Ryan and Ashleigh Di Lello are two phenomenal ballroom dancers.
Audiences from around the world were captivated and intrigued with their show-stopping routines that have been showcased on the hit FOX summer series So You Think You Can Dance (SYTYCD) and on multiple theatrical productions including Burn the Floor and Dancing Star.
Recently, PopWrapped had the chance to interview the duo and they talked about the early stages of their respective careers and their So You Think You Can Dance experience in part one of this two-part edition of “A Conversation.”
Jacob Elyachar: How did you get interested in dancing?
Ashleigh Di Lello:My mom always said from inception, I kicked her so much while she was pregnant she had external bruises! They used to joke a lot that they had either a dancer or a soccer player. Believe me, I am not a soccer player at all. (Laughs) As soon as I could walk, I wanted to dance. I asked my mom if I could take dance classes and I started when I was four-years-old.
Ryan Di Lello:For me, it is in my blood. My maternal and paternal grandparents met ballroom dancing, my parents met ballroom dancing and I met Ashleigh ballroom dancing. Basically, I would not exist if it were not for ballroom dancing. All of my siblings have danced and currently, my youngest siblings are champion ballroom dancers in their divisions. They will do all the other dance styles like Contemporary, Jazz and Hip-hop. I would love to see them on So You Think You Can Dance.
In fact, my brother helped his dance partner audition for the show. Jeff Thacker (the show’s Executive Producer) actually stopped him and asked: “Why aren’t you auditioning? I want you on the show!” He said that he was not 18, but Jeff gave him a ticket to come back straight to the next round to audition for the show. He would be incredible. He is more trained than I am in all those other styles.
JE: What were some of the highlights in your ballroom career?
ADI:My highlights would be different. Yes, there are highlights including winning the Amateur Latin Championship and we went to Nationals. Those are big highlights for me. Unfortunately, because I was really sick for four-and-a-half years and had a back injury, I did not dance for six years. I was told that I would not dance again. However, my ultimate highlight is the first time back on the competition floor in six years. Nothing even comes close to that moment of being on stage again.
RDI:One of the greatest highlights I had before meeting Ashleigh was winning the World’s Latin Formation Championship in Blackpool, England. I was 23-years-old when I went over there and won that competition. But, with Ashleigh, I think that we would say together the greatest highlight as ballroom dancers was being on So You Think You Can Dance and sharing our style with millions of people.
After we did the show, Jason Gilkison invited us to be the headliners of Burn the Floor. This show is renowned in the ballroom world as the highest and most respected production for the most elite dancers from around the world to participate in. For us, it was a dream come true to have Jason asked us to be a part of it and to be the headliners of the show.
JE: Why did you want to originally audition for So You Think You Can Dance?
ADL:It was something that I thought about before. I thought it would be an incredible challenge just to be a part of the show. We loved the show and what it did for dancers. It put dancing back on people’s minds and in the forefront of film and television. Before we auditioned for SYTYCD, we had been on the road for two years doing a show throughout Europe and South America. When we got back to the U.S., we thought we would have a different life. We had our college degrees and I was planning on graduate school and Ryan was going to work for a financial services firm.
RDL:We would have just done local events and taught classes, but we both felt wrong about that decision. “Why are we not using this talent that we have to the fullest?” We felt this emptiness and felt that we should do something more. It was actually a week before SYTYCD auditions that we had a major conversation involving the auditions.
We got our routine together, went and auditioned for the show. We made it to Vegas and made it onto the show. That emptiness was gone and the feeling that we were in the right place at the right time was very powerful and overwhelming because we knew we belonged there. Ever since we did the show, a whole bunch of doors opened up for us and it has been a huge blessing.
JE: During your time on So You Think You Can Dance, both of you were paired with different dancers throughout the season. Was it hard working with another partner?
ADL:Both of us were very lucky to have such incredible partners.
RDL:Jakob (Karr) and Ellenore (Scott) were amazing partners.
ADL:Jakob and I were kindred spirits. It felt like we had been friends forever. We were like brother and sister and we got along right off the bat. We became closer not only as friends but dancers as well. It was a dream come true having Jakob as a partner, not only for his talent but also as a person. We had the same work ethic and we both sweated a lot. Jakob and I had so much fun together. It was actually a neat experience to be separated from Ryan. When you are dancing with somebody, you do not really get to see their dancing on stage separate from holding their hand and being their partner. For us, for the first time we could watch each other dance and support each other.
RDL:And be each other’s cheerleaders. We were a family of four with Jakob and Ellenore. We would always go down to the hot tub after rehearsals and soak, stretch and go out for dinner. Plus, we would help each other in rehearsals. Ellenore and I would watch their routines and give them feedback and vice versa. It actually worked out really nicely.
JE: What were some of your favorite routines?
RDL:I would say my Contemporary with Ellenore that Travis Wall created. That was my first experience with Contemporary and I absolutely fell in love with that style of dance. Travis was amazing to work with and even though the movement was so foreign to my body, I felt free in it. Out of all the other dance styles, I feel like I conne
cted with Contemporary the most. Of course, dancing with Ashleigh in the finale. We got to choreographed our own Jive and perform a Travis Wall Contemporary piece. It was such a touching and overwhelming performance for us, to share not only our talent but also our love for each other and express our marriage to the world through that piece. It was a special moment for both of us.
ADL:Besides those two pieces from the finale, one of my all-time favorite routines I did with Jakob was the Nappytabs Hip-hop cell phone and cheating dance. That was really fun to do. Even though, it was tight choreography, ballroom is so structured and so technical, I felt like I could let go and be free in Hip-hop and express myself in a new way. Nappytabs were great to work with and of course, everything they do is incredible. I also enjoyed working with Sonya (Tayeh). She did a Lyrical Jazz piece with Jakob and I during the Top 12 week and with Russell and I in the finale. She is just brilliant. She pushes you and pushes you and makes you really step outside of your comfort zone. In addition, she pulls your soul out of you and you feel her soul in what she choreographs. It is just an incredible experience that takes you outside of just dance and it becomes a story with movement and so much passion. I love working with her because Sonya deconstructed me as a ballroom dancer and I loved that.
JE: Do you have any favorite memories from your time on the show?
RDL:The moment when I found out that Ashleigh made the show. I do not know if you remember but it was the most dramatic Green Mile episodes ever. They (the producers) made me think that she had not made it and that there was one spot left and that the other ballroom girl (Strictly Come Dancing pro) Karen Hauer got it instead of Ashleigh. All of us thought that there was only one spot left for a girl and I got in and I was waiting to see if either Ashleigh or Karen were going to walk through the curtain…. and Karen walked through.
I started balling because that meant to me that Ashleigh did not make it. I know what she had gone through where she fought a four-year battle with illness and was told by numerous doctors that she would not be able to dance again. I knew what this meant for her and I would rather have her make the show than me. Then, she walks out of the curtain and said: “I am in too!” I jumped in the air and grabbed her. They did not reveal to us that there were two spots left because they wanted that natural reactions for TV. It was that moment, and when I got to dance with her that were my two favorite moments from SYTYCD.
ADL:That was a frustrating moment for me. (Laughs) They held me backso Ryan could react and I knew he was going through so many emotions and I did not want him to feel that anguish…but that’s TV. My favorite memory (and I think I speak for all of the contestants) was the very first time on stage. When the theme song came on and we all came out and did our first group routine choreographed by Wade Robson. He did a gangster-inspired routine where he worked with all of the different groups and it was the first time on stage and the energy from the audience and it suddenly hit us that we made the show. We were all there together.
JE: How did So You Think You Can Dance prepare you for the rest of your careers?
RDL:Being on So You Think You Can Dance was the hardest yet most rewarding experience of my life! Having to learn a completely new genre of dance that you have never trained in before and only have five hours to learn it with the choreographer in rehearsal time and after that, you have to do it on your own. You also have to not only perform the routine but
MASTER ITbecause that is how the judges judge you. They want you to become a Hip-hop dancer or a Jazz dancer in front of millions of people. The show takes you to levels that you would have never thought you could achieve.
In addition, it also opened so many doors because you were on that show and it has a great name now. We are hired and booked by choreographers, who we worked with and they hold the show in such great esteem. Putting that on your resume, does open the door for us, even more than before we were on the show.
ADL:SYTYCD taught us to work really hard, but at the same time, never lose why you are doing the show in the first place. While we were on the show, Ryan and I worked so hard and you see that the contestants who go forward put in that extra effort. We were rehearsing in the hallways, the courtyard, on the pavement and in the gym from early in the morning to late hours at night to master the choreography and the steps. We were always rehearsing with the music and sometimes we could not go to sleep because we were going over the steps in our head. We all had that kind of work ethic you needed for success in the dance industry.
But at the same time, the dance industry is a hard industry to get into. You have the judges and the people at home judging and critiquing you. What helped us succeed (especially for myself), I was there because I loved to dance. Not everyone is going to like you and they are going to find something to fault you with and that is how everything in the dance industry works. If you start thinking about what everyone else thinks, then you lose the whole reason why you are doing it. I worked really hard but at the end of the day, when I stepped on that stage and danced it was not about anything else but my love of dancing.
For more information about Ryan and Ashleigh, you can visit their website: http://ryanandashleigh.com/
Photos: All courtesy of Ryan & Ashleigh Di Lello!