After a 15-month world tour as a dancer for Disney Live, 20-year-old Ashley Wiemer discovered something about herself.
The 2010 Eagle Valley High School graduate had always known that she loved dancing and performing. That's why she entered Brigham Young University as a dance major.
She auditioned for Disney Live in February 2011, accepted a contract in June and returned home last month with a new outlook on life. She's not a dance major anymore.
"I love dancing and it will always be a part of me, but now I know that I can make it as a professional dancer - I don't need to study to be something I already am," she said.
Now she wants to explore her other talents, so she's switching her studies to health care at BYU.
"I was on tour, thinking about what I would do next," Ashley said. "I'm ready to start the next chapter of my life. A friend's mom works in prenatal care at Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs, and I've been drawn to that since I got back."
She is currently taking a certified nursing assistant class through Colorado Mountain College and working as a waitress in Eagle. The class started Aug. 27, so she hit the ground running when she returned home Sept. 10.
"I was studying to keep up with the class while finishing the tour," Ashley said.
During her time on the road, that wasn't the only studying she faced. She toured nine countries and had to learn the script in four languages. That's in addition to all the dance moves, positioning on stage and six understudy positions.
"You have to learn quick," she said.
When Ashley auditioned for Disney Live in February 2011, it was just another audition in a series of many.
"I'd been doing a ton of auditions for practice and fun," she said. "I didn't know anything about Disney Live at the time and wasn't stressed because I didn't think I could get the part."
Besides, the director told her it would be an eight-month contract.
"I said, 'I can't do that, I'm in school.'"
Then Ashley got a call the following May.
"It was for the 15-month tour and I had to make a decision in nine hours," she said.
Ashley's mom, Tammi Wiemer, said her initial reaction was worry.
"I always envisioned her entertaining but not on a 15-month tour," she said. "My first reaction was, 'No way. She'll be all alone, she doesn't know anybody.' Her dad, on the other hand, said, 'Go for it.'"
During the tour, Ashley came home for breaks every so often and her mom witnessed an evolution.
"Each time she came home, she had grown so much," Tammi said. "My confidence grew in her ability to take care of herself."
Not only that, Tammi felt even more connected to her daughter's life.
"I think the time away and sporadic communication made us closer," she said. "The first time she went through airport security, I saw apprehension in her. Not so later on, it was routine - she would leave for another country without batting an eye."
Starting from the moment she accepted the contract, Ashley simply learned to roll with the intensity of a demanding tour.
"I left in June 2011 and had to learn the entire show in Mandarin Chinese in four days," she said.
When Ashley auditioned for Disney Live, one of her greatest aspirations was to win a spot on the BYU Cougarette Dance Team.
"They're national champs," she said.
She had been on the EVHS Dance Team her last three years of high school and was a co-captain her junior and senior years.
"I was one of three people in the final rounds of auditions for the Cougarettes," she said. "I was really frustrated to not make the team and I questioned my ability. I had no idea that Disney Live was right around the corner and I ended up being grateful. I got to see nine countries and meet incredible people, which I wouldn't have been able to do if I was committed to the dance team."
But Ashley hasn't given up on the Cougarettes.
"I still want to make the team," she said.
Ashley faced an additional challenge on tour. As a Mormon, she tries to devote every Sunday to God.
"Mormon churches are all over except in China, where it's illegal to proselytize (in public)," she said.
Most Sundays, Ashley found a church nearby where she could go by herself, since she was the only Mormon among the tour group of 15 cast members, 10 crew members and five administrators (all from the United States). Other Sundays, she had to perform.
"On those days, I found ways to dedicate myself to God by thinking of it as a service day - how I was bringing happiness to people," she said.
Meanwhile, Ashley's boyfriend has been on a two-year mission for the Mormon church in Argentina. He is from Glenwood Springs and the two have been dating since their junior year of high school.
"He gets home next month," she said. "I was stoked that I got to go on tour while he was away. We're going to have a lot of things to catch up on. He's only been able to send handwritten letters about once a month."
It's hard for Ashley to pick a favorite place from her tour visits.
"I saw so many cities in each country and each city had it's own culture," she said. "I loved Thailand. I got to do a four-day side trip there and camped in the jungle and rode an elephant."
She also got to pet a tiger in Thailand.
"I met amazing people in Singapore through church," she said. "They became like family and I was so happy when the tour returned there."
In total, Ashley visited nine cities in China; Singapore; two cities in the Philippines; Thailand; Singapore (again); two cities in Indonesia; 10 cities in Australia; 11 cities in Japan; three cities in Taiwan; and then 13 cities on a second tour in Japan.
Jakarta, Indonesia, was the most uncomfortable place for her.
"The culture was very different - Muslim - and it didn't have the kind of respect for women that I'm used to," she said. "At the hotel, I had to go through two metal detectors and we had four security guards for the whole show there. Most other places we only had one security guard. I stayed in my hotel room as much as possible."
There were also parts of Indonesia she loved, however.
"I got to take a side trip to an island, so Indonesia was also one of my favorites in that regard," she said. "It just goes to show that anywhere you go, you can find good and bad."
Japan had some of the friendliest people, Ashley said.
There were very nice people, even overly friendly," she said. "I never felt in danger. You could leave your purse on the subway and it would still be there when you looked for it."
She said the people there tend to model themselves after Americans.
"They try really hard to be like us - they try to keep their skin as white as possible and avoid tanning," she said.
Their take on American food is different as well.
"One restaurant offered 'American Pizza' - it was french fries on top of cheese and marinara sauce," she said.
Dancing is sort of what led to Ashley's interest in health care.
"I love learning about the body," she said. "When I was younger, I wanted to go into physical therapy for dancers. Dancers have different bodies. For example, I'm more flexible, so the stretches that helped everyone else didn't work for me."
Now she's fascinated with prenatal.
"I want to learn everything!" she said.
She might go back to Disney Live at some point.
"I was a good employee and I told them I would fill in if needed," she said. "I will continue dancing it up. That's what I breathe - most people know me as 'Ashley the dancer.'"
Her mom agrees that dancing is a huge part of who she is.
"I remember her moving to music before we even knew what that meant," Tammi said. "I would say she needs to dance like people need oxygen."
As scary as it was for Tammi to send her daughter off on a plane to the other side of the world, she acknowledges that Ashley and her 11-year-old sister were raised to be that way.
"We always told our kids, 'Don't be afraid of change because it is inevitable; don't be afraid to take a risk,'" she said. "You have to seize opportunity while you can."