Houston Ballet’s Karina Gonzalez Edwards on getting back in front of an audience and enjoying the simple moments with her family.
Karina Gonzalez Edwards, a principal dancer for Houston Ballet, found her silver lining in 2020, the year that dogged the world with pandemic, fear, and uncertainty. The forced shutdown offered the Venezuelan native and mother to three-year-old Julia the longest break of her career. For the first time since her maternity leave, the simple act of enjoying three meals a day with her husband and daughter became ordinary. This everyday occurrence offered Edwards, whose days are filled with rehearsals, fittings, and classes from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. each day, a welcome break in her usual routine.
Edwards’ love for ballet began by accident when her mother, looking for after school activities, mistakenly took seven-year-old Karina and her sister to a ballet school instead of gymnastics. The school was having auditions that day, and never having set foot in a ballet studio, Edwards auditioned and was granted a spot. She trained there until she was 16 and then went on to the Ballet Nacional de Caracas. At the age of 18, without knowing English, she headed to the United States for a position with the Tulsa Ballet in Oklahoma. In 2010 she moved to Houston to work with the Houston Ballet and has since been promoted to principal dancer – the highest level a dancer can reach in a ballet company. For Edwards, this promotion has special meaning, because she is the first Latina principal dancer for the Houston Ballet. Overnight, she went from being a ballerina to becoming a role model for girls of color everywhere.
Accolades and honors aside, the past year has given Edwards time to explore new projects she didn’t have time for pre-pandemic. She has used her time to collaborate with musicians and choreograph dances for smaller studios. “This has been a very new world for me to create ballets. This time has been an exploration in another way and has given me new visions as an artist,” she said. “Not just as a principal dancer, but as a choreographer, and as a teacher.”
For their part, the Houston Ballet has been committed to keeping their season going through virtual projects and recordings until in-person performances can occur later this year. The ballet company has also kept classes and rehearsals going virtually for many months before returning to the studio slowly and with social distancing in place. “We are lucky to have returned to the studio a little bit,” says Edwards. “When we are in the studio, we can’t touch each other; we have to work in small groups and wear masks the whole time. We are going to make the season happen with virtual projects, and I feel fortunate to have a contract.”
For dancers who are used to exercising for approximately seven hours per day, this break has proved challenging to keep focused and in shape. The Houston Ballet has supported its dancers by offering Pilates classes and HIT workouts through ZOOM. Edwards’ husband, Rupert, a retired dancer with the Houston ballet, built her a small studio in their garage so she could continue practicing. Still, Edwards laughs and says it has been hard to keep up her stamina between all the cooking and baking she is enjoying with her family. Walks through the neighborhood have become the new normal with her daughter Julia, in part to enjoy being outside, but also to keep her body moving. “I think it is good to have a break for your body. I have learned, especially after pregnancy, you learn to refocus again,” she says. “I feel like when I came back from my maternity leave, I was a better dancer. I had a whole different body, and I felt stronger.”
Like many performers, Edwards is looking forward to returning to the stage. Although she doesn’t know exactly when that will be, she is optimistic that The Houston Ballet will return before the year is out. “I miss my time on stage. I love performing in front of an audience – it is what I miss the most,” says Edwards. “I know it will come soon, and I think every dancer feels that when we return to stage, there will be even more passion in what we bring to the audience.”
Photography by Ashkan Roayaee. This article was published in River Oaks Lifestyle, February 2021.