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In the world of dance, Kim O’Neill Del Guercio is used to excellence.

Winning dance competitions across the country and indeed around the globe was just the beginning for the 27 year old who also has appeared in the movies Save the Last Dance 2: Steppin Up and in the Disney movie, Camp Rock, while also being a finalist on the new hit TV show, So You Think You Can Dance Canada.

O’Neill Del Guercio even found the time to co own a local dance studio, but now, has decided this is the perfect time to step out on her own with the creation of the O’Neill Academy of Dance.

Serving as director and studio owner, O’Neill Del Guercio says she plans to bring the experience she has picked up from 24 years of dancing with some of the world’s best instructors back to the Forest City.

“I have been doing it my whole life; this is what I do. It is time to run something on my own. I have been doing this for 24 years now. It is really brand new; we just started about a month ago,” O’Neill Del Guercio says. “The problem is, in the London dance community, once you hit a certain level, if you want to make a career of it, you have to travel places like Toronto, Buffalo, New York City, where there are teachers, where there are people who can guide you. My mom, Anne Marie (O’Neill), was a dancer, that’s where it started for me. But I want to make it easier for London dancers by bringing that level of teaching back here.”

O’Neill Del Guercio remembers travelling as far as California, England and Germany to get the training her mother felt would help her reach the professional level. Along the way, O’Neill Del Guercio says she has learned from and performed with some of the most talented dancers in the world, experience that can only benefit London dancers looking to follow in her footsteps.

“So the whole point of starting this kind of studio is that being a current, professional dancer in the industry, all those connections I have made, I have now and am bringing here to London. So the kids won’t have to travel the way I had to,” O’Neill Del Guercio says. “You couldn’t do that without the connections. It is about networking. These are friends of mine who are travelling to London, on their day of the week, who are doing that because we are friends. We are there for each other. They are all from the industry.”

O’Neill Del Guercio says she believes the abilities possessed by the teachers at her studio will help London dancers take their own talent to the next level.

“I’ve been in the London dance community for a long time. I have judged for 10 years, I have taught workshops everywhere. There is a lot of talent in this city, but a lot of people don’t know what to do with it,” O’Neill Del Guercio says. “In my opinion, a lot of these dancers are stuck. There is talent here; there are people who want to go on. And even if they don’t go on, they still want that fresh, new environment of learning that I got to have, and have it right here.”

In more traditionally thought of sports, like hockey for example, O’Neill Del Guercio says there are old school coaches who teach the basics in more of an old fashioned approach. It is that approach she also says her new studio will look to replace.

“We have that freshness. Our teachers are the people they (potential students) see on So You Think You Can Dance. They are the people they see in live theatre, in commercials, in movies. So not only is it a special thing to be able to train with them, they look up to them, they are role models,” O’Neill Del Guercio says. “I wanted to excel, I wanted to do this, to please my teacher. There was a goal to have the expectations of that teacher met. It was a special vision.”

Not only does she have the dance background, but also being co owner of studio the past five years is something O’Neill Del Guercio says has prepared her for stepping out on her own. However, she is quick to say she is under no illusions that getting her business up and running or dancing will be a walk in the park.

“So I have the dance background and the business background. It is going to be difficult,
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business is hard. But when you have the staff, when you have the product to back up your sales pitch, the teaching is the easy part,” O’Neill Del Guercio says. “I hope for a good 100 students to start. It’s small, but I think realistic. It is something new here in London and not everyone opens his or her arms to change. It is like trying to change downtown London, it takes time.”

The O’Neill Academy of Dance is looking to host a grand opening at the end of August with open classes and workshops taking place through the month of September and normal programming getting underway the first week of October.

To help convince potential students that her studio offers a different approach to dance, O’Neill Del Guercio has created a weekly class system where people can not only sign up for the year, but drop in for an hour here or there if they prefer.

“We have classes all week long. Each of the classes are offered as a drop in class too. You don’t have to register for the year. A student at Western (University of Western Ontario), for example, who has danced their whole life, comes to university and is stuck with nowhere to go, can come take a class whenever they want. It will be that big city feel whether they are in school, whether they are dance teachers looking to keep their training up,” O’Neill Del Guercio says. “It is very open. A lot of studios don’t have that drop in style. A full time dance teacher is not going register for a program because they are working. A university student isn’t going to do that because they are so busy all the time and probably working. So this gives them the flexibility to walk in, pay for the single class.

Another challenge O’Neill Del Guercio says the studio may face comes in no small part from its greatest asset, its teachers.

“There might be a couple of misconceptions because of the teaching staff we have. One would be that it would be too expensive and the other would be that it is only for the elite dancers. Those are completely false. Prices are extremely reasonable. Yes the teaching staff qualifications are through the roof. Really, those prices should be higher; they would be paying higher elsewhere. But I want to make this accessible to London dancers,” O’Neill Del Guercio says. “Also, you don’t have to be an elite dancer to be here. There are programs for every type; whether you are an aspiring professional, a recreational dancer, a pre competitive dancer, a baby combo mini dancer, an adult, it is open to everybody. At a lot of places, you recreational dancers are not focused on, because they are rec. What I am trying to do though, even our recreational dancers will be getting that same level of training.”

And that level of training again comes back to the teachers O’Neill Del Guercio will be bringing to London. But not only will they be talented performers, O’Neill Del Guercio points out they are also her friends. “We work for each other. I do the same thing for them at other studios. People within the industry, we work with each other, work for each other, we still perform together. It is one big community.”

That community and all its inter related connections is what O’Neill Del Guercio says will ultimately benefit London dancers the most.

“The connections, it’s who you know. A lot of people have the talent, but what they don’t have is that first connection to get them through the door. The idea with this studio is that the teachers in the studio are the people who open that door,” O’Neill Del Guercio says. “It is almost a cheat. Half of these people are auditioning themselves. They have their own companies. In the industry, your talent does not come first. It is who you know. By being taught by these people, who see you all the time, you get them asking you to come out and dance with their show, come and do this. That is something we never had coming up. I wish we had.”

Those open doors may help some London dancers reach their ultimate potential, but O’Neill Del Guercio says that doesn’t necessarily mean they will find themselves dancing on the Broadway stage or the movie screen. Which, O’Neill Del Guercio says, is just fine.

“Realistically, one percent goes on professionally. A lot of kids want to teach. To become a great teacher, you have to be taught by a great teacher. A lot just what to have a successful competitive season. So how do you do that? You have to have great coaching, people who do it themselves. There is no better training than being taught by the people who still do it, who still perform,” O’Neill Del Guercio says. “Even if you are a recreational student, a lot of the kids just want to come in and have a great time. Now you can come in and have a great time and look who you are being taught by. It is a new level of excitement, a new level of motivation. It benefits all areas and that is the whole idea.”
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