WHITLEIGH COOK

Company: Mint Hill Dance Center
Position: Owner and Director
Age: 29

WHERE WERE YOU BORN?

Charlotte, North Carolina.

HOW LONG HAVE YOU LIVED IN CHARLOTTE AREA?

My entire life, except college.

TELL US A LITTLE BIT MORE ABOUT YOU?

Born and raised in Charlotte, NC, I have been honored to grow alongside our Queen City. My life has been centered on my dance obsession starting with watching Singin’ In the Rain as a young child followed by my first dance class at 6 years old. I was a competitive dancer traveling around the US for competitions, conventions, and scholarships. I attended the University of North Carolina at Greensboro where I studied dance, was an active member on the dance team and in my sorority. Following college, I was given an opportunity to start Mint Hill Dance Center. Reluctant, as I wanted to move to NYC for the Broadway dream, I started my dance studio at 22 years old. Through my community service working with YMCA branches through high school and college and the involvement of my sorority with Make A Wish, I wanted my studio to use our art to create change in our next generation. Through Mint Hill Dance Center, I have been able to create a space that focuses on character building in children with dance steps and encouragement towards community service. In 2014, I was able to live out a childhood dream and auditioned for the Carolina Panthers Topcats where I was a cheerleader for 2 years and a Super Bowl 50 cheerleader. I was also given the opportunity to be a Women Inspiring Strength and Hope Society Member of the Make A Wish of Central and Western NC chapter in 2014 where I raised funds to grant a wish. I am a Dance Masters of America Certified teacher and spend my summers guest teaching at summer intensives in studios all over North and South Carolina. I also enjoy working for a Dance Competition in the spring as a regional judge and stage manager. My life in Charlotte has been a blessing and I am so proud to call her and the surrounding areas home.

DURING YOUR TIME VOLUNTEERING FOR A COMMUNITY ACTIVITY OR PROJECT, WHAT IS YOUR MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT?

I began an annual food drive at Mint Hill Dance Center 5 years ago to Second Harvest Food Bank. We began with only 44 pounds of food our first year. I decided to create a prize to encourage dancers to bring in more items to help our community. The prize was to attend lunch and an afternoon show of the Charlotte Ballet’s Nutcracker. This past December, as we were loading our cars to take all of the donations, I realized we had an extraordinary amount. The employee checking us in at Second Harvest Food Bank allowed us to walk back with him as we weighed in our largest of our two pallets. As the numbers climbed, my heart raced and my mind was adding the amounts. We walked out of the center with 1,019 pounds of food donated by 80 children all under the age of 16. My heart filled and I cried knowing my students believe in caring about others and taking care of people in their community.

IN YOUR OPINION, HOW DO YOU CONTRIBUTE TO THE COMMUNITY?

I am a business owner, but I wear an even more important hat every day. I teach each night for hours to children three to 18. In the creation of Mint Hill Dance Center in 2010, I wanted to create great citizens who were skilled dancers. I know not every child who has a dance education at Mint Hill Dance Center will go to be a professional dancer, but I do know every single child will become a citizen of our community. The way I structure our classes based on team work, respect, responsibility, and discipline helps our students learn to use character building to achieve dance skills. My actions, words, and consistency as a teacher and the leader of the business is being watched by every child and parent. I work to achieve the best relationships between our staff and customers, as well as reaching out into our community so our children know any goal or dream is attainable. I do my best day in and day out to be a strong female leader for my dancers so one day my dancers will be strong female leaders in whatever field they may choose as adults.

WHAT ARE YOUR HOBBIES OR INTEREST?

I really enjoy running and just time with my girlfriends. Teaching children everyday doesn’t give much time with adults; I cherish those moments with my friends anytime I can. I love trying new restaurants in Charlotte and I enjoy trying new craft beers which is no surprise living in North Carolina, slight beer snob. Hiking the many state parks and mountains of NC when I have time.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE QUOTE THAT YOU STAND BY?

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”–Marianne Williamson.

WHERE DO YOU SEE YOURSELF IN 5 YEARS?

In 5 years, I see myself still teaching my little kiddos. I really enjoy planning our annual recitals and other events we do as a studio. Everything else just seems to be little life details along the way. If you were to ask 10-year plan, I would say moved to Charleston and enjoying my favorite getaway city every day.

CAN YOUR SHARE ONE THING THAT IS ON YOUR BUCKET LIST?

I want to visit Italy and eat all the pizza my heart desires and my stomach can withstand or ride elephants in Thailand.

WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU USED YOUR PASSPORT?

I do not have a passport, but I have plans to change that for my 30TH birthday.

WHAT IS A FUN FACT ABOUT YOURSELF THAT NO ONE KNOWS?

I cried for days in 6th grade when I did a project on Gene Kelly. I had in my head I would marry him since I was 4 and during the project, I discovered he had passed away years prior. I was devastated.

WHO IS YOUR HERO?

My parents. Both were young teenagers when I was born and both have taught me how to work hard, stay humble, and never let an obstacle stand in front of me. They have showed me road blocks are just ways to make myself stronger. The amount of fortitude each of them have to provide a better life for myself and my younger brother as children inspires me every day to not let their education and love on me go to waste as an adult.

WHAT WAS THE LAST BOOK YOU READ?

“You Are a Badass” by Jen Sincero.

WHAT WAS THE LAST MOVIE YOU SAW?

Beauty and the Beast, it made my childhood dreams come true.

WHAT WAS THE LAST CONCERT YOU SAW?

I haven’t seen one in months, but the next concert on the list is Incubus.