At age 20, Ashley Hod will achieve the dream she’s longed for since childhood—to dance as the Sugar Plum Fairy in the New York City Ballet (NYCB). The ballerina’s dream will become reality on Sunday, Dec. 27, at 5 p.m. on the Lincoln Center stage.
The Great Neck native began dancing at age four and enjoyed attending ballet performances with her mother. She first saw The Nutcracker when she was five and decided she wanted to be the Sugar Plum Fairy. She shared her aspiration with her mother, who told her that if she wanted to do it, she would have to work hard.
“Originally, my mom had enrolled me in dance like any other mom,” said Hod. “Then, they realized I had the body type for it, and I auditioned for SAB [School of American Ballet] at 8.”
The School of American Ballet is the top training ground in America and one of the most famous ballet schools in the world. At the time, Hod considered ballet a hobby, something to do for fun, something she was good at. But, by age 12, she realized that ballet was what she wanted to do. One of her teachers told her that she was talented and could make a career of it if she worked really hard—and that if she wanted to do it, she should.
“I don’t know what, why or when, but at 12, I just knew it was something that I wanted to pursue as a career,” said Hod. “I knew I was capable…from then on, I realized that I wanted to do it for a living.”
Hod started dancing with the NYCB in The Nutcracker at age 9. NYCB uses kids from SAB; the school and the company are connected. According to Hod, you can’t just audition for NYCB; you get in through the school. Hod feels as though she was born and bred in SAB.
At 17, the ballerina was accepted into NYCB as an apprentice, performed with the company and was essentially tested for a whole year to see if she would fit the company’s mold and lifestyle. In 2013, when she turned 18, she signed a contract with NYCB. She’s now been with the company for a full three years and it’s her fourth season as a company member in The Nutcracker.
Hod was cast as Dewdrop for last year and this year’s performances of The Nutcracker. Every other day, she dances as a Snowflake or Flower as well. The young ballerina just learned that she was cast as the Sugar Plum Fairy, a lead role, and said that her roles as Dewdrop and Sugar Plum Fairy “are special. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” especially since the Sugar Plum Fairy is usually performed by dancers 25 to 30 years old.
“I’m at the lowest rank,” said Hod, “…and to be able to get to perform this is an unbelievable experience.”
According to Hod, the company doesn’t hold auditions for lead roles. If the company thinks you’re good enough, you rehearse the part and, if you do a good job, you’re cast.
When Hod recently arrived home and saw the rehearsal schedule, which is set daily, it said she was scheduled to rehearse the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy. She assumed she was too young and wasn’t going to be cast. In fact, she said she was almost positive that she wasn’t going to be cast because it’s a huge role. She figured that maybe in a year or two she would get the role, so she tried not to think about it.
“I didn’t want to psych myself out,” she said. Apparently, Hod impressed everyone enough to land the prized role. When she saw the casting, she was happily surprised to learn that she landed the role as one of the youngest Sugar Plum Fairies this year. “[It’s] the ultimate dream come true,” exclaimed Hod, “[It was] so unexpected.
“Dancing in this production as a child, [and then] 10 short years later doing the lead role…I feel like I’ve made it. This is a complete dream come true. Any little girl that goes to see the show…what they want is to be the Fairy. It’s a very nice accomplishment.” She said that being cast as this leading role is “so surreal.”
She continued, “It is definitely a dream come true, especially growing up at SAB, you idolize the dancers and the company itself, it’s one of the top companies in the world.”
Being a ballerina may seem glamorous, but no dream is easy to accomplish and maintain. Hod begins warm-up class at 10:30 a.m., rehearses for six hours from 12 to 6 p.m. and then begins performing at 7 or 8 p.m. Her day typically consists of 12 hours of ballet. Hod’s schedule only changes when the company’s not in performance season. During those times, they stop rehearsing at 7 p.m. Right now, the company is rehearsing various shows.
“We are always working on the next thing,” said Hod, who rehearses and performs every day but Monday. On weekends, the company performs double shows on Saturdays and Sundays, including 47 performances of The Nutcracker in six short weeks.
As the eldest of six children, Hod said she’s “a very big family girl.” She lived in Great Neck until she was 18, but for the past two years has lived in the city, though she still comes home on breaks. Hod attended Great Neck South High School for freshman year, but then had to be home-schooled because ballet was so demanding. During her free time, Hod likes hanging out with her boyfriend, family activities and sudoku.
The ballerina has performed in productions of Swan Lake, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Sleeping Beauty. At this point in her career, she’s had a lot of core roles, which are group dances.
“Every year as you dance and get older, if they notice you, you get a feature role,” she said. “It’s a building experience to the top. It usually starts with those group dances.”
Hod’s goal is “to be a principal dancer; that’s a dream of mine. It takes a lot of time and hard work,” but she enjoys the process. “I couldn’t have done it without the support of my mom and entire family. They give me the strength to do what I do every day, it’s not easy. The Nutcracker is just a small part of my job during the year. Every time I get on stage, I feel so grateful to have made it to where I am. There are a million little girls who want to be in pro ballet, but that doesn’t always come true. I feel very grateful and lucky.”
Performances of The Nutcracker started the day after Thanksgiving and will continue through Jan. 3. Hod will be performing as the Sugar Plum Fairy on Sunday, Dec. 27, at 5 p.m. For tickets, visit www.nycballet.com/nutcracker.