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Shannon Rugani – Performing Artist

Team Zarely: When did you start taking ballet lessons?

Shannon Rugani: I started taking dance lessons when I was six years old. I grew up in a small town called South Lake Tahoe where there was only one local dance studio to take lessons. The school was divided up in levels based on age so I was put in the beginner class. I immediately loved dancing and worked so hard in my first year that I was quickly the top student in my class, which caught the eye of the advanced ballet teacher. She told the owner of the studio that she wanted me in her class. The owner of the dance studio said that I was too young to take with the older girls (I was seven and the girls in the advanced class were ages 14-18.). The advanced ballet teacher argued that I was good enough to take her class and it shouldn’t matter how old I was and threatened to quit teaching for the school unless I was in her class. She got her way, and I was the youngest girl to ever take the advanced class. I always worked hard to prove that I deserved to be in the advanced class. I was a big fish in a little pond but that work ethic has stayed with me throughout my career. Thanks to that teacher who let me take her class based on talent despite my age, I always worked harder to prove that I deserved my spot in class. I was later hired as the youngest professional ballerina at the time in San Francisco Ballet at the age of 16. I guess that hard work instilled in me at a young age paid off.

Team Zarely: Did you decide to be a ballerina by yourself or it was your parent’s decision?

Shannon Rugani: I decided that I wanted to become a ballerina and my parents fully supported me in my decision. I always danced around whenever I heard music so my parents were the ones who signed me up for my first dance class. No one in my family ever danced professionally so they didn’t know a thing about it.Despite their lack of knowledge about dance, my family always encouraged me to continue dancing but never forced me to do it. I am lucky enough to have supportive parents who allowed me to fulfill my desire to become a ballerina and I couldn’t have fulfilled that desire without their support, encouragement and endless love.

Team Zarely: What do you think is the hardest part being a dancer/singer?

Shannon Rugani: Practice. Practicing is my least favorite part of being a performing artist. I love performing and would rather perform than rehearse, but I know that anything worth performing only comes by hours (and years) of practicing. Still to this day, I really dislike rehearsing unless I pretend that there is an audience in the room. Even then, I never give a real show in a rehearsal space. Something special happens to me when I am onstage in front of an audience. It’s like everything is moving in slow motion yet at hyper speed at the same time. I feel calm, focused and present whenever I am performing and that is one of my favorite feelings in the world...so it makes rehearsing and practicing worthwhile. However, it’s still the hardest part about being a dancer and singer for me.

Team Zarely: If any young dancers were to ask you for some advice. What would it be?

Shannon Rugani: Dream big and believe in your dreams. You have to dream big in order to achieve big dreams. Once you have a dream, it’s important to take active steps towards making them happen. I always surround myself with like-minded people who support and love me. It’s important to protect yourself and your dreams from people who don’t support and love you. Life is too short to be around people who don’t support you. Anything is possible if you can dream it and if you truly believe in your dreams. Make sure you surround yourself with people who will help make those dreams a reality.

Team Zarely: What do you dream of?

Shannon Rugani: I want to focus on my music and singing. I have developed quite a liking to singing and creating new music. Ideally, I would like to combine my artistry as a dancer, actress, composer and songwriter into one pot and become a respected musical artist. I want to be a creative force who is constantly pushing the envelope and raising my own artistic bar. I like being innovative and I would love to have an outlet for my artistic creativity to manifest into physical reality.


Team Zarely: What do you think is the main talent or ability for a ballerina/dancer/singer?

Shannon Rugani: Passion.You really have to love it. I think that anything artistic is a passion that I would do no matter if I were a pro or not. I have seen so many artists burn out because they never truly loved what they do deep enough. Being an artist is challenging and it is not always as glamorous as it looks. It takes a lot hard work, discipline, thoughtfulness, timing, desire, endurance,and passion to make an artist successful and fulfilled. But it doesn’t matter how good you are if you don’t love it. Love is the element that will get you through the good and the bad times.


Team Zarely: Do you have a hobby?

Shannon Rugani: For the past few years, my hobby has been working on a symphony called Manifesto that I composed. I wrote it with the intention to be used for a ballet and I am coordinating with an award winning team of arrangers and orchestrators to help me finish my project so that I can bring the piece to life.

Team Zarely: Is there any sport activity you do in your free time? Like yoga, Pilates,jogging etc.?

Shannon Rugani: I take Pilates with an incredible woman in NYC named Marimba Gold-Watts at her studio called Articulating Body. Marimba is the most innovative and incredibly talented teacher who thinks outside of the box. She dedicates the lesson based on what is needed in the present moment, and works patiently with each dancer according to his or her individual needs. She is a force to be reckoned with, and single-handedly kept my body healthy while performing eight shows a week on Broadway.

Team Zarely: Was it easy for you to move from ballet to Broadway? Did you have a plan to do it?

Shannon Rugani: I did plan on going to Broadway. When I was seven years old, I wrote my life goals on a little piece of paper; I wanted to be a ballerina, I wanted to be a singer, and I wanted to be on Broadway. I always knew that I would be on Broadway, but I really did not know how or when I would do it. I just knew that it would be the right time and the right show. When I was asked to be a part of An American in Paris, I knew that it was the right time and the right show. It was an effortless transition and I could not be more grateful for the opportunity to transition onto the Broadway world from the ballet world so smoothly.

Photographs by Zachariah Lee Epperson