Our Story

Hi there! My name is Hillary Parnell, and I am the Owner and Director of the Academy for the Performing Arts (APA) and Preschool for the Arts. To really know the full APA story, you need to know MY story. I’ll try to give you the short and sweet version.

I was born in Pittsburgh, PA and moved to Cary, NC when I was 13. I have been dancing my entire life, but never intended on dance being my career. I graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2000 and was planning on turning right back around to go to dental school. Well, that was the plan. But, I panicked. Instead, I moved to Atlanta for about a year and worked in ad sales. Lucky for me, the economy took a nose-dive and my company closed. I moved back home to Cary and after maybe a whole week of contemplation, and all the maturity of a 22 year old, I asked my parents if I could live with them while I pursued my {new} dream of opening a dance studio. Now, don’t get me wrong… I had plans. I had a whole notebook of plans for my dance studio that I drew up when I was 9. However, reality hit when we opened the doors in the fall of 2001 with 4,000 square feet and only 6 dancers. Thank goodness for that immaturity of a 22 year old, because I never flinched or gave up hope. There was no “plan B” and I knew I could make it work. I had an amazing staff, a solid mission, and a passion for teaching that I didn’t even realize.

In 2003, we added our competitive program, “Company”. Our Company of nearly 100 students is divided into three different competitive levels. These groups train weekly and compete throughout the year at local and regional competitions. Visit the Competitive Dance page to find out more about auditions, watch videos, and track our results through competition season.

Fast forward a few years and we were well on our way to outgrowing that humongous space of 4,000 square feet. I made a lot of mistakes and learned about a million lessons along the way. We started programs and stopped them if they weren’t working. One new program that has thrived through it all has been our Preschool for the Arts.

In 2009, I had baby #1 on the way and started thinking about what I would do with him when he was born. After researching all the local preschools, I just didn’t feel like I found a program that I would be happy with, one with a focus on the Arts. Since Ms. Melissa and Ms. Meredith were having babies soon too, we basically decided to start our own. We thought it would be just a small class for our kids, but it just took off. Again, the right teachers combined with the right mission equals success. Preschool for the Arts is the area’s only preschool with a traditional academic curriculum, that not only prepares little ones for Kindergarten, but also introduces them to Dance, Music, and Fine Art. Almost ten years and four baby boys later, I couldn’t be more proud of our preschool.

Now, back to the story… in 2011, we finally moved from our downtown Apex location. It was bitter sweet. We loved being right in the heart of our adorable small town, but we desperately needed more than five parking spots. Our new location is perfect and will be our home for the foreseeable future. Now, we are better able to serve up to 2,000 students with ample classroom space, a huge lobby for parents, designated preschool space and tons of parking.

These days, I’m family focused. I have four boys, Cooper, Spencer, Schaefer, and Ledger, and a seriously supportive husband. I am so fortunate to have a truly awesome management staff to allow me to make time for my family and even make it home for dinner most nights.