As a student at Santa Teresa High School in South San Jose, Shannon Bynum took dance lessons every day after school; practiced and competed every weekend. As a senior, she added a commute to Fresno once a week for even more extensive training, returning home at 1 in the morning. It was a grueling schedule which allowed few other typical teenager outlets. The work was exhausting, but taught her the rigor and discipline she would need in order to fulfill her dream.
That dream began at the age of 2½. Shannon’s had signed her up for a dance class, hoping the shy little girl would simply meet playdates. Somewhat surprisingly, when Shannon went on stage for her first performance, she had loved it. Not long after she was regularly competing at a local San Jose studio, the Atlas School of Dance.
By age 14 she auditioned and won a spot at the Teen Dance Company of the Bay Area (TDC). She trained every day and performed every weekend. Of the commute to Fresno each week, Shannon said, “My worked full-time, but every Tuesday we’d head to Fresno after school. I’d take a class until about 11, and we’d make the long drive home. I’d have to get up for school early the next day and then have practice again after school.” It was exhausting.
Did she ever want to quit? Not at all, in fact, Shannon said she begged her parents for more dance time. She said her parents have always been her biggest fans. Both parents worked and all of the training was expensive. At times Shannon had to clean studios to barter for her class time. Later on she was able to obtain scholarships.
After high school she attended CSU Fresno, where she started training with Grethel Raypon and became serious about classical ballet. She trained with Joffrey Ballet and American Ballet Theatre (ABT) New York as well. She landed at Ballet San Jose (BSJ) in 2006 and has now danced many leading roles as well as dancing in every performance as a part of the Corps de Ballet. She also is an ABT® Certified Teacher and teaches young dancers.
Says Shannon, “I love teaching ballet, to share my knowledge with the younger generation of dancers. I really feel a responsibility to inspire them and give back to my profession.” Shannon also stressed the need for today’s dancers to inspire and educate ballet and theater audiences, so that the arts can flourish and stay alive.
What about the physical challenges? Shannon has had her share of injuries and surgeries, on her ankle and hip. She speaks positively even about her injuries, “ When you have to take time off, be away from it, you realize how much it is really worth to you and how you love it.”
Is the competitiveness seen in the movie, “Black Swan”, a reality? Shannon said she has absolutely not seen that type of dirty back-stabbing. There is a competitive nature to getting a role, but that it is professional spirit, albeit sometimes emotional. Shannon says of her peers at Ballet San Jose, “The talent of my colleagues is incredible. The dancers, stagers, choreographers…I am inspired every day and learn new things all of the time. There is an intense chemistry on stage, with 38 people sharing what we love and giving so much of ourselves – heart and soul - to the audience.”
Shannon feels very fortunate to hail from San Jose, as many of the company’s dancers are from International locations and have no immediate family. Shannon’s family still lives in their same home in South San Jose; family and friends can see many BSJ performances.
Her advice to young dancers? “Make sure you love dancing; you have to be passionate and love it, then it will be worth the hard work. Make friends. Stay humble. Respect teachers. Work hard.”
Does Shannon think she is living her dream? “Yes, I am so happy to be living my dream here in San Jose. Every day I get to do what I love in and for the city that I love.”
For Shannon’s professional bio and Ballet San Jose’s 2014 performance schedule, see http://www.balletsj.org/.