Hillsborough Cheer and Dance Co.

Hillsborough Cheer and Dance Co. are Kathryn Pattison, Callie Slaughter, Hannah Draper, Molly Draper, Lily Clark, Natalie Santos, Zoe Eubanks, Sophia Davis, Marie Sreseli, Kayleigh Bradford, Josie Angel and Abby O’Neill.  Teachers and choreographers are Dorothy O’Neill, Alexis Hobgood, and Ashleigh Paschall.

Hillsborough Cheer and Dance Co. has found its groove. The local small business recently took a group of girls ranging in ages from 5-years-old to 14-years-old, to Fort Mill, S.C., to participate in a competitive dance event. To say they rocked the dance floor is an understatement.

The group won “Top Studio” for the entire competition, and dancers nabbed 15 first-place awards for group dances, and two super soloist awards.

The feats are all the more impressive when considering the challenges the dancers overcame to put together routines.

“We had to do it a little differently this year (because of COVID-19),” said Dorothy O’Neill, who owns Hillsborough Cheer and Dance Co. and is one of the dance teachers. “We had to work in small groups, wear masks and do social distancing. We did not get the early summer start that we normally get, and so they had to learn a lot very quickly, which they did. It’s just been an interesting season but we’re really proud of them. We took first place in every category we entered.”

COVID guidelines also made it necessary for the teachers to adjust routines and choreography, which adds to the impressiveness of the dancers’ achievement.

The competition in Fort Hill, S.C., was the first in-person event in which the company has taken part this season. Hillsborough Cheer and Dance participated in two virtual competitions last fall, and will do another in-person in March.

O’Neill said the virtual competitions proved to be awkward for the dancers, teachers and judges. “It’s basically videoing the routines in the studio and then submitting the video. And then you’re judged against the other video submissions. You know the kids don’t get the same onstage experience. The judges don’t get the same interactions with the kids. There’s a certain energy level that doesn’t come across,” she said.

In-person competitions are largely not happening in North Carolina because of the pandemic. Hillsborough Cheer and Dance traveled out of state for the competition. The number of competing teams was similar to previous years, but the experience was far from the same. Face masks and temperature checks were required for entry. Spectators were not allowed, so the competition was live-streamed.

Hillsborough Cheer and Dance Co. has three dance teams and four cheer teams. The company offers close to 25 classes in either dance or cheer, for children as young as 2-years-old, and up to 18-years-old. It has five cheer coaches and three dance teachers. O’Neill said Hillsborough Cheer and Dance Co. is the only All-Star Cheer gym in Hillsborough.

“All-Star Cheer is the more athletic component of cheering,” O’Neill said. “It’s where you’re performing a two-and-a-half minute routine that’s going to have stunting, dancing, tumbling and jumps. There’s no chanting involved. It’s to music and it’s intense. It’s not like sideline cheering is in high school. We do have a lot of girls who cheer for their high school, and then also do the competition.”

She added it’s not uncommon for the girls who compete on the dance teams to also take part in the cheer competitions. “Ten of the girls who traveled to Fort Hill for dance are also on our cheer team. They are basically competing every other weekend for the spring, alternating dance and cheer. So, they’ve worked very hard. You don’t often think of dancers or even cheerleaders as athletes, but these girls work as hard as anybody. They come in and do a conditioning class every week. There are mandatory tumbling requirements that they do, as well as their technique classes and their team classes. They’ve put in a lot of work.”