By Cassidy Thornburg, Sports Editor
For most students, coming to Wheaton College means graduating high school and leaving home, a major transition. For transfer Anna Edwards, the transition was even greater. It meant hanging up her ballet shoes and packing up a life she had built for herself in Dallas as a professional dancer.
Sitting in Wheaton’s Kilby House with her hair tied back, black rimmed glasses framing her brown eyes and legs crossed beneath her, Edwards explained how she ended coming to Wheaton at age 23 despite having never visited the campus and having no personal connections. “I prayed about it a lot,” she said. “I felt like the Lord just made it really clear that this is where he wanted me to be.”
Making the decision to come to Wheaton meant giving up competitive dance which had been a constant in Edward’s life for about 14 years.
“I was seven when I started dancing and danced until I was 21,” Edwards said. “When I was about 13 or 14, dancing became pretty serious. I had a ballet instructor who moved from the Netherlands. He came and danced with the Dutch National Ballet professionally and then ended up teaching at my small studio, which is just so crazy. He instilled in me a love for ballet and made me believe that I could pursue dance as a profession and career.”
Out of high school, Edwards went to Belhaven University and majored in dance. Two years in, she still had a strong desire to dance professionally but began to recognize that a dance degree might not get her where she wants to be. “Through a series of events I realized that having a degree doesn’t do as much in the dance world as in the professional world,” she said. “At the end of my second year at Belhaven, I decided to audition for professional ballet companies.”
Edwards flew out to auditions in New York City, Austin and Arkansas. In New York, she was one of nearly 300 dancers trying out.
“They took nine dancers at a time and they cut everybody but seven in the first 20 minutes,” Edwards said. “I was so defeated. I had trained so hard for six months. I thought I was following the Lord’s voice. To have that huge disappointment after all that time and effort, I thought ‘Lord, what am I doing?’”
However, one of Edwards’ friends encouraged her to move to Texas because of the variety of dance opportunities available. Edwards left home and made the move, initially without a job and with only one friend in the city.
“I prayed about it for a while and felt like the Lord was giving me a peace that things were working out for me to move there.” After already making the decision to move there, Edwards called a couple studios in Dallas. “I googled two of the biggest studios I could find. I sent them my resumes and they both offered me jobs.”
Edwards explained what made her experience in Dallas so unique. At the Zion Dance Company, Edwards found a community of Christians who were passionate about dance. “The artistic director was a believer and he taught me what it means to view dance as worship and not to view my performing art and my intimate devotional life with the Lord as two separate things, but how to bring those two things together, and invite the Holy Spirit to move through me as the author of movement,” Edwards said.
Edwards still misses the pre-performance jitters and times with her company before a road performance. Before taking the stage, she always had one routine in particular. “I wear something really weird,” she said. “I wear these huge moon boots; they are basically just huge padded slippers that slip on my feet. They are super ugly, but they keep my feet really warm. I’ll always wear them before shows.”
Edwards reflects on the little moments shared with the other girls in her company, but also the big moments where, she says, God showed up in her life in unexpected ways.
“Looking back, the Lord taught me so much about what it means to trust him in times of uncertainty, knowing that he is orchestrating so much more than I know. In moving to Dallas, and giving me the opportunity to step out in my faith, he gave me one of the best years of my life. I think the choice to continue to trust him even when you don’t know how things are going to end up and to take that step of faith when you believe he is calling you to do something is so important.”
Now living in a house with nine other girls and studying theology at Wheaton College, Edwards says that the Lord continues to use her experiences as a dancer to direct her path.
“After my year in Dallas, I felt like the Lord started to turn my heart and bring me to a place of letting go of dance and this really intense season with ballet. This led me to apply to schools again to finish my degree. I started looking at schools with theology programs. I told the Lord wherever I got the most scholarship money is where I would go. That ended up being Wheaton.”
Though it’s been a while since she’s taken the stage, Edwards continues to use dance as a way to worship and glorify the Lord. This summer she taught barre classes in Tupelo, where her family currently lives, and despite a rigorous class schedule this fall, Edwards finds time to dance in the Wheaton studio in Chrouser. She says she continues to “invite the Holy Spirit to move through [her] as the Author of Movement.”