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Frankly My Dear, Billie O’Hara Goes Like the Wind to Build UFL Cheerleading

Billie surrounded by her Florida Tuskers Cheerleaders after the last home game

Billie surrounded by her Florida Tuskers Cheerleaders and mascot after the last home game

In April 2010, it seems like Billie O’Hara was given a Herculean task.  Billie was named Cheer and Dance Development Director for the new UFL; not just for a team, the entire league!  Billie had the responsibility to establish five complete cheerleading squads, in cities stretching from California to Connecticut.  They all needed their own budgets, directors, auditions, more than two dozen dancers per squad, choreography, uniforms, and more.  Plus, Billie had the task of establishing the UFL’s dance team procedure manual.  Oh yeah, and have that all ready by the 2010 fall season, thank you very much.  And if you have attended UFL games in person or viewed them on Versus and HDNet, you will see those squads not only came to being, but that they have the look, performance, and field presence of squads that have existed for years.

But wait, there’s more!  Oversight over an entire league not enough for you?  Well, Billie is also Director of the UFL’s Florida Tusker Cheerleaders, the franchise that call Orlando’s Citrus Bowl home.  This includes creation and development of her own new squad, including organizing and conducting auditions, final team selection, serving as team choreographer, and overseeing practice and game presentations.  Whew!  So Billie has all the work of high level management of the entire league’s cheerleaders, and the daily hands-on responsibilities of a brand new squad.  How did Billie pull it off?  Did she find a little local Harry Potter magic or some of Tinkerbell’s pixie dust?  We interviewed Billie as the UFL season wound down to learn her formula for UFL success with both speed and quality.

Billie is a native Floridian, originally from Jacksonville, and has been dancing from nearly the beginning.  “I started dancing at the age of three and never stopped.  It’s all I know!” recalls Billie.  Billie’s dance development hit its stride when she began participating in competitive events.

I wondered if she was ever nervous about these public performances, and Billie remembers, “My first dance competition, I was twelve years old, and I was competing for Miss Petite Dance of Florida.  Forty-seven girls were entered into the competition, so it was a long night!  I was very nervous!  I knew I had a great jazz routine, but I was nervous about my costume.  I was the only contestant with spray painted silver jazz shoes!  I kept telling my dance teacher and my mother, ‘I’m going to lose because I have alien and outer space shoes on.’  They tried to reassure me, but it didn’t work well!  They announced the top ten, then got down to #1 and #2.  All I could think about was the shoes, and I was staring at them as they announced the second place winner. But it wasn’t my name that was called, and I was in shock, looked out into the crowd, and mouthed to my mom, ‘They liked my space shoes.’ I had won the competition. My mom told me afterward, ‘It wasn’t your space shoes they like; it was you and your talent!’ I’ll never forget it! I still have the dance on video.”

“That was the beginning of many competitions to come,” Billie added, “I never wore silver shoes after that ever again and I rarely get nervous win it comes to competing.  I love to compete!”

Billie’s dance training continued at several prestigious dance schools, including the Tremaine Dance Center in Hollywood, and the Douglas Anderson School of the Performing Arts, where she was accepted into the All-American College Program at Walt Disney World.  Billie has also served on the faculty of the Dance Conservatory of Orlando and Academy of Performing Arts.

Billie (lower right) during 1995-1996 Orlando Magic Dancer season

Billie (lower right) during 1995-1996 Orlando Magic Dancer season (courtesy of Jeanine Klem-Thomas)

Billie’s excursion into pro sports dance included being an Orlando Magic Dancer for four years, and also on the squad for the AFL Orlando Predators.  Eventually, Billie moved into managing the Predators dance squad, the Prowlers.  Her Predators connection is especially strong because Billie’s husband, Pat O’Hara, is their current head coach, and was previously the Predators quarterback, playing for coach Jay Gruden.  Together, with Pat as QB and Jay as head coach, the Orlando AFL team won two ArenaBowl titles.

“It’s a Small World” in Orlando’s football and dance communities, so the stars aligned for the UFL and Billie to coalesce.   Fast forward to 2010, and Jay Gruden is now Head Coach of the UFL’s Orlando franchise, the Florida Tuskers.  The dominoes started to fall when Gruden called Billie with an idea last March.  “I originally went in to interview for the Director position for the Florida Tuskers Cheerleaders with no expectations beyond that.  Jay Gruden asked me if I would be interested, and if I could meet with Brian Melekian, Team Business Director of the UFL.  I said of course! I was thrilled to meet with Mr.Melekian.”

“The interview went very well, and long,” Billie recalls, smiling, “He asked me back for a second interview to sit down with Bill Peterson, the Chief Operating Officer of the league a week later. I had to prepare budgets, proposals, timelines, visionary ideas and concepts, et cetera. About an hour after that meeting, I received a phone call that not only would they like to hire me for the position of the Florida Tuskers Cheerleaders’ Director but also the UFL Cheer and Dance Development Director. I was honored and more than excited to accept.”


This position has such scope, in both geography and responsibility, how does Billie serve in this expansive role?  Billie replies, “I oversee the entire Cheerleading Department.  I am in constant communication with all my directors.  Brian and I hired all the directors.  I am in charge for ordering all uniforms for the teams, which included working closely with Angela King Designs to create the perfect uniform for each team.  Basically anything that the cheerleaders wear, I had a hand in it.  The Directors are responsible for their own choreography and music.  I do not approve their creative talents but rather give my advice if it is needed. These directors are amazing and they know what they are doing!  That’s why we hired them.  They don’t need much coaching!”

The UFL cheer squads across the league came together in an amazingly short period of time, and have already established a great presence on the field.  What is the key to this success?  “I believe success starts with great leadership,” Billie says, “Brian and Bill are great leaders. The three of us had a vision of what we wanted for our cheerleaders and we set a time line to do so.  To start off, we had our first annual Cheer/Dance Convention held in Orlando, Florida back in May.  There, Brian and I prepared and introduced the new directors to the UFL and laid out our vision for the Cheerleading Department for the organization.  We hired such strong directors in each market that they were able to go back to their respective cities and implement our policies and our vision.”  When asked what she is most proud of during this experience, Billie answers, “I’m most proud that we were able to put 160 quality women on the field for the UFL’s inaugural season for cheerleaders in such a short amount of time.”

And for the UFL, cheerleaders play a big role throughout the season, because new leagues rely so much on their cheerleaders for “branding” these new teams, by participating in promotions and connecting to the community.  Besides dancing, what else does Billie look for the ideal UFL cheerleader?  “Being a UFL cheerleader goes beyond dancing on the field.  I look for committed dancers that are going to be responsible and make it to all rehearsals.  In addition, it’s their number one role, as far as I’m concerned, to get out in the community and give back.  These ladies can’t just be cheerleaders, but ambassadors first.  They have to be able to communicate well and be willing to put themselves up close and personal with the fans and community.”

Billie (top row, fourth from the right) during those Magic days

Billie (top row, fourth from the right) during those Magic days

I asked Billie if she interacted with the UFL’s networks Versus and HDNet, because they show much more of the cheerleaders than is seen during NFL games.  Billie responded, “Thank you for the compliment!  I do not interact with Versus or HDNet, but that doesn’t surprise me.  When you have a great product out on the field, you can’t help but capture the talent.  Once again, great job by our directors by putting talented women out on the field.”

With such a rare opportunity, developing new squads for a new league, I wondered what aspects of the role have not been what Billie expected.  Billie responded, “One part of my UFL role that I didn’t expect so much of is the paperwork and email communication.  But that is what it takes when you are starting a new project.  This year was really about laying down the ground work.  It really takes strong organizational skills, besides having an intensive background in cheerleading and dance.  I remember telling one of my friends that this job is 90% office work and 10% choreography!  Most people wouldn’t believe that, but it’s true.  I welcome the workload as I plan to continue to keep making this department stronger.  It is my baby and I’m proud of it!”

Billie has a lot to be proud of, too!  But her baby will grow, so what is Billie’s vision for the future of the UFL cheerleading?  “My vision for the future of the UFL Cheerleaders is simple and it comes down to two things,” reports Billie, “Represent the UFL to the highest level of standards, and to perform at the same level or better than any professional sports cheerleading team.”  I think her vision already on the verge of reality.

Orlando Magic Dancer Billie (right)

Orlando Magic Dancer Billie (right)

Billie and husband Pat reside in Orlando with two sons.  For any kids, it can be so fun even if your dad is the coach of a youth athletic team, because you get access to all of the team’s equipment all of the time.  For instance, you can come home from school and just throw on the Little League catcher’s equipment, just for the fun of sitting at the kitchen table, eating milk and cookies through the mask.  So I can’t imagine the fun for the O’Hara’s two sons, with their mom in charge of cheer and dance for the entire UFL, and their dad head coach in the new version of the Arena Football League.  I can imagine a home filled with football talk, football stuff, football fun; sounds heavenly!

I asked about their sons and what they think of both of their parents prominent roles in the UFL/new AFL foundation.  “My oldest son Tyler is eleven and he plays football and dances,” answers Billie, “My youngest son Trace has no desire to play football right now and that is okay with us.  He is involved in boy scouts and dances and loves it!  They are both ‘A’ honor roll students, and that is all we can ask for as parents.  They are very humble and very proud of us as parents for our accomplishments, as we are very proud of them for theirs! However, they do think it’s cool to get front row seats, be on the field before and after games.  The biggest part for them is running around in the tunnels at the games playing football with the interns (laughs).  Another fun part for my boys being at the games is hanging out in the cheerleaders’ locker room.”

So I asked, what if their sons someday came to Billie and Pat, and said, “We love football, and would rather be on the college cheerleading squad than the football team,” what would Billie’s football coach husband’s reaction be?  Billie responded, “My husband laughed when he heard this question.  The boys did too!  Once again, we as parents will support whatever profession our boys choose.  However, our boys already have their college football teams picked out that they are playing for.  Tyler wants to play for Purdue, and Trace wants to play for Rice.  I told Trace well you better start liking football if you’re going to play in college (laughs)!”  Well, as an Indiana resident, I look forward to Tyler playing at Purdue, and will start planning for a Rose Bowl victory celebration in 2021!

Billie (top row, third from the right) performed for the Orlando Predators

Billie (top row, third from the right) performed for the Orlando Predators

So it seems there are two components to Billie’s success.  One is vision, and being able to detail that vision with a tangible plan with a strong business case.  The other is building strong relationships with people, because you can have the vision, but if you do not connect to the people around you, you cannot pull it off.  The evidence of Billie’s connection to her dancers was apparent when I asked some of the Tuskers Cheerleaders (at their November 11th home game against Hartford) why they tried out for the squad.  I kept hearing the same, Jan Brady-ish answer, “Billie, Billie, Billie!”

Here are the responses to the question, “What prompted you to try out for the Tuskers squad?”

Aly?  “I was on the Orlando Predators, dancing with Billie, which was my reason for finding out about the audition.  My experience has been amazing!”


Brittany?  “Billie and Dawhone (one of Billie’s assistants)! I couldn’t go half a year without dancing.  I love being part of a team who has passion for the sport and community like I do.”


Courtney G?  “Being on the Predators and being involved with Billie.”


Courtney M?  “I was a member of the 2010 Predators dance team, and Billie was going to coach the Tuskers, as well.”


Gizelle?  “Billie told me about it, and I had a blast working with her and Dawhone on the last team I was on, so I wanted to join again.  The experience is fun and really worth it.”


Jessie? “I loved working with Billie and Dawhone for the Predators and a lot of girls were trying out for the Tuskers.  I really loved all of them and wanted to dance with them again.”


Rachel? “The advertisements and encouragement from Billie O’Hara prompted me to tryout.  I have had a great experience performing.  It is a blessing.”


Renee?  “I was on the Predators with Director Billie O’Hara, and when I found out she was director for the Tuskers, I wanted to do it.”

Renee (to the left of Billie); The fun of being on Billie's squads keeps dancers returning for more

Renee (to the left of Billie); The fun of being on Billie's squads keeps dancers returning for more

Wow, after hearing these comments, the strength of the combination of Billie’s vision and her ability to connect to people becomes so apparent.   Billie, as your mom said, it is not your “space shoes” they like, it is you and your talent!

Now that the UFL season is over, maybe Billie can catch her breath, but I bet her life is always a whirlwind of activity.  Billie said, “I’m like Scarlett O’Hara. Did you ever see her slow down? (laughs) I absolutely LOVED that movie and I always wanted to be like her! At least in the end I got her last name.” Billie continued, “It’s not even beginning to slow down. I’m busier with more work than ever! Plus I have Orlando Predator auditions in January. (laughs) You should see my office!”

We thank Billie SO much for her cooperation, participation, and photos for this interview, and for providing excellent sideline entertainment for the UFL fans at the game and those tuning in across the country! And in 2011, there’s much more to come!  “After all, tomorrow is another day.”

3 comments to Frankly My Dear, Billie O’Hara Goes Like the Wind to Build UFL Cheerleading

  • wanda massinello

    My daughter Nicole began dancing under the direction of Billie Ohara first as a competitive dancer and eventually as a member of the Tusker Cheerleaders inaugural team. Billie’s expertise as a coach and a dance instructor were truly the positive factors that have motivated my daughter Nicole to become an amazing performer. Nicole is currently enrolled in a performing arts school in Los Angeles and was excepted with scholarship. Billies support not only as a dance instructor, but a friend, has been a major influence in Nicole’s life and she continues her support long distance. Billies dancers become part of her family and she is always available for them. She continues to motivate and support up and coming young dancers and she goes the extra mile to motivate them to become the best they can be, not only dance, but in every aspect of their lives. Billie is truly an asset to the UFL organization and her work ethic and committment is hard to find these days. So glad she is receiving the recognition.

  • Carol Lockman

    Billie & Mr. Dewan