Denver Nuggets Dancer brings athleticism to the arena
NBA dancers spend countless hours in the gym and perform difficult physical routines with impeccable timing.
The demands are more pronounced at Pepsi Center, where the Denver Nuggets Dancers must execute their routines at 5,280 feet and then return to the court a few minutes later looking as though they just took a leisurely stroll along the beach.
It raises the question: Are dancers athletes?
In the case of rookie Denver Nuggets Dancer Ashlee, the answer is an unequivocal yes.
Her dad ran track and cross-country at New Mexico State University, her brother played football at the University of New Mexico and her sister ran cross-country for the Lobos.
As for the 22-year-old Ashlee, she has spent about half her life on the basketball court, the softball field, the volleyball court and the ski slopes. In her youth, she also dabbled in golf, gymnastics, swimming and racquetball.
“It’s a long list,” she said. “My parents were both very athletic, so they put us in sports at an early age.”
Despite standing just 5-foot-1, Ashlee has a vertical leap that enabled her to play the front row for her high school volleyball team, and she takes pride in the fact that she once dunked a basketball on an 8-foot rim. The skills transfer to her craft as a dancer.
“Being so athletic has helped with dance a lot,” she said. “My legs are superstrong from playing all those sports. In dance, that really helps me a lot.”
Ashlee grew up in Albuquerque but always wanted to live in Denver after visiting the city when she was about 11 years old. After spending three years dancing for the New Mexico Thunderbirds of the NBA Development League, she joined the Colorado Mammoth dance team – the Wild Bunch – for the 2011 National Lacrosse League season.
When the Nuggets held dance auditions in the summer, Ashlee made a smooth transition from the artificial turf back to the hardwood.
“Ashlee’s extensive dance and performance background were apparent throughout her season with the Wild Bunch and at the Nuggets Dancers auditions this summer,” Denver Nuggets Dancers coordinator and choreographer Amy Jo Wagner said. “She is very comfortable in front of a crowd and handling the rigorous schedule of the DND, which made her an excellent rookie candidate for the team.”
Ashlee’s professional success as a dancer was hardly foreshadowed when she joined the Duke City Stars studio in Albuquerque. As a gangly 10-year-old, she started later than most accomplished dancers and her own instructor was skeptical about her prospects.
“I was horrible,” Ashlee said. “My coach tells everyone, ‘If Ashlee can dance, anyone can,’ because I was so bad.”
Ashlee eventually found her rhythm and juggled a full schedule of school, sports and dance all the way through her high school graduation. She enrolled at the University of New Mexico and is currently taking on-line classes as she works toward a degree in communications.
Ashlee would like to attend nursing school, which is fitting considering the aches and pains she has endured as a result of her active lifestyle.
The injuries include multiple sprained ankles, a hyperextended, dislocated and broken right elbow, a separated left shoulder, sprained AC joints in both shoulders, wrist surgery and a torn calf muscle.
Talented and athletic, Ashlee has persevered through it all to reach her goal of becoming a Denver Nuggets Dancer.
The hardest part might be staying healthy enough to prove to everyone that dancers are indeed athletes.
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