Jenn Edwards’ journey from figure skating to professional dance and back again

The SFU alum combines her passions with the Le Patin Libre skating company

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Professional headshot of Jenn Edwards, a Caucasian woman with reddish-brown hair and light blue eyes
Edwards making moves as a multidisciplinary performer. PHOTO: Garrett Kling

By: Sara Wong, Peak Associate

When someone asked me whether I miss my figure skating days, I usually summarize with, “I miss performing. I don’t miss the pressure and intensity of it.” In an interview with SFU alum and former competitive skater Jenn Edwards, I was comforted in discovering I wasn’t alone in this experience. Now, Edwards has found a place to skate again with Le Patin Libre, a Montréal-based company. Over email, Edwards described what led her to return on the ice.

“Looking back, competing made me pretty anxious,” said Edwards. “I didn’t love being out there all alone in front of the judges. And as I got more advanced and the jumps got harder, I started to realize it was the dance element of skating that I really loved.” 

Sadly, there are few ways for figure skaters to make it professionally outside of competing. As Edwards said in an interview with Dance International, she “wasn’t interested in being a coach or in dressing up as a Disney character.” So, at 18, Edwards put away her skates and began her studies at SFU.

“I came to SFU not really knowing what I wanted to do as a career,” Edwards admitted. Since she enjoyed AP English in high school, she started working towards an English degree. But athletics were still important to Edwards. 

“My plan was to do a minor in dance, because I had just quit skating and wanted something to keep me moving,” she said. “But then I became obsessed with modern and contemporary dance, and ended up getting concurrent degrees.”

After graduating, Edwards’ career as a performer and choreographer took her around the world. She is currently based in Newfoundland and Labrador, where she also works as a yoga, barre fitness, and off-ice movement instructor. She contributes to dance magazines and tours with a local band called Ptarmageddon. Despite these successful ventures, figure skating remains Edwards’ first love. Thanks to Le Patin Libre, she has a place to revisit and express joy on-ice. 

“I first became aware of Le Patin Libre in 2017, when The Cultch presented their show Vertical Influences in Vancouver,” Edwards said. While The Cultch hosted Le Patin Libre, their performances took place at the Britannia rink. Being in a familiar environment, but seeing figure skating like never before, Edwards “knew pretty much immediately it was something [she] needed to be a part of.” She approached Le Patin Libre’s artistic director, Alexandre Hamel, and learned they were quietly holding auditions. Despite being about a decade out of practice, Edwards tried out and earned a spot in the company.

What makes Le Patin Libre stand out from traditional skating clubs is the focus on movement and theatricality, elements that aren’t prioritized as much in competitions, or even showcases. The elimination of elitism allows for a more welcoming creative atmosphere. Edwards shared she feels more connected to a figure skating community now with Le Patin Libre. “I love how authentic we’re encouraged to be in performance. There’s no pretense, we don’t have to jazz anything up or paste smiles on our faces,” she added. And because Le Patin Libre is a group, moving as one on ice, Edwards doesn’t have to skate alone anymore.

Le Patin Libre’s latest show, Murmuration, presents the same principles but on a whole new scale. “There are 15 skaters, whereas all the previous pieces have had only five,” Edwards explained. With more emphasis on a large ensemble, the idea is to emulate a flock of birds. 

Watching the trailer, I got chills almost instantly. Aside from the visual of one skater being showered in ice crystals, the group’s collective movements felt haunting and edgy. They glided so gracefully, yet with such sharp precision. I’ve rarely seen this kind of choreography in a figure skating routine before.

“When we’re moving together, we’re constantly making these minute adjustments and calculations to create the overall picture you see on the ice. It’s really fun to perform, because it forces you to be so present, and connected with everyone in the group,” Edwards said.

After a two year delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the group recently debuted Murmuration in Paris. Though no other shows have been announced on their website, Edwards revealed that “a presentation in the Lower Mainland is definitely in the works.”

For more from Jenn Edwards, follow her on Instagram @jjedwards. And check out Le Patin Libre on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.