Dream Big, with Shannon Rugani

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Shannon Rugani was a member of the San Francisco Ballet for over 11 years. She has worked with world renowned Choreographers and has danced all over the world including France, Iceland, China, Denmark, England and the United States. Shannon left SFBallet in 2015 to join the original cast of Tony Award winning An American In Paris on Broadway.

Shannon is also an accomplished composer on the piano and has written music for a short film called Freefall directed by Luke Willis in 2012 among other projects. She is currently focused on her music career as a singer/songwriter performing under the stage name EMPRESS.


ES: This is 5 Minute Mentor, a podcast where you’ll get advice from prominent engineers, authors, artists, and more in 5 minutes or less.

SR: Hi, I’m Shannon Rugani. I was a member of the San Francisco Ballet for over 11 years. I performed the lead role in a Broadway production of An American in Paris. And now I’m a singer/songwriter performing under the stage name Empress I’ve also founded a recording label called Stardust World Productions that supports women in music, and I have also founded two startups in the tech business in AR and VR to support the performing arts.

SR: I’m here to talk with you about Dreaming Big I grew up in South Lake Tahoe California, with no ballet training, and no acting or singing lessons at all. So, how did I end up in San Francisco Ballet, and on Broadway. Well, it all started with a dream. And when I was 7 years old, My mom had asked me to write down my goals and dreams. And I wrote down three very simple dreams. One was be a ballerina, one was to be an actress, and one was to be a singer. So I had no idea how I was going to get there. And, at 12 years old, I saw this article in a Pointe Magazine, which is a dance magazine, and I, saw this picture of a beautiful girl holding on to a ballet barre in this gorgeous studio, and, I thought I want to be her. And I started reading the article it said that she was hired in the San Francisco Ballet at the age of sixteen which is one of the youngest in history. And, I thought, I want to do that. That’s what I want to do. So I focused all my attention.

SR: Flash-forward, sixteen years old, I was the second youngest person in history to ever be hired from the San Francisco Ballet. And ironically, the day I got hired, was the same year that Joanna Berman, the dancer that I saw in the picture had retired. And so, she had left the company and I got to take her barre spot. And the day that I held on to that barre, you know, and looked in the mirror and saw a reflection of myself, in the same position that that dancer was in, was a really cool manifestation. Which led me to go to Broadway, which was also an interesting transition because I’d never sung in my entire life and they asked the entire San Francisco Ballet to audition for this performance of West Side Story Suite where everyone in the company who had always been told to be quiet, you know, we’re a silent art form, to sing in front of a camera, and, you know, ended up getting the lead role, and had to sing in front of 3500 people for the first time in my entire life my parents were there, they had never heard me sing Happy Birthday, which led me to Broadway because the director and choreographer of An American in Paris was sitting in the audience the night I sang for the first time, and he remembered that, when he was casting his show of An American in Paris. Which ended up being an incredible journey opened up a whole can of worms now I can’t shut up, and I sing and I’m a songwriter as well.

SR: And that kind of opened up this whole world, that after the show closed, on Broadway, I started deciding that I needed to tackle that third thing on my list of dreams, and I started putting all of my energy in into dreaming as big as possible to become a singer/songwriter and what that actually meant. Which turned into Empress which, just basically empowered myself to be the ruler over my own career in my artistic life and my regular life. And it’s been incredibly fulfilling. I’ve attracted a bunch of incredible artists. My producer works with everyone from BeyoncĂ©, to Lady Gaga, to Justin Bieber, to Billie Eilish and, I just feel like I’m living my dream.

SR: I want to share with you how a little girl from Lake Tahoe became a ballerina, went to Broadway, and is now a singer/songwriter living my dream. It all started with a dream. And there’s no right or wrong way to dream, but I wrote down 10 helpful suggestions to help you dream big and manifest those dreams.

  • Empower yourself You can do anything. Empowerment comes from the inside, it doesn’t come from the outside.
  • Look at the big picture The fine print gets clear later but you start with a dream and it can be kind of broad, like you know, then the company kind of, you know, came into focus. So it all starts with the broad dream and then broad strokes and then the fine print later on. Don’t get caught up in sweating small stuff, there’s a reason for everything, and there’s always a solution. everything, really, under the sun, it all happens for a reason and try and learn from all the ups and downs that you go through. Stay present.
  • Stay present and enjoy the journey It’s all about enjoying the process, the ups and the downs.
  • Attitude of gratitude Stay humble yet confident, but be grateful and gracious.
  • Create your own success formula When you exceed in one arena, you create a pattern that you can learn to apply into everything you do. Just like I learned when I held on to that ballet barre, when I got hired in San Francisco Ballet, I applied the same formula that I’d learned in success in that one arena and applied it to Broadway and my music career.
  • Surround yourself with successful people This is so important. Who you spend time with is who you become, and I really believe strongly in that. Surround yourself with people that lift you up and help you achieve your goals.
  • Give and receive This was really hard for me, to learn how to receive. Giving is, is easier for me, but receiving compliments was difficult, but it’s all, it’s half of the circle. You know, you have to find balance and, and learn how to give and receive. There’s enough room for everybody to succeed. So make sure you give all the compliments along the way to people that you respect.
  • Work smart This one is really important. I think everyone learns how to work hard, so that’s kind of like a common theme, but when you apply a little thought and direction, and you know where you’re going, your target always helps you to work towards that. And finally,
  • Keep going Just don’t stop, you have to keep, I mean there’s hard days, I left out all the tough days, all the blood sweat and tears, but, there’s tough times and you just have to keep going.

SR: Expect your dreams to come true and believe in your dreams because anything is possible when you dream big. Thank you so much for listening.

Shannon Rugani, former San Francisco Ballet ballerina, singer/songwriter, entrepreneur

Shannon Rugani

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