Teachers' Tools: Up Close With Shannon Bresnahan

Shannon Bresnahan emphasizes quality over quantity at San Francisco Ballet School. (Courtesy of San Francisco Ballet School)

When coaxing correct ballet technique from students as young as 11, Shannon Bresnahan takes a direct approach. "I just make 'em do it!" she says, breaking into good-natured laughter. A former solo- ist with Munich's Staatstheater am Gärtnerplatz and corps member with the New York City Opera Ballet, Bresnahan has taught levels 5–8 at San Francisco Ballet School since 1997. "Little kids are like sponges," she says. "The older students can get set in their ways, and a lot of times you have to retrain them. But of course the advanced kids are a joy because they are intellectually more sophisticated." She balances her sense of humor and love of dance with high expectations for pre-professional students, regardless of age. "My combinations are simple, especially for the little ones. Instead of 20 tendus, we're going to do four, and we are going to do them full-out, until you're sweating bullets."

For more advanced students, Bresnahan usually designs her classes backward, beginning with the most wicked grand allegro step and planning the rest of the class to build up to it. A finale of fouetté sautés in attitude, for example, means fouetté relevés in the pirouette combination, preceded by slow, controlled fouettés at the barre. She emphasizes the physi- cality of dance and drives students to achieve maximum capacity. “If you're going to stand up on relevé, you'd better get all the way to the top, completely pulled." She fondly remembers a time when a group of young students mas- tered five and six pirouettes on pointe. After years of training by Bresnahan's “quality over quantity" mantra, they reaped the benefits and began spinning like tops. “It was really fun," she says. “They had trained so long to get up on their muscle tone, they got to the shape quickly and just rode it out." DT

Inspiration: visual art like Chihuly's glass

Wikimedia Commons

Never teaches without: Bloch Grecian teaching sandals and a black chiffon skirt (Sansha shown).

Courtesy of manufacturer

Photo by Nathan Sayers

Essential fitness equipment: “A supply of Tylenol."


Recommends to her students: Apollo's Angels by Jennifer Homans to to give them a sense of ballet history.

Likes to unwind with: a glass of red wine and “NOVA" or “Masterpiece Mystery!" on PBS.

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