After 37-years of teaching classical ballet and jazz to students in Cootamundra, Christine Edwards will be moving to the New South Wales South Coast at the end of the month to begin life in retirement.
Better known as Chris, or to her students as ‘Miss Chris’, the dance teacher has made an instrumental impact on the community since 1984, where she began her teaching at Cootamundra Sports Stadium. The 63-year-old Edwards (nee Hodges) was born in Cootamundra and attended Sacred Heart School.
But it was after her father passed away at the age of seven that Chris really started to develop a passion for ballet, under the tutelage of Molly Windred – a lady close to Chris’ heart.
“That was the beginning of my love of dance. Our family were a musical family, so we always had music playing at home and dance which was beautiful, and that’s sort of carried on in our own family now,” Chris said.
“From then on I danced about six days a week when I was a bit older.
“Music, song and dance have been very prominent in our lives.”
Chris and her husband John will be moving to Sussex Inlet at the end of September to be closer with their grandchildren, something which has been hard to do over the last 18 months with travel restrictions in place from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The reason is that our grandchildren are only 40 minutes away and we need to spend some more time with them, which we haven’t been able to do for a lot of years because we’ve been managing Heritage Motel,” Chris continued.
“Along with the motel, I run a full-time ballet school so it’s time to have a change of pace.”
Chris said that one of her greatest satisfactions of being a dance teacher for 37-years is the amount of loyalty shown by her students, with Chris teaching multiple generations across the same families.
“I’m very proud of that. What I’m proud of is the loyalty that my students have given me. My students and their mothers and grandmothers, there’s been a lot of love to and from,” Chris gleamed.
“Teaching has made me have a lot of empathy. They all come from different home life, and we tend to treat them like family, look after them and nurture them over many years.
“It’s been a win-win situation. It’s been a beautiful career.”
Chris revealed something most people don’t know about her is that she has lived with scoliosis throughout her life.
“In a funny way, it’s something that has kept me going. With Pilates and ballet, it does keep you slim and fit because it’s very painful,” Chris admitted.
“Scoliosis has helped with keeping fit and a focus on something that I love to do. I’ve pushed on all these years, and I’ve just loved teaching. It’s kept me going and has been a huge part of my life.”
During her time as a dance teacher, Chris has well and truly given back to the community, generously donating over $100,000 of annual concert takings throughout the years to Life Education.
In 1998 Chris received the prestigious Shelley Taylor-Smith Award for her outstanding contribution to Life Education.
This was followed in 2006 with the Golden Harold Award, which to that date had only been awarded to one other recipient Australia wide.
The accolades don’t stop there either, with Chris receiving a CAT (Canberra and Area Theatre) Award in 1996 for the best dancing concert production in the Australian Capital Territory and Southern NSW.
Chris has received a glowing nomination for an Australian Day Citizen Award from a member of the public.
“As well as Christine Edwards’ artistic success, she provides a service which has no parallel. Chris is a patient and unselfish teacher and an excellent role model when interacting with students of all ages.
Her enthusiasm and genuine sincerity are always present when encouraging confidence and success in stage performance. She has a deep commitment to bringing out the best in others,” the nomination read.
Whilst the discipline of learning ballet brings its own success, there are six of Chris’ former students who now have notable artistic careers based on dance.
From Chris Edwards School of Dance, some students have gone onto prestigious dance institutions, such as the Sydney Dance Company, Academy of Music and Performing Arts in Sydney, New Zealand School of Dance and English National Ballet School in London.
Chris pays credit to her mother, June Sullivan for her ongoing love and support. June worked tirelessly with other volunteers creating costumes to enhance Chris’ routines.
Close friend Debbie Rose also joined the dancing school and worked alongside June for years designing costumes for dancers aged from three anywhere to full adults.
After June’s retirement in the mid-’90s, Debbie continued to be the creative force ensuring the highest standard of concert and ballet exam outfits.
Chris is extremely proud of the success of her ballet students, preparing them for the annual Royal Academy of Dance examinations for the past 37 years, and it’s something Chris insists she will continue to post her move from her dance school at the former Masonic Hall on Cooper Street.
“I am going to be involved in teaching in Sussex, just in a smaller way. I probably will continue with the Royal Academy of Dance, it’s something I’m passionate about.
“I’ve got some lovely friends and colleagues that I’ve met over the years that are still willing to help, so I’d like to think I’ve still got a few more good years in me.
“I’ve passed on my school to Emilee, and both Nadia and Hannah have been with students, and they’ve had their own schools, so I’ll be looking forward to seeing their concerts.”
Chris’ final ballet school performances were due to be held this Saturday, September 15th, however, have unfortunately been cancelled due to COVID-19 restrictions.
“It’s very disappointing. It would’ve been nice to have something really special at the end of the week and exams to say that’s the wrap after 37 years,” Chris said.
A small story that encapsulates Chris’ spirit and passion for her students comes from Lucy, one of her students, aged 11.
“Every morning you get up early and light the fire in the studio for us, so we stay warm,” Lucy wrote to Chris.
Every winter’s morning for years, Chris would wake up and head to the studio to light the fireplace, before returning home to have breakfast – just so her students would be warm and comfortable come dance time.
Although unable to have one final farewell and performance, Chris remains adamant about returning to watch performances in the years to come, while not shutting out the chance to potentially run some dance workshops.
If you see Chris before she departs Cootamundra for her new adventure, please make sure to let her know how appreciated she is and has been in the community for so many years.
Tim Warren, Sue Guy