Dancing Towards a Dream


There’s something special about small towns in Mississippi that enables them to produce some of the most talented individuals to ever grace the national stage.

The city of Canton is no different, having produced world-renowned bluesman Elmore James and NFL great L.C. Greenwood.

Now, Canton has another rising star that promises to put the city on the map in the world of dance.

You might not yet have heard about Junyla Silmon, but the 20-year-old Canton native has quickly become one of the brightest young stars in both classical ballet and modern dance.

Her story starts at age six, when she first got involved in dance at a local studio called Repeat Performance. She studied for six years there, learning baby tap and and some ballet there.

That’s where most kids who take lessons end their experience. Silmon is not most kids.

“It’s something that I’ve always enjoyed,” Silmon said. “There’s something freeing about it, and it’s really rewarding, but it’s also a lot of hard work.”

She moved to Clinton-based Dancework Studio at age 12, but not before she was diagnosed with Alopecia Areata, an autoimmune disorder that causes the white blood cells in the body to attack hair follicles. The main symptom? Hair loss.

Finding a reason behind such an unfortunate turn is tough for anyone. For an 11-year-old girl, it was even more difficult.

“It was new to us, too,” Silmon says. “We had never heard of it, but I had very long hair and I was really attached to it as part of my identity.”

As Junyla’s mother Tene’ Silmon remembers, the diagnosis was hard to explain to her daughter.

“Within three months of her diagnosis, she lost all the hair on her head and half of her left eyebrows,” Tene’ Silmon recalls. “This was very devastating, as she couldn’t understand why this was happening to her.”

Tene’ remembers worrying her daughter would fall to depression.

Upset but determined, she started wearing a wig to cover her balding head and continued to dance. As Silmon says, that set up one of the defining moments of her life.

“I was auditioning for a dance event and I was about halfway through my routine when my wig fell off,” Silmon said. “I was 11 or 12 and I didn’t know what to do, so I just snatched it up and ran out of the room crying. It was traumatic for me.”

It took some pushing from her Mother, Tene’, but Silmon put the wig back on and went back out on the stage.

“I had to get past that feeling of embarrassment and shame,” she explains. “Dancing helped me do that, and because of that experience, my motivation and passion for dance completely changed. It became something I wanted to pursue professionally, and all that was left was to put in the effort to match my mentality.”

Silmon, now 20, has been a complete success story ever since.

She stayed at Dancework Studio for three years, and that’s when her dance career started to take off. Before, she was dancing as a hobby. Over those 36 months, it became a passion.

At 15, Silmon started an apprenticeship at Belhaven University in Jackson. After a year there, she transferred to the Mississippi School for the Arts in Brookhaven, where she received classical ballet training.

“MSA was very cool because I learned mostly ballet, but there was also choreography and newer styles of dancing,” Silmon recalls. “But that was the first time I was on a block schedule that was 8-5 every day.”

Luckily, two of those five daily blocks allowed Silmon to remain in the dance studio.

Following her graduation from MSA, Silmon took advantage of a scholarship from Montclair State University to enroll in its prestigious dance program. Montclair is nationally known for its exceptional performance facilities. Silmon and the other students there enjoy performing in three theaters, including the state-of-the-art Alexander Kasser Theater. The Dance Division also has primary use of four rehearsal studios, one of which boasts a view of the New York City skyline.

More recently, Silmon was accepted into the prestigious and world-renowned Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company in Israel. Earlier this year, she traveled to the International Dance Village atop the rolling hills of Western Galilee in Kibbutz Ga’aton in northern Israel. As one of the 36 dancers from across the globe in the program, she was supposed to be there for a Summer Intensive Dance Program. Following the outbreak of the COVID-19 global pandemic, she was forced to cut her trip short.

“It was mind-boggling,” Silmon recalls “I was supposed to be there until the end of June, and we ended up leaving in late March. I was only there for about six weeks. It happened so fast, I felt like a cartoon character who had the rug swept from under my feet. The first week, they started cutting back on size of the classes and spreading us out. A week later, it was all over and we were headed home.”

Because she had flown internationally, she was put into quarantine as soon as she arrived back in the U.S. That meant dealing with the reality of the situation without the comfort of her friends and family.

“My heart just dropped,” Silmon explains. “I had been waiting for this opportunity for a year and half, and it had all lined up with my school schedule and the summer break. I was finally getting in the groove of everything over there, and the next thing I knew I was crying hysterically while doing all my last-minute packing. Two days later, I’m in isolation in the upstairs of my parents’ house.”

But Silman says she’s found peace while spending time at home with her parents, especially since her quarantine period ended last month. She’s reconnecting with college friends from Montclair State via FaceTime and phone calls and keeping up with new friends she made in Israel.

She plans to return, hopefully, to school in New Jersey in the fall, and she's already got an invitation to go back to Israel - as early as next summer - to complete the program.

In the mean time, Silmon continues to dance. Just as it did when she was 11, her passion for her craft has helped her keep things in perspective.

“My parents have always been supportive of me in anything I wanted to do,” she said. “But this is the one thing that I have maintained. I never necessarily heard from them I shouldn’t do something. They just told me ‘If you are going to do it, do it all out.’ So for a while, that was my struggle. But once I got past that, and decided that I wanted it for myself, it stuck with me.

“It’s one thing to work hard in the studio with your teacher. It’s another thing to work every night when nobody is looking. I struggled with it initially, but it’s not hard. It’s really not. That’s what makes you better. It’s the difference between good and great.”