With his company, iDance, Shawn Silver has been credited with reviving Irish dancing in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Through partnerships with other dance companies, he has also established iDance Ireland, iDance Iceland, iDance Portugal and, about a year ago, iDance Australia.
Soon he’ll head out to bring the Celtic dance form to a new part of the world, launching iDance China.
Not bad for a guy who, at one point, was told he’d never walk again, let alone dance.
Silver, an award-winning, internationally-recognized dancer, was in a car accident while driving on the Trans-Canada Highway, after he hit a patch of black ice. He was in a coma for two weeks before waking up in hospital, not knowing who or where he was.
In addition to a serious head injury, which got better over time and his memory returned, Silver had nerve damage and had fractured two vertebrae.
He was told he may be paralyzed, but refused to believe it, and, after wearing a brace for four months, began walking. Just 16 weeks after his accident, Silver was back to dancing full-time.
Silver suffered a setback in 2010 when he was hit by a driver while sitting in his parked car: he fractured a different vertebrae, and ended up back in the brace for a short time.
These days, he’s fully functioning as a dancer and teacher, and says he knows his limits and when to take a rest.
“It certainly doesn’t stop me,” he told The Telegram. “Like everybody, I’ve had roadblocks along the way, but it’s just a roadblock, that’s all. It won’t ever stop me, because I won’t let it.”
After spending a good part of 2012 in Australia, Silver’s business in that country is going particularly well.
His dancers have performed around Australia and are one of the main attractions at the Australian Celtic Festival in Glen Innes, New South Wales — which has an audience of about 15,000 people each year — he said.
“Somehow they really loved what we brought to the stage and there was a connection,” Silver said of the group’s success at the festival. “I’m not the best dancer in the world by any stretch, but I think there’s a certain showmanship that I bring. We offer a different dimension, I think.”
Silver is looking forward to launching iDance in China, where he says Irish dance productions like “Riverdance” are extremely popular.
He is working with two Chinese dance companies at the moment, and will go there this year to begin teaching.
As with iDance Australia, Silver will teach choreography, including some Newfoundland dances, to teachers in China, who will then instruct their students while he continues classes online from St. John’s.
He’s not worried that he can’t speak Chinese, he said, since it won’t be the main language he uses, anyway.
“The language is movement,” he explained. “Rhythm doesn’t know any language. It comes through repetition, really. I’ve taught in Iceland, Poland and other countries where they don’t speak English, and it’s never been a problem.”
What is your full name?
Shawn Francis Silver.
Where and when were you born?
My birthday is in May, and I was born on Shoal Bay Road in the Goulds … year unknown.
Where is home today?
Home for me is downtown St. John’s, Newfoundland.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
I’ve been very fortunate in my life. I have worked with some of the best dancers on the planet, and they have all inspired me. I’ve danced all over the world and toured North America, Europe and Australia. Performing onstage is very exciting. However, I would have to say that working with young people and teaching this beautiful ancient art form is definitely a privilege and highlight for me. I’ve taught so many young people around the province and the world. Nothing is more rewarding than sharing my skills with them and watching them grow into performers.
If you weren’t a professional dancer, what do you think you’d be doing?
Well, I’m a former investment banker from Bay Street in Toronto and the Newfoundland and Labrador Credit Union. I love math and economics. Music and music theory is math with notes and rhythm. I enjoyed my time working in that industry, but I’m built for speed! It gave me the business skills I needed to succeed as an artist. If I weren’t dancing I’d definitely be somewhere in entertainment. I enjoy performing arts and would likely be in comedy.
Do you have any hidden talents?
I draw and am a pretty good visual artist, but my art, for public consumption, is all dance, all the time. I also sing and once upon a time thought I would become a recording artist. Still might, who knows.
What do you like to cook?
I wouldn’t say I’m going to win “Top Chef” any time soon. My partner, Bruce, is the cook in our house. When I cook, I cook well, but I’d rather be on a dance floor working up my appetite. I sometimes feel I eat because I have to. I’m not a huge food guy and can survive on smoothies and crushed-up fruit and protein powder.
What are you reading right now?
I love to escape into history. I have everything ever written on the history of Irish culture, dance and music. Right now, though, I am reading the story of Lady Almain Carnarvon and her family, who lived at Highclere Castle (TV’s “Downtown Abbey”), “The Children of Henry the VIII” and “Argo,” the story of Iranian student militants who stormed the American embassy in 1979 and held dozens of people hostage for 444 days.
What is your favourite movie?
I’d say I have three definite favourites: “Double Indemnity” with Barbara Stanwyck, “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” with Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, and “All About Eve” with Ann Baxter. I’m a huge fan of old movies. I watch these movies over and over again and know the lines verbatim.
Who would play you in a movie about your life?
Ben Stiller. I was in Los Angeles a couple months back and people kept asking if I was related to him.
What bugs you?
People who are rude, greedy and think only of themselves without consideration for others. We’ve all experienced this. I was brought up in a family of 13. We were taught manners and that it’s important to consider others’ feelings, especially those who can’t help themselves. We have to try, at the very least, to share what we have.
What is your greatest regret?
I try not to have regrets. I try my best to do the right thing the first time around. It doesn’t always work, but I don’t regret trying. I suppose my biggest regrets would have come if I didn’t try my best, without question.
What was your favourite year?
My favourite year was 1992, when I met my partner, Bruce Pearce. He had never met a Newfoundlander before, and asked what my accent was. I don’t know what life would have been like for me, but he’s the most positive influence on me. The second-best year was 1998, when Bruce and I made the move to Newfoundland.
What’s the strangest thing that has ever happened to you?
I suppose a pretty strange thing that happened was the day my dad died. My dad, Tony The Tailor, was pretty funny. He asked to be buried with his cellphone in his pocket, turned on, with all our numbers programmed in. The day he was buried, I inadvertently butt-texted my dance partner the word “GoOhst?” She texted back, asking what I meant, but I had no idea what she was referring to, until she showed me the text. I imagine it was Tony making that text. That night, I dreamed of him. I asked him where he was, and he said, “I’m everywhere.” That was kind of spooky.
What are your hobbies?
Aside from Irish dance, I love many forms of folk dance. Also, I am an amateur magician. This is where my father would say, “Yeah he went downtown last night, and turned into a bar.” When I was a kid, I wanted to be like David Copperfield. I also collect stamps, gemstones and Irish dance shoes — I have about 14 pairs, two pairs given to me by friends who happen to be the lead dancers of Riverdance, Breandon de Gallai and Michael Donnellan. I also collect dances and I have steps that are recorded in the 1700s, which were given to me by Dr. John Cullinane, former world champion Irish dancer and one of the world’s leading Irish dance historians in Cork, Ireland. I love to travel. We have been spending time in Portugal these past few years, which is where my grandfather comes from, and we’re becoming quite fluent. We have dreams of spending more time there.
What are your best and worst qualities?
One of my best qualities is that I’m generous. I like to share what I have. The other side of that coin is that I’m very competitive. I’m also very anxious and want things to happen now. I’m not good at waiting and I think I may talk too much.
What is your most prized possession?
What I cherish the most is not a possession, but Bruce. He’s been beside me for 21 years now, and I can’t imagine my life without sharing it with him. He keeps me sane.
Who inspires you?
My parents are a huge influence. My mom and dad did all they could for my 10 brothers and sisters and me. They made it clear that you could be anything you could dream of, and they supported all my decisions. Also my in-laws, Gwen Dewar and George Pearce. They raised a beautiful family who are all making a difference in this world. That’s all any of us can do — try to make a difference one way or the other. The other individual who inspires me is my dance teacher, good friend, former world champion and first lady of Irish dance, Olive Hurley in Dublin, Ireland. Olive has been key to my own success as a dancer. She believes in me and has taught me so much and has opened so many doors. She is grace and strength and is the definition of a world champion.
What was one act of rebellion you committed as a teenager?
I was about 18 and I streaked down Water Street with two friends. We ditched our clothes and ran past all the lineups at the pubs in the middle of winter. The funny part was the next day, on VOCM news, Mike Critch reported, “T’ree youts were caught displaying their charms on Water Street last night. Details are scanty!” I listened to the report with my mom, who had no idea it was me. I just sat there, asking what the world is coming to. To this day she has no idea it was me. I guess the jig is up. Sorry, Mom.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I see myself continuing to groom young dancers and aspiring artists who wish to pursue a career in performing arts. Whether it’s to teach or to become a touring artist, I want to still be involved. I see myself at the helm of iDance still and our next goal is iDance China. Finally, I see myself spending more time in Portugal as I get older. It’s like home for me.