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Gender-fluid dancer breaks barriers at Pacific Northwest Ballet in Seattle

At just 18 years old, Ashton Edwards is pushing for more inclusivity as a gender-fluid pointe dancer, a technique usually reserved for female dancers.

SEATTLE — The Pacific Northwest Ballet in Seattle is home to hundreds of students and professional dancers, but one particular student is pushing to evolve opportunities for dancers of all kinds. 

Ashton Edwards is dancing like his profession depends on it. At just 18 years old, Edwards is an accomplished ballet dancer who moved from Michigan to join Pacific Northwest Ballet's Professional Student Division last year. 

"I'm originally from Flint, Michigan, where I’ve only trained as a male dancer in ballet and when I came to PNB, they opened up a lot of doors for me and were open to a lot of conversations to allow me to start dancing on pointe," said Edwards. "Now I’m doing everything, female and the male classes." 

Edwards is pushing for more inclusivity as a gender-fluid pointe dancer. The pointe technique is a traditional classical ballet style that requires the dancer to support all of their weight on pointed shoes.

Edwards said he is beyond honored to be one of very few male-presenting dancers to train on pointe.

"Usually men don’t go on pointe and it’s very binary and men have their own separate training for jumps and turns, but for men to be on pointe at a professional ballet school right now hasn’t really happened," said Edwards.

The pandemic has forced the closure of group training, and with no public performances it's been a very unusual year for Edwards. 

"It’s been tough because as I’m learning so many new things, a lot of obstacles in my way…especially being home and not being able to work directly with teachers and be hands on, which is a big part of ballet," said Edwards. 

Fortunately, family and friends have stepped up to support Edwards while he awaits his next opportunity. A Go Fund Me account was set up to “Keep Ashton Dancing.” The donations have provided financial support to keep Edwards training at home.

"It's incredible... I never expected it," said Edwards. "People actually said they look up to me and I can't believe it."

The Pacific Northwest Ballet is proud to work with Edwards and told KING 5 in a statement, "The PNB School provides shoes to any of our Professional Division Students who will be dancing on pointe regardless of gender." 

Edwards said while the pandemic is making things harder, he has to keep going.

"There’s already so few jobs, there’s thousands of dancers and hundreds of jobs... to have a pandemic also, it’s even fewer and very nerve wracking. But it’s what I love, so I have to keep doing it."