The A Team: The DelGrosso Sisters
It’s 8 am at Center Stage Performing Arts Studio in Orem, UT, and the DelGrosso sisters—Amber, Ashly, Autumn, Afton, Averie and Abreá—have arrived three hours early for their Dance Spirit photo shoot. Amber (31), Ashly (28) and Autumn (25), all with infants and toddlers in tow, set their kids up with snacks, while Averie (19) dives into her giant makeup box and starts doing Afton’s (21) makeup. Abreá (16), who has just received her driver’s license, goes on a trip to Starbucks for the group. Before I even have time to put names to faces, I think, “Wow, these girls are insanely pretty.” With their bronzed skin, long brown hair and dark facial features—not to mention their super-toned bodies—they look remarkably alike.
Despite their physical similarities, each DelGrosso is an individual. When it’s time for their solo shots, Ashly is the first up. She immediately starts swiveling her hips flirtatiously from side to side. Next is Afton, who stretches into deep lunges and elongated poses that show off her strong legs. Amber hops on set, cha-cha-ing at rapid speed, and then Autumn slows it down, easing into controlled movements. Soon Abreá takes the spotlight, tossing her long hair like a pro and looking to her sisters for guidance. Last up is Averie, with her sweet smile and Old Hollywood appeal, who has mastered the art of working her costume.
At the shoot, it becomes clear why the dancing DelGrosso family is so successful: The girls are dedicated, hard-working, talented and supportive of one another. Their skills have led them to careers on “Dancing with the Stars” (Ashly is a professional on the show, most recently partnering astronaut Buzz Aldrin during Season 10), in major Las Vegas productions (Afton spent two years in La Rêve) and with touring shows (Averie traveled with Louis Van Amstel’s Ballroom with a Twist). Plus, they all teach and coach ballroom couples. Though each girl has created her own persona within the group, together the six sisters form an unbeatable dynasty. When I asked them to count up the number of competition and ballroom awards they’ve won, they couldn’t do it.
Getting to Know the Girls
The day after their photo shoot, we all reconvene at Center Stage to chat. Though I had told them the interview would be casual, none of them shows up in sweatpants. Ashly is pulled-together chic, in fitted jeans and a belted yellow cardigan. Averie, the fashionista, wears a floral dress underneath a black blazer with black tights and pumps. It’s clear that everything these women do, they do full-out.
The first thing I ask the sisters is if they always wanted to be dancers, or if it simply came with the last name. After all, their mom, Kim, is the artistic director of Center Stage, the successful competition studio where they all teach. “I knew it from the start,” Ashly says. “I said when I was very young, ‘I will be a professional dancer.’ ” As for the other five sisters, dancing was something that happened naturally.
The DelGrossos grew up in their mom’s studio and started taking jazz, tap and ballet classes at 3 years old. They also trained with some of the world’s top ballroom professionals, including Louis Van Amstel, Corky and Shirley Ballas, and Heather Smith. And though Abreá doesn’t remember it, her sisters are quick to recall that her “first recital” was when she was just a few days old. “Our mom directed a full recital just days after giving birth,” Amber says. “She ran the entire thing with Abreá strapped to her.” “I don’t know how I survived!” Abreá says. “We had you,” Amber says earnestly. “We all did. We were protective.”
Kim encouraged her daughters to excel both inside and outside the studio. Early on, the girls would get up at 6:30 am for piano lessons before going to school. Then it was straight to Center Stage, where they were members of the studio’s jazz, hip-hop and ballroom competition teams. They were all academically strong as well, each graduating from high school with top honors.
Their mother’s devotion to the studio helped the girls develop self-sufficiency. “We were in so many routines at every recital,” Amber, the oldest of the group, says. “Usually you have your mom backstage to help you change, but we didn’t because she was in charge. We learned to be super organized.” Amber also took on a caretaking role. “If it wasn’t for Amber...oh gosh!” Afton says, with a laugh. When the younger sisters needed their hair done or couldn’t sleep at night, Amber came to their aid. “We were independent,” says Averie, who started doing her own stage makeup at a young age and has since made a career out of it, working for MAC Cosmetics and as a beauty stylist at Nordstrom. Abreá learned to cook her own dinners when she got home from the studio and now aspires to become a chef.
Afton, who “got a ton of the talent,” according to Ashly, began choreographing when she was 11. “We didn’t have enough money to hire a choreographer to do my solo,” Afton says. “So I just did it myself.”
The DelGrosso Drive
With a mother who knows practically everyone important in the dance industry, you would think getting a job would be a piece of cake for the DelGrossos. But Afton says she forbade her mother from making connections for her. “I told her not to talk about me to the faculty at conventions,” Afton says. “I wanted to be successful on my own and have my abilities speak for themselves.” Kim was on Afton’s side: “I taught my daughters to always work harder than the other dancers,” she says. “I wanted them to advance because of their talent and preparation. Having their names recognized at competitions sometimes caused stress because they felt more was expected from them.”
In studio numbers, Kim was hesitant to put her daughters front and center. “She didn’t want anyone to think she favored us,” says Afton. “So we started in the back and had to earn spots up front.”
Belles of the Ballroom
Although all six of the sisters attended “regular” dance competitions, they really developed a name for themselves on the ballroom floor. The family would travel internationally to about 20 ballroom competitions a year. “In the ballroom world, you’re either a Standard dancer or a Latin dancer,” Afton says. “There are very few Ten dancers, meaning people who compete in all five of the Standard dances and all five of the Latin dances.” All of the DelGrossos are trained Ten dancers. On a circuit largely dominated by Russian dancers, Afton, at age 8, was the youngest American performer to make the competitive Blackpool Dance Festival Final. All of the girls regularly took home honors, including Amateur Ten Dance Champion, U.S. Youth International Ten Dance Champion and U.S. Youth Standard Champion, to name a few. Amber, Ashly, Autumn and Afton competed at Blackpool, and Abreá will be attending this year.
Ashly also found success in the commercial world. “I was in 4th grade when Ashly was first on ‘Dancing with the Stars,’ ” Abreá remembers. “I went to school the next day asking everyone if they had seen my sister on TV. I was so proud to say she’s my sister.” Now, when they’re asked which celebrity they look like, the girls say “Ashly Costa” (the four eldest sisters go by their married names). Afton also had a stint on “DWTS,” during its “Pick A Pro” competition in Season 8.
Though the girls have become familiar faces in Hollywood, their grounded roots have remained. “During the first season, Ashly would call me all the time,” Amber says. “I loved that she was still Ash. She stayed true to herself.”
Kim says traveling to ballroom competitions helped the sisters develop their strong bond. “Traveling all over the world with each other taught them so much,” she says. “They grew close so fast.”
To Each Her Own
So what makes each of the sisters unique? I wanted to hear it in their own words.
Ashly answers first and thoughtfully—as she has all day. “I’m the health nut,” she says. “I’m the only vegetarian and I’m the health guru of the family.” From there, a flurry of compliments fly across the table. “Autumn is the funniest,” Afton says. “She’s level-headed,” Ashly adds. “And Afton is the jack-of-all-trades: the homemaker, choreographer, team captain and creative personality.” “Afton is artsy-fartsy!” Averie exclaims, and everyone laughs. They all agree that Abreá is the baby and Amber is the role model.
Though their lives are seemingly idyllic—I ask the sisters if they ever fight, and they can only recall one argument, over a leotard—the girls have experienced their share of adversity. Their older brother, Forest, was hit by a drunk driver when he was young and suffered a brain injury. “We learned early on to be sympathetic toward people who are different,” Autumn says. “A lot of us have been able to do great things,” says Afton. “But it isn’t about the result or what you win…” “...it’s about who you become along the way,” Amber finishes. “Some experiences are good and some are bad and some are really, really hard. But you can learn from all of them.” And these superstar siblings get to do it all with a built-in buddy system, every step of the way.
Meet the DelGrosso Girls!
Afton DelGrosso Wilson
Fun Fact: Afton is the only DelGrosso girl who married a dancer—“and she swore she never would!” says Amber. Afton’s husband, Zack Wilson, trained with the DelGrossos at Center Stage and courted Afton while she was performing in Cirque du Soleil’s La Rêve in Las Vegas.
Averie Michelle DelGrosso
Fun Fact: According to her mom, Averie “loves the glamorous things in life.” She did the makeup for everyone at the shoot, and she designed the costume she wore!
Autumn DelGrosso Turley
Fun Fact: Autumn’s middle name is Gypsy. “We love her middle name! It’s our favorite,” says Ashly. “But it was a rough one as a kid,” Autumn says. And her first dance partner was Derek Hough!
Amber DelGrosso Doxey
Fun Fact: Amber attended Brigham Young University, where she was on the ballroom team, and taught at four different dance studios while going to school full-time. “I got through four years of college without any debt,” she says.
Ashly DelGrosso Costa
Fun Fact: Ashly is married to Mike Costa, a former field producer on “DWTS.” They met working on the show!
Abreá Danielle DelGrosso
Fun Fact: Though she’s trained in all styles, Abreá says her favorite is hip hop.
Up Next: The DelGrossos are going international: They were invited to perform at the 2012 Olympics in London!
Looking for a college scholarship?
Go the ballroom route! “It’s easier to get a ballroom scholarship than a general dance scholarship,” says Amber. “And with ballroom you get to travel all over the world.” Autumn traveled to Australia and New Zealand with Utah Valley University’s ballroom team.
Want to see more of the DelGrossos? Go to Dance Spirit’s Facebook page for exclusive outtakes from their cover shoot, then check out a behind-the-scenes video at dancespirit.com//videos.
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All photos by Joe Toreno.
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