Emily Rae Aita and Ashley Hillis have fond memories of growing up together in Newtown. Not only did they attend the same dance classes, but their two families lived right around the corner from one another.
As adults, Aita and Hillis are still by each other’s side performing routines. The only difference is that now, there’s almost 68,000 people watching.
It was recently announced that Aita and Hillis were selected to be Philadelphia Eagles Cheerleaders for the forthcoming season. While this marks Aita’s fourth year on the squad, Hillis is thrilled to be a rookie member.
“It’s incredible. It has been such an amazing experience so far and I’m so excited,” she said.
On returning to the team, Aita said, “I’m so excited to be back and get back on the field, especially for our home opener on Sept. 19. I’m so excited for everyone to see the routines we’ve been putting together. And I know the players have been working hard, so I think we have a successful season ahead of us.”
All Eagles Cheerleaders, including those returning, must go through a competitive two-month audition process. For Aita and Hillis, their nearly lifelong backgrounds in dance certainly paid off.
Aita began dancing at the age of 3 at a local studio in Newtown, a passion that stuck with her throughout her time at Notre Dame High School and Muhlenberg College. At the latter, she studied and graduated with degrees in dance and business.
As for Hillis, she started dancing at the age of 2 and enjoyed her first competitive solo a mere two years later. Her skills earned her spots on television shows, commercials and a movie, plus a spot on the West Chester University dance team, which she served as captain of as a junior and senior. Hillis hails from a “big dance family,” with her three older sisters also taking lessons.
However, Aita and Hillis are proud to say that they have well-rounded lives that revolve around more than dance. While Aita works at a Philadelphia law firm as a legal assistant and director of marketing, Hillis is a marketing director at a public adjustment agency, in addition to a dance teacher and choreographer.
This is true for the majority of the Eagles Cheerleaders, whose professions range from a historian and doctor of physical therapy to a chemist and nurse.
“We are so unique and special and we are all so humbled to be in an organization that supports us in all of this,” said Aita, who also appreciates the selfless nature of the squad. “Of course, we’re performers and we love being entertainers. But we’re also role models, athletes, spokespersons. There’s so much more that goes into it. We are global brand ambassadors. Not only do we get involved in local community outreach and make those meaningful, impactful and everlasting connections with our Eagles fans and community, but we do so on a much larger platform as well, both nationally and internationally.”
Aita shared that some of her squad members recently returned from outreach missions in Ghana, Europe and the Middle East.
Hillis particularly enjoyed her first time participating in the Eagles Jr. Cheer Clinic, which gives children with cheerleading dreams the chance to learn from the best and perform at Lincoln Financial Field.
“It was amazing to inspire and educate the younger generation of cheerleaders and dancers. I had so much fun during that appearance,” Hillis said. “I’m so excited to do more. I know we have a big one coming up in November, so I’m really looking forward to that.”
She’s also looking forward to feeling the full force of the Eagles’ diehard fans, which she got a taste of during the preseason: “As soon as I walked into the stadium, I had goosebumps all over my body. It is an experience that not everyone gets to go through and I think it’s so incredible to be able to stand on that field as a Philadelphia Eagles Cheerleader.”
Aita, a veteran to performing on the field, can’t wait to feel that energy again: “We have the best fans in the world. When you’re on that field, the enthusiasm is contagious.”
As these Newtown natives prepare to hit The Linc with their 30 other squadmates, they provided some words of inspiration for others who want to someday follow in their footsteps.
“I like to tell my dancers to always take an answer ‘no’ as a positive because it’s just gonna help you grow. You have to keep pushing and working as hard as you can to follow your dreams and never give up,” said Hillis. “I also like to tell aspiring cheerleaders to always set your mind straight, stay positive and always try to be the best version of themselves because that’s the only way they’ll get as far as they want to go.”
“I’ve had so many different passions, including dance, community service, aspiring to do something in the business realm, especially at this law firm I work at. My advice would be to dream big and pursue all those things because you can,” said Aita. “We’re all true testaments of that. And also, you’re better together. I know that we have such an incredibly supportive team. My teammates make me a better person, a better dancer. So continue to form those everlasting friendships.”