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Daily Inspiration: Meet Shannon O’Keefe

Today we’d like to introduce you to Shannon O’Keefe.

Hi Shannon, please kick things off for us with an introduction to yourself and your story.
I started dancing when I was 2 years old and quickly fell in love. By the time I was in middle school, I started to sing as well. I didn’t realize then how important singing would be in life as well.

When it was time to choose a college and a degree, I decided I wanted to major in dance (even though my mother protested this for a very long time I made it clear this I what I wanted) at Southeast Missouri State University.

My mom tried to talk me into a different, “more practical” major, or at least a minor, but I couldn’t be convinced. With a BFA you don’t even need a minor so you can focus more on that more specialized area.

When I was in college I had a teacher (Michelle Contrino) who used to work on cruise ships. She decided to push me into that avenue of performing as well and tried to teach me as much as she could about cruise ships and the style of performing I should be prepared for.

As soon as I graduated from college with my BFA in Dance, I started going to as many cruise ship auditions as I could. I moved in with my mom and got a job as a waitress at The Pasta House Co. (which I was barely able to support myself on). I googled every cruise line and every audition I could and wrote them all down in my calendar. I’d ask off work and go to as many as possible.

I was very lucky to have such a supportive mother because once I set my mind to it she saw I would never back down. So she let me live with her rent-free and actually drove me to a number of auditions all over the country (Chicago, Atlanta, Denver). There was a day when I almost decided to give up. It was too much. The cruise line people were looking at me less and less in the auditions and the material itself wasn’t what I even wanted to be performing.

My mom kept encouraging me to keep going no matter what. One day, I found a random Carnival Cruise Line audition that I hadn’t written down but it turned out I was off work. With a few days’ notice, I decided to just drive myself to Nashville, Tennessee, and audition for the role of Dancer/Singer. No other audition I had been to was hiring dancers who sing, only dancers.

So I was very intrigued to see what their process was like. Anyway, I love singing too, maybe this could be good for me. It just so happens that this was the company for me. The second I showed up at the audition I made a new friend and I found the material was so much more suited to my style and what I wanted to be performing. They had us sing after doing 3 dance routines and they kept me until the end of the audition!

Finally, I made it to the end! They sat a handful of us down and said they were interested in hiring us and that was when I knew I was in the right spot and everything had led me here. He talked us through the hiring process and what we could expect in the next couple of weeks.

Within a few weeks I received a phone call offering me my very first ship, the Carnival Pride docked out of Baltimore, Maryland. That first contract was amazing and I guess you could say I kept going back for more after that. After I did 3 contracts as a Dancer/Singer, I realized how big my love of singing was and auditioned at our head office for the role of Singer/Dancer.

After months of rehearsing and stressing over whether I was good enough to make the transition, they gave me the job. After that, I did 3 contracts as a Singer/Dancer and could not be happier. As I said, it seemed everything led me to that audition. This job made me realize my love of singing.

After working on cruise ships for 6 years, I’ve decided to start to transition into more land-based gigs and am looking to sing with a band or in a variety show. I’m so grateful to the carnival though for showing me how much I love singing and that type of performing.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle-free, but so far would you say the journey has been a fairly smooth road?
It most definitely has not been a smooth road. I touched on this a little in the first question but auditioning is no easy feat. I went to countless auditions in so many cities and felt like no one wanted to hire me. All my money went into headshots, makeup, lessons, outfits, and traveling to said auditions.

When I got my job with Carnival I had $10 to my name. I was so stressed and felt like it would never be enough. But if you are persistent, keep working to improve, and have the drive, you can do anything. Even once I auditioned to be a singer, that was not easy.

I had to send so many emails and collect many videos of me singing and dancing and put together reels to send in only for them to tell me I had to sing in person. They fought me on as well because the company needs strong dancers who can sing and harmonize but I made it clear that singing is what I love and I feel that I can do a better job at that than as a Dancer/Singer.

Also, any dancer can tell you that injuries will happen along the way that will not make the job any easier. When I was 19 I strained the muscles in my neck and upper back. My neck was so seized up that the clinic on campus thought I had spinal meningitis.

After going to the ER we realized it was just strained muscles and a bad cough exacerbating the injury. This was not an easy recovery. It still hurts sometimes today 10 years down the road. But again, if you a persistent and work hard to improve yourself and be stronger, you can do anything.

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your work?
I am a singer and a dancer and have worked for Carnival Cruise Line for the past 6 years. I’m known by my friends and their friends as “the friend who works on ships”.

I’m most proud of sticking to my guns and continuing to audition even when it felt like no one would hire me. I’m proud of myself for becoming a singer when I was always only seen as a dancer.

I think what sets me apart from others is the emotion that I put into my work. I’ve been known to leave blood sweat and tears regularly on the stage. It’s not unlikely for me to cry during a show.

Is there any advice you’d like to share with our readers who might just be starting out?
My advice for any other artists out there is to become as versatile as possible. The more you know and the more you can do, the more hirable you are. The more flexible you are as an employee, the more hirable you are. As improv actors know, the answer should always be yes, and…

When I was starting out I wish I would have known more about self-care. It’s important to listen to your body and not push yourself past your limits. This is how injuries and burnout occur.

This does not mean just resting when you are tired. On the contrary, you should be pushing yourself to find new exercises to make yourself stronger and more versatile but this involves finding exercises and activities that work for you and your body type.

This is where not pushing yourself past your limits comes in. I’ve participated in group exercises where I could feel the exercises were causing my body harm but I pushed through. Now, I’m almost 30 and I’ve finally found a workout plan that works for me.

As a dancer, taking care of your body is one of the most important things in this life so treat it with kindness and respect.

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Image Credits:

Joe Diduca and Sam Fink

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