Crystal Edwards is a dancer, choreographer and the manager for the Black Label Movement, a dance company that engages the human condition through movement. She taught a masterclass with University of Florida students and was a founding member of Dance in a Suitcase, a student dance group. In honor of her accomplishments, the UF College of the Arts recognized Edwards with the 2019 40 Gators Under 40 award. Here, Edwards explains her journey.
Whitney: What inspired you to study dance at the University of Florida?
Crystal: I knew I wanted to attend the University of Florida for many years. My grandfather used to help coach sports and was always wearing Gator gear and cheering for the Gators. Being one of the best schools academically in the state, UF was the highest on my list. I was not sure I wanted to be a dance major my senior year of high school, so I did not go to auditions around the state. I knew about the programs and thought I would check it out when I arrived. By the end of my senior year of high school, I knew that is what I wanted, and so I immediately became connected to the dance program. I took classes my first semester as if I was a major and then auditioned the fall of my freshman year. Kelly Drummond Cawthon was a huge inspiration and draw to the program when I was in class with her for my first basic modern class. She had me hooked for sure.
W: Were you always certain that you wanted a career in dance?
C: I knew that the arts would always be part of my career and dance for sure, but I did not know that I would be dancing at the professional level that I have been for my career. It’s extremely exciting to get to do what I love and follow my passions.
W: What was your initial reaction when you heard that you received the 40 Gators Under 40 award?
C: WOW. Really? I knew that my professor Joan had wanted to nominate me for something but I did not know if it was a university-wide award. I was completely honored and humbled.
W: What does the 40 Gators Under 40 award mean to you?
C: It means so much to me. The arts are undervalued in society as a whole. Being a dancer and choreographer, the idea of being recognized with alumni of all professions and walks of life is an incredible feeling. I feel proud to not only represent dance artists but to represent the College of the Arts and School of Theatre and Dance, which definitely molded me into the artist I am today.
W: You were a founding member of Dance in a Suitcase, a student dance group at UF. What inspired you to do this? How did this come together?
C: We needed to raise money for our travels to dance conferences and show. My best friend Megan Kendzior had been involved in student government, so we knew that if we formed a group like this we would be able to raise money. So we just started it. A group of best friends who wanted to raise money so we could travel and dance and help those dancers who potentially couldn't do these things because of financial barriers. We had a lot of motivation and heart. Our love for each other and the program played a huge part in our mission and drive to accomplish things.
W: Is there a certain memory or moment that stands out to you from this club?
C: Definitely when we went to Virginia for American College Dance Festival in the Spring of 2009, my senior year. We had raised money to offset the costs of the hotels and fees for all of the students who were selected to present work at the festival. It was so amazing knowing we had accomplished what we set out to do. It was a start!
W: Are there any specific moments in your career that you are most proud of?
C: I am incredibly proud to have found two different companies that I fully connected with on an artistic and physical level. Black Label Movement is my heart and soul, and when I auditioned for the company I immediately knew that was my artistic home. Getting a call in February 2010 that they unanimously wanted me to join the company blew me away. I had been asked to join a professional company my first year out of college, and I couldn't believe it. Exactly what I dreamed.
DIAVOLO was a bucket list company for me. I auditioned fresh out of college and made it to the end of a TEN hour audition where I was one of five girls and the only one that they had not met before or had been part of their company in some way. It was a HUGE deal for me as a 22-year-old college graduate just stepping into the professional world. So when the company asked me to come audition again in 2011 I could not turn it down. Getting into the company and being able to create and tour the world with some of the most incredible performers I have ever danced with is definitely a huge accomplishment and bright moment for me.
W: Tell me about your role at the Black Label Movement.
C: I started off as a mover (our word for dancer) in 2010 after going to an audition in Minneapolis on a whim. I never dreamed I would meet Carl Flink (artistic director) and find my artistic home. The choreography fit me perfectly and challenged me in all the ways I needed. It was unreal the magic I felt. When I received the phone call to join the company, I leapt in the air and definitely screamed with joy and excitement. I began dancing with the company in May 2010 after finishing an internship with the Kennedy Center in D.C. I have been with the company ever since. I took a year off to dance with DIAVOLO but still stayed connected and was back performing in the fall of 2012 again with BLM and DIAVOLO.
By January 2013, I had taken over as Managing Director. I have always been an administrator so this felt right. I now was able to manage and help run the company that I loved so much and was able to continue dancing and creating work with Carl. When I moved back to Florida, I traveled to perform and rehearse with the company for a couple years while managing the company remotely. I have had two children since 2015 and traveling is a bit harder now, but I am luckily still able to perform yearly and of course manage all the incredible programs we have right now. I am even lucky enough to get to bring the company to the Phillips Center this October and perform on my home turf with my favorite artists.
W: What are you looking forward to next in your career?
C: Continuing to grow and develop my craft. Being a mentor to younger artists and administrators and always learning. I am unsure where my career will take me as I have many desires and goals but I know I will always be dancing and always representing the arts through my work. Whenever anyone asks me "Are you still dancing?" I always respond with "Of course, it's my career!"