Teaching Artist Spotlight: Olney Edmondson

Teaching Artist Spotlight

We’re starting a brand new series on our blog spotlighting our wonderful New Victory Teaching Artists. Through in-depth conversations, we’re giving our readers an insider look into what it takes to be a Teaching Artist at the New Victory Theater. 

For those of you who don’t know, New Victory Teaching Artists are the heart and soul of the New Victory Theater. This is a profession that’s unique based on an individual’s artistic discipline, especially in how they bring their skillset and personality into the classroom. Our high-spirited Teaching Artists are professional actors, dancers, jugglers, playwrights, illustrators and so much more. Teaching Artists harness so much creative energy throughout their day that their job doesn’t just end in the traditional classroom setting.

They’re at our theater for pre-show lobby activities, run our show talk backs, collaborate with teachers on how to engage kids with the arts in the classroom, and are superstars at developing curriculum and activities that serve tens of thousands of kids in NYC. 

Our new blog series discussions will range from a day in the life as a New Victory Teaching Artist, early childhood inspirations, insight on specific programs and the overall experience of teaching artistry. 

Today, in the spirit of celebrating New Victory Dance—currently on the New Victory stage—Teaching Artist Olney Edmondson is the perfect person to kick off the blog spotlight series.

Niki Cruz: Everyone has a unique experience in the evolution of their artistry. How did you develop your artistry growing up?

Olney Edmondson: My mom started taking me to dance classes when I was four, and I fell in love. I continued to dance until I was 14, but unfortunately, my mom could not afford to keep me in a space where I could develop my craft. So, I began watching music videos on MTV and would learn all of the choreography from any artists that were dancing—especially Michael Jackson and Janet Jackson. This allowed me to take what I had been studying and continue to develop my dancing in my living room. This is where I also discovered hip-hop! 

NC: What or who were the biggest inspirations in your chosen dance artform? 

OE: Growing up, my biggest inspirations were Michael Jackson and Janet Jackson. I would learn every step and movement that they would dance. I was also inspired by a Black violinist who made me realize that I can be an artist and be a Black woman. That was an eye-opening experience for me as a 4th grader!  

(Olney as a kid courtesy of Olney Edmondson)

NC: There’s often a mystification about dance. What’s one of the dance myths you wish to demystify? 

OE: That you won’t have fun if you try. People don’t like to dance because they think you have to move perfectly, and that is not the case. No matter what moves you do or how you do them, if people can see how much fun you’re having it doesn’t matter. Fun is the way to make dance accessible.

NC: What has it meant to be a New Victory Teaching Artist?

OE: Being a New Victory Teaching Artist has been an unexpected joy of a lifetime for me. I’ve been with New Victory Theater for 10 years, and it has taught me so much about my craft of dance, what it means to work together, and mostly about building community no matter where you go. I’ve learned that no matter which classroom you enter, which neighborhood you enter, or when we are able to engage families at the theater, we’re always building community around the arts.

NC: What was the process of becoming a New Victory Teaching Artist?

OE: In 2012, I heard about New Victory and decided to apply. After auditioning, I received a call that I was hired and began my process of becoming a Teaching Artist.

(Photo courtesy of Olney Edmondson)

NC: What does a typical day look like as a New Victory Teaching Artist? 

OE: A typical day for Teaching Artists can look so different depending on that Teaching Artist’s art form. For me, as a dancer and social worker, I teach dance classes and use my art form to help many children. In the morning, I will usually wake up, have my breakfast, and do a few stretches to get my body mobile. I might have some meetings to attend, and then I’m off to teach a workshop at a school in one of our lovely five boroughs. After that, I head to my other job where I work with more children and will attend a dance rehearsal in the evening! It’s non-stop for this Teaching Artist!

NC: What is the biggest surprise in being a Teaching Artist, whether inside or outside of the classroom? 

OE: The biggest surprise for me being a Teaching Artist is how much it has taught me about community and what it means to help build community in the classroom and outside of the classroom. New York has so many different cultures of people, so to be able to use my teaching artistry work to build communities of students who enjoy learning about different art forms is very exciting!

NC: Do you have any significant or fond memories of making a difference in a kid’s life as a New Victory Teaching Artist? 

OE: I have taught numerous workshops and would say that overall the difference that I am able to make in a kid’s life is when I do a workshop or more specifically a residency and the students don’t want us to leave, or [they] want us to become their [regular] teachers. That connection with those children resonates deeply with me, and my hope and desire is that they take that and put that energy towards the thing that they are most passionate about.

NC: What about speaking to a younger demographic inspires you?

OE: I love young people. They inspire me to know that the world still has a chance. Being able to speak with them, create with them, explore with them, discover with them, and just have fun inspires me every day and keeps me doing this work. The children are definitely the future and someone spoke to me at that age and it inspired me to be doing what I am doing today.

NC: What was your biggest takeaway from this past school year? 

OE: My biggest take away this school year is the tenacity and determination that I feel many students have had in wanting and desiring to engage in art-based activities. COVID has really put a damper on students being able to have that exposure, and it has been such an exhilarating experience seeing them be excited to have us back in the classroom.

[This interview was edited for length and clarity]

Want to see more from Olney? Check out her videoA Day in My Life as a New Victory Teaching Artist.”

Olney Edmondson is a NYC -based performing and creative artist born and raised in the Washington, D.C./ Maryland area. She has been dancing since the tender age of 4.  Born to Guyanese parents, she has a cultural influence of reggae and soca and uses that influence to infuse into her style of dance, choreography and ways that she creates her art.  Receiving her BA in Dance from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and her Master of Fine Arts in Dance from Sam Houston State University, Olney has always had a passion for the arts.  She has been creating and teaching dance for the past 19 years and loves to see people, young and old, express themselves through movement. 

Olney currently teaches with the New Victory Theater in Times Square as a Teaching Artist and serves as Program Director and Performing Arts Specialist at Center for Family Life in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, NY. She recently graduated with her second graduate degree,  a Master’s in Social Work.  Olney believes that anyone has the ability to be creative. Finding ways to use her art to allow individuals to be as expressive as they can. “Performing Arts can transcend beyond the normal box that people try to fit themselves into. It allows you to remove the box and say, ‘what’s next?’”