different events; it’s all parties and workshops. I also love Dancing on the Edge in Vancouver. It’s got genuine grassroots, weird feeling to it, and it’s the place for subversive pieces.
Favorite post-dance/post-workout snack? I love a good smoothie.
Pop artist you'd love to create choreo for? Billie Eilish would be fun.
If money was no object, what would you create? A great big center for dance and music to host classes and performances, and run a dance company out of!
Ballet is taking over Newfoundland and Labrador, explore more about ballet in our province through our ballet portal. Or visit our Ballet Kelowna Tour page, touring from May 12 to May 30 with Kittiwake Dance Theatre at select locations.