South Tahoe native travels the world with toe-shoes in tow |

South Tahoe native travels the world with toe-shoes in tow

Rachael McCoy
Special to the Tribune

Provided to the TribuneBallerina Shannon Roberts (right) is pictured with actress Rita Moreno after the San Francisco Ballet's premier performance of "West Side Story Suite" in March 2008.

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – Instead of proms, she attended galas. In place of school dances, she was performing on stage as part of the oldest ballet company in the nation.

Shannon Roberts’ ballet career was set in motion when she was 14 years old and she has not missed a step since.

Born and raised in South Lake Tahoe, many locals know 21-year-old Roberts as the small-town girl who made it in the big city of San Francisco. Her potential for success was evident early. When she was 5 years old she was asked to be in a Nutcracker performance. At age 7 she enrolled in an advanced ballet class with dancers twice her age. Her talents kept growing and she took classes at about 10 studios throughout Lake Tahoe, Reno and the Truckee areas.

“My wife drove the tires off cars driving Shannon to Reno, Truckee, all over for her classes,” said Gerald Roberts, Shannon’s father. “And everywhere she went, we were always told how great she was.”

Because she took classes from so many different studios, Roberts said that she was always learning and improving her skills.

“My teachers had strengths in different areas,” Roberts said. “So I was always challenged and pushed in different ways.”

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Although she was always a big fish in a little pond in South Lake Tahoe, Roberts said she never thought of ballet as a career. When her ballet teacher Robin Price took her to be fitted for her first point shoes when she was about 12 years old, Roberts said she began to realize just how talented she was.

When she was 14, Roberts traveled to San Francisco with her parents to audition for summer intensive programs with Pacific Northwest Ballet, the School of American Ballet Theater and the San Francisco Ballet. She was offered a full-merit scholarship for the San Francisco Ballet program, and she stayed with her grandparents for the duration of the program, taking a train to the ballet and back for an hour and a half each way.

“When the program was over, I was asked to stay down there to attend the San Francisco Ballet School,” Roberts said.

Her family was suddenly faced with a difficult decision.

“It was a huge upset in our family to let Shannon move down there so young,” said Laurie Roberts, Shannon’s mother. “But I would go down there every two weeks for the weekend and spend time with her.”

Roberts was invited to join the company as an apprentice when she was 16 and was the youngest in the company for several years.

She has traveled the nation and world visiting France, Iceland and recently returning from a tour in China.

“I’ve had the chance to meet the presidents of Iceland and Paris, see the Great Wall of China and perform at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., which was one of my biggest childhood dreams,” Roberts said.

Currently, Roberts is part of the corps de ballet, which means the body of the ballet. This group of dancers works together as a backdrop for the principal dancers, moving across the stage with synchronized movements adding fullness to a scene and enhancing the drama.

Roberts’ passions and talents span beyond the tips of her toes. As the leading role of Anita in West Side Story Suite, Roberts also had the task of singing. She worked with voice coach Elaine Overholt who has trained Hollywood stars such as John Travolta and Michelle Pfeiffer for the movie Hairspray, and Richard Gere and Catherine Zeta-Jones for Chicago. Aside from singing in this performance, Roberts said she sometimes sings in a band with her father when she comes home to visit.

Roberts has been playing the piano since she was 5, writing music as a 7-year-old and has recently learned to play the guitar, drums, and harmonica and hopes to start taking acting classes soon. Her gifts are numerous and her drive remains the same with anything she does.

“My goal is to become a very diverse principal dancer doing full-length ballets,” Roberts said, “and maybe some day having a music career, acting career or going to Broadway.”

Whether her travels lead her to Broadway or back overseas dancing, singing or acting, Roberts said she will never forget her past and what she went through to get where she is.

“I grew up with so much encouragement and support from my family, and I truly appreciate my parents for letting me leave to San Francisco when I was so young,” she said. “I’m doing what I love to do and couldn’t be happier.”