For Hamilton residents who are Philadelphia 76ers fans, you now have another reason rooting interest aside from Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.
Take a look at how the Sixers Dance Team is performing, and if you like the act and costumes then feel some local pride, as none other than 2007 Hamilton West graduate Ashley Nuel-Malleo is devising the routines as the coach and designing the outfits. Her full title is Entertainment Teams Manager and Sixers Dance Coach, a position she has had for just over a year.
As the entertainment teams manager, she oversees the Sixers entertainment teams, books them for appearances and coordinates their performances.
As coach, Nuel said she is “responsible for all things Sixers Dancers.” That includes scheduling, organizing and running rehearsals while coordinating game days, designing their new costumes, schedule and run auditions and photo shoots and create the choreography and book choreographers.
If that isn’t enough, she is also a teacher at Stewart Johnson Dance Academy, founder and owner of Ashley Tayler Designs, which creates custom costumes for young competitive dancers, and a resident dance instructor at the Peddie School on a term-by-term basis.
In between all that, she breathes and sometimes eats.
“I live by my calendar, I work a lot,” Nuel said. “But it’s a great job, I love my job. I work all the time, but do I love what I do? Yes. Not a lot of people get to say they do what they love. There’s always a trade-off.”
Nuel has been part of the NBA scene for over six years, as she served as a Knicks City Dancer for over four years before going to Philadelphia.
“I found out about the job opening from one of my connections from New York and went through the interview process,” Nuel said. “I feel lucky to have been selected for this position and opportunity. I would say it is a little bit of a dream come true. It’s kind of surreal being at the head of the entertainment for such an up and coming organization. There’s a lot of really great things now happening with the Sixers and to be courtside for that is pretty spectacular.”
Especially considering that growing up, little brothers Kyle and Ricky were both Sixers fans. Nuel wasn’t overly concerned with basketball at the time, but lent her support to the boys.
‘It was pretty obvious that Ashley was going to be successful.’
According to Grice Middle School teacher Sean Fitzpatrick, who was Nuel’s science teacher in eighth grade, family is everything to the Nuels. He discovered that from a questionnaire he distributed the first day of school to find out more about his students. One question was who would be the four people they would love to invite to dinner.
“Ashley’s answer was her family, she was the first student to ever say that, and I found it interesting,” Fitzpatrick said. “The next year I taught Ricky and his reply to a similar question was ‘Family.’ He was the second student to say that.”
When it was Kyle’s turn, he gave the same answer to a slightly different question, prompting Fitzpatrick to note, “when you talked to the kids, you could tell how much they really loved, yet respected their parents and also seemed like they were friends. When you talked to the parents, you always knew their children were the number one priority.”
Nuel credits her parents for giving her the freedom to pursue her dreams. They never tried to alter her path from the creative route that she always seemed to follow. Nuel began dancing at the Stewart Johnson Academy at 2-1/2 and was on the West dance team as well.
Anyone who has watched the show “Dance Moms” might think “dancer” is another word for “drama queen” but Nuel was never that way. She was a straight-A student who was organized and focused, according to Fitzpatrick. The teacher still has a periodic table she drew with classmate Jen Raynor on his classroom wall.
“She didn’t seek popularity but it was easily recognized that everyone liked Ashley,” Fitzpatrick said. “No drama, she just worked hard and got along with everyone, including teachers and peers.”
Nuel went on to Drexel University and graduated summe cum laude in 2011. While there, she was part of the Drexel Dance Ensemble and Drexel Dance Team; and recently choreographed a dance for the current Dragon dancers.
It wasn’t what she originally had in mind.
“When applying to colleges, I thought I wanted to pursue a degree in architecture, but then decided to take an even more creative path with a bachelor of science in fashion design,” she said. “I have been fortunate to utilize all of my schooling in almost every aspect of my life.”
Upon graduation, she quickly gained the New York dancing job and over the next four years performed on HBO, Saturday Night Live and America’s Got Talent, and also appeared in the movie Trainwreck.
When she came to Philadelphia, Nuel went from performing to being behind the scenes. It has taken her out of the immediate spotlight, but has been worth it.
“Going from being a dancer and performer to now watching it and being on the other side it’s a different feeling,” Nuel said. “But I think it’s almost more satisfying to help others grow in their roles as dancers on the team and push them to push themselves and make them better and have them perform to the best of their ability. That’s what I find the greatest joy and success in with my job right now. I started teaching a couple years ago and really enjoyed that. This is just an extension of that in a different way.”
The quest to get the Sixers Dance Team organized is one that takes great planning and detail. After conducting auditions—which Nuel said is extremely difficult due to the large number of talented dancers who try out—rehearsals begin the first week of August for the 41-game home regular season from October to April.
Rehearsals are three times a week, three hours a day prior to the season, and pare down to twice a week as often as the schedule allows during the season. There are 19 girls on the team and either 14 to 16 perform at each game on a rotating basis.
“Auditions are incredibly rigorous in order to best prepare the dancers for the demands of the season,” Nuel said. “Being a dancer is an extremely fun job, but at the same time an incredible amount of hard work. They have to know an endless amount of choreography on any given day. They are performing in front of sold out crowds and must continually strive to perform their absolute best. They currently know 16 dances and will continue to learn more as the season progresses.”
Nuel explained that her biggest challenge is to continually push herself to get the most out of her team, while continuing to push her team’s limits to help them become the best dancers possible.
When the curtain goes up, so to speak, that’s when Nuel’s nerves kick in. She has done all she can; now it’s up to her girls to perform. Not only will the Wells Fargo Arena spectators be watching, but so will the TV cameras as they send snippets of the dance team across the Delaware Valley or even the nation.
“It’s a little surreal to stand there and watch,” Nuel said with a laugh. “I know this is kind of a weird reference. But in the movie, Mean Girls, there’s the one scene where they’re performing and there’s the dance mom doing the choreography on the side, trying to help them through everything. I feel like that’s me on the sideline kind of helping them through everything.”
Nuel says the job is a combination of fun and pressure, but leans more toward fun since “at the end of the day we are putting on a show for the best in sports.” She does not mingle with the players, saying “they are there to do their job and I am there to do mine, so our paths tend not to cross.”
In the big picture, Nuel could not be happier. She feels everything has fallen into place and that she is fortunate to do what she loves. For someone who feels family is so important, the environment is perfect.
“The Sixers are really great organization,” Nuel said. “It feels like a family, and you don’t get that at a lot of places so it’s really a great place to work.”
Despite living in Hightstown, Nuel still considers Hamilton at home and points with pride at how Kyle is playing professional soccer in Germany. She will be happy to know she is still a celebrity at her middle school alma mater.
“It was pretty obvious that Ashley was going to be successful,” Fitzpatrick said. “The whole thing where she tied dance, academics, sports and fashion into a career is a success story I now relate to students today as they start trying to decide what they want to do with their lives as they move through school. When I told her story last year in class, a student commented ‘Oh my God, I think she’s one of my dance instructors!”