After teaching and performing in Utah, Bronwen Merrill is pursuing her dance career in France
Bronwen Merrill knew she wanted to dance for Disney Entertainment from the time she was 14 years old.
“I had the next 10 years of my life planned out before I could even drive a car,” she said. But the BYU alum’s journey to her dream job turned out a lot different than she expected.
Merrill grew up in Provo, raised by parents who taught her to appreciate the arts. She briefly took dance lessons at a young age, but it wasn’t until her mother took adult ballet classes and brought a 10-year-old Merrill along that she really fell in love with the art form.
“I was totally hooked,” said Merrill. “I knew I wanted to study dance. I said to myself, after graduation I’m going to move to either Anaheim or Orlando, and I’m going to audition and get into Disney Entertainment.”
When she met and married her husband at BYU, however, Merrill knew she had to reevaluate her post-grad plans. After graduating in 2017 with a Bachelor of Arts in dance, she moved to China with her husband, Jordan, to teach English for four months. Three days after their return, she joined BYU’s Department of Dance, teaching beginning ballet classes as adjunct faculty.
“Teaching was something I never thought I would do, but it was a great way to build up my resume, stay close to the dance community and support my little family of two while Jordan finished school,” she said.
Merrill also used this time to gain more experience onstage. She performed in Hale Center Theatre’s production of “An American in Paris,” as well as “Beauty and the Beast” at the SCERA Shell Outdoor Theatre. While her time at BYU helped her strengthen her technical base as a dancer, Merrill’s post-grad experiences onstage helped her grow as a performer.
“I feel that I’ve developed a better sense of being able to get into a character and tell that character’s story,” said Merrill. “There can be a disconnect — especially with ballet dancers — because there’s such a focus on perfecting the choreography and the technique, it can be hard to focus on the story you’re trying to tell with the movement. It becomes more enjoyable for both the performer and the audience when those worlds can find a way to balance and combine.”
Merrill and her husband moved to Florida, expecting to settle down, when a contract offer came from Disneyland Paris — literally a dream come true.
“I was so excited, and then it suddenly became so stressful,” she said. “There were so many big changes we had to make: Jordan had to reevaluate his career path, we had to let go of our goal of homeownership, and we realized we had to sell everything we owned to move to France.”
Merrill was hired on at Disneyland Paris as a character performer and parade dancer, where she finished her training right before COVID-19 closed the parks for four months. Now, she is able to perform at the parks — albeit at a distance from guests.
“Being here and performing in any capacity is still very fulfilling, especially at a time when so many artists have lost their jobs or are waiting for things to open back up again,” Merrill said. “I’m really looking forward to when I get to dance down Main Street, USA for the first time.”
While her experiences between graduation and Disney were never part of the plan, they expanded Merrill’s abilities as a dancer and were crucial to fulfilling her life-long dream.
“Learning those skills was so important for me, and helped immensely at my audition for Disneyland Paris,” she said. “I don’t think that I would have gotten as far as I did in the audition without those lessons about character work that I had post-graduation.”
Throughout her journey, there were times when Merrill thought about giving up, but the experience has helped her realize the importance of following your dreams.
“I just wish that more people believed in themselves enough to chase the dreams that they have,” she said. “It’s not going to be easy — a lot of the time it’s going to be really, really hard — but it’s so worth it. I just want to shout that message from the rooftops.”