Creating an all-star cheerleading studio had been on Dorothy O’Neill’s mind for many years.
Having grown up in Hillsborough, O’Neill attended the Hillsborough School of Dance as a child, where she made friends along the way and increased her passion for cheerleading. While at the Hillsborough School of Dance, O’Neill was under the tutelage of Orpah Hamlett, who not only helped O’Neill compete in competitions, but also mentored her in a Teacher Apprentice program. Thanks to Hamlett’s help, O’Neill went on to compete as a member of the Carolina Dance Masters and later studied dance at the University of Richmond before teaching at studios in Virginia and North Carolina.
When the Hillsborough School of Dance was shut down, there was a need for a new studio in town that was specific to all-star cheer, a type of competition that involves routines accompanied by music performed at competition, as opposed to cheerleading during a sporting event.
After some planning, and finding the right space for a new studio, O’Neill opened up the Hillsborough Cheer and Dance Studio on Sept. 15. Not only does the company have a mini cheerleading team (ages 5-8) and junior team (ages 9-14), but it also offers non-competition cheer and dance classes such as cheer/tumble combination and dance competitions of tap, ballet and jazz for any child 2 years of age or older.
Located at 652 North Churton Street in the Maxway Shopping Center, O’Neill’s staff is comprised of herself, her husband, six cheerleading instructors and two dance teachers.
Even though the studio is not yet three months old, O’Neill has already reconnected with some of her former classmates from Hillsborough School of Dance.
“It’s been really cool because a lot of the people that I grew up dancing with in Hillsborough are still in Hillsborough, but now have kids and have come in, it’s been pretty neat,” O’Neill said.
Although O’Neill admits that there was some concern at the time that the studio opening after the beginning of the school year could lead to limited enrollment, that has not been the case.
“It’s been great, it’s been really great,” O’Neill said. “We were worried getting a late start in the school year that a lot of people who wanted to dance or cheer may have already been enrolled somewhere but we’ve had a really great reception, a lot of excitement, we were in the Christmas parade last Sunday and the kids were just so excited.”
The mini and junior teams will begin entering competitions in the spring, with three events lined up through Spirit Solutions Cheer Competitions. The first competition is at the end of January in Fayetteville, and the other two are in Concord and Raleigh.
In addition to hoping to add a senior team for dance and cheer encompassing ages 15-18, O’Neill wishes to find land to move into a full-size space after the studio’s lease is up two years from now.
For parents and children interested in joining O’Neill’s studio, she makes it clear that it is not a full-time commitment. It’s a distinction that separates her studio from others around the state.
“One thing that was important to be as a mom of kids who are very involved is that we make the competition programs accessible to busy families and working families,” O’Neill said. “So whereas some other places, if you want to be on the competition team you have to commit to 3 or 4 nights a week, for us, I’ve purposely made the schedule so that the kids can come one or two nights a week, be on the competition team, get quality instruction but still be able to do other things.”