Dancing against all odds


When she was told at the age of 13 that she would never dance again, if she even lived to adulthood, Ashleigh Di Lello made a choice to be a fighter.

Ashleigh and her husband Ryan auditioned for So You Think You Can Dance' together and made it to the finals, launching themselves into the national spotlight. (Photo courtesy of Heidi Ann Studios.)
Ashleigh Di Lello and her husband Ryan auditioned for “So You Think You Can Dance” together and made it to the finals, launching themselves into the national spotlight. (Photo courtesy Heidi Ann Studios)

After battling a crippling illness for four and a half years, Di Lello overcame all odds to become a top finalist on “So You Think You Can Dance,” inspiring millions of people around the nation.

“The biggest lesson I learned is that life is hard, period,” Di Lello said. “But it’s what you do with that hardship that defines your life.”

After a long battle with her health, Di Lello still dances today, coaches five dance teams at her studio, teaches at UVU and Pioneer High School and coaches competitors all around the state. At the age of 30 with a baby on the way, Di Lello made medical history and survived an illness that should have ended her life.

Di Lello spent two and a half years in and out of hospitals, enduring every test the doctors could think of, with a debilitating illness that hardly allowed her to walk. She went to dozens of specialists around the country, and no one could diagnose what was wrong, even though it was physically visible she was dying.

“It got to the point of feeling as dead as you can and somehow still breathing,” Di Lello said. “Most doctors told me I would be sick most of my life, but most didn’t give me much chance of surviving.”

Di Lello was finally diagnosed with a rare parasitic infection, cryptosporidium, which had spread throughout her brain and shut down many of her vital organs. Di Lello worked for another two years to become healthy again.

“It was a long road,” Di Lello said. “But luckily I was born very stubborn.”

Di Lello came to BYU and thrived academically. Working as an American Heritage TA while earning a degree in American studies, Di Lello set herself apart as a great intellectual mind.

Frank Fox, her professor and mentor while she attended BYU, said what set her apart from others was her ability to think creatively, making her an amazing TA and an even more incredible person.

“She was one of the best TAs I ever had,” Fox said. “You never get a chance to see your students’ creative imagination, but I saw hers and it was outstanding.”

Di Lello not only matured as a student, Fox said, but as a deep and thoughtful person because of the hardships she had overcome.

“As I saw her recovering from that dance with death, she became a person who really understood life’s perils and life’s potentials,” Fox said. “She knew what it was like to be facing eternity, and most kids her age don’t have that kind of depth.”

While at BYU, Di Lello met and married her husband Ryan, a competitive dancer who said he knew he was going to marry Ashleigh the moment he met her.

After graduation, Ashleigh and Ryan Di Lello danced together for two years on a cruise ship while touring the world.

“We came home and thought we would settle,” Ryan Di Lello said. “But we just had this feeling that we weren’t supposed to stop dancing, and then we saw the advertisement for ‘So You Think You Can Dance.'”

The couple tried out for the show and competed against each other, both making it into the final six.

“We felt we had been given this talent and worked so hard to develop it,” Ryan Di Lello said. “It just felt wrong to just walk away from it.”

While on the show, their loving marriage inspired many people on the show, and their dance success opened many doors for them. They have since starred on Broadway in New York, the West End in London, toured in LA, been on the Ellen Show and toured their own show in over 40 countries.

Today, the Di Lellos live in Orem; Ashleigh is ready to settle down with her husband and baby on the way, but dance is still very much a part of her life.

Working as a coach and a physical trainer at Pure Rhythms Ballroom at Charisma Studios, Ashleigh Di Lello is passing on what she has learned to other people.

She is also writing a book about her challenges and overcoming hardships, which she hopes will inspire people enduring trials.

“I hope the book helps anyone that is going through something hard,” Ashleigh Di Lello said. “My goal is that through what I have been through, I can help other people.”

She also plans to go back to school and get a graduate degree because she loves learning and being in the intellectual environment of the classroom.

“When I lost everything with my health, the brain was the one thing I still had; it was the only thing I could control,” Ashleigh Di Lello said. “I understood how fragile life was, and that fed my fuel to fill it with knowledge.”

Through tears, she said one of the biggest lessons she learned through hard times is that although life is hard, life is beautiful.

“I had greater joy than I can express,” Ashleigh Di Lello said. “My trials made me appreciate life in a way that few people get to.”

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