Even with the onlooking eyes of nearly 20,000 fans—and millions more on TVs around the world—Steven O’Connor ’22 is unfazed performing on the court at TD Garden.
He’s no basketballer, but a member of the Celtics Dancers—so he’s just as entertaining while dancing, tumbling, and leaping through the air, harnessing the energy of the crowd’s passion for basketball while providing the extra support and invigoration the Celtics players need.
“To be in an environment where everyone is rooting for you and rooting for the team that you’re dancing for and cheering on is just an unmatched feeling,” said O’Connor. “If I could live in it forever, I would.”
Even in his second season with the Celtics Dancers, O’Connor is still in awe of his surroundings—partly because in 2022, O’Connor made history when he became part of the Celtics’ first-ever co-ed dance team.
An all-female team since 2006, the Celtics Dancers announced in 2022 that they planned to go co-ed, joining a wave of other NBA teams who’d pledged to do the same. But due to shifting post-pandemic rules and regulations, the Celtics Dancers announced last-minute auditions, which just so happened to be perfect timing for O’Connor.
After graduating from Endicott with a bachelor’s degree in exercise science and a minor in dance, O’Connor was having trouble finding a job in his field while also longing for an outlet to continue his passion for dance.
O’Connor’s older sister, Paige—who’d originally inspired him throughout his dance career—pushed him to audition virtually. She even choreographed the performance.
“I’ve known about the Celtics Dancers for as long as I can remember,” he said. “I’ve always loved Boston sports, and I’ve always been a huge fan of being a part of ‘Titletown,’ as they like to call us.”
At the same time, O’Connor was also interviewing for a healthcare administration role at Boston Children’s Hospital. Both auditions proved successful.
“When I made the team, I was very lucky and very thankful that my coach was taking the chance on me,” he said. “It’s just been something that I never thought was going to be possible.”
Growing up in Tewksbury, Mass., with four siblings, O’Connor was taking dance classes at age three. His two older sisters danced also, and he watched their classes, dancing along with them in waiting rooms, before dancing competitively himself at age eight and beyond.
After seeing Paige dance for Dean College, he decided to pursue dance at the collegiate level at Endicott. With his acceptance to the Endicott Dance Team, O’Connor made history as its first male dancer. During his junior and senior years, he became captain, leading the team to win multiple UDA National Dance Team Championships.
“Steven was undoubtedly talented and captivating to watch, but what stood out most was his genuine care and respect for his teammates and this program,” said Nicole Sao Pedro-Welch, Dance Director and Head Coach of the Endicott Dance Team.
As a Bostonian and big Celtics fan herself, Sao Pedro-Welch was a part of the inaugural Celtics dance team in 2006. In a full circle moment, two of her Endicott dancers have gone on to follow in her footsteps, Cara Desjarlais ’12 in 2014, and now O’Connor.
“These moments are what keep me in coaching, and I hope to continue to provide as much as I can to prepare dancers for any dream dance job,” said Sao Pedro-Welch.
At Endicott, O’Connor was trained to dance precisely and in unison with others, something he carried with him to the Celtics. Alongside Sao Pedro-Welch and teammates, he worked tirelessly to clean and perfect routines for performances, sometimes practicing until late at night, preparing him for the long multi-day practices with the Celtics.
After the 2022–23 season with the Celtics, O’Connor decided to try out again. Only now, the auditions were in-person, and he wasn’t sure if he would make the team again, as there were many others waiting to try out alongside him. But with a year under his belt, O’Connor also knew what it meant to be a Celtics dancer—and he nailed it.
“It was intimidating going into it,” he said. “But once you start dancing, you just feel like everything falls into place. You go to that zone, that headspace, where you’re just comfortable doing what you love.”
Not only did O’Connor make the team once more, but he was asked to be this year’s rookie captain. In this role, he’s responsible for helping lead practices, teaching choreography, and coming up with formations to assist his coaches.
And while he doesn’t plan to leave the Celtics anytime soon, O’Connor said that he can’t imagine a life not dancing for a New England or Boston team or potentially teaching dance in the future.
“This experience has kept my love for dance alive,” he said.