(orig. Linda Michelle Merrill; b St Paul, Minn., 2 Dec. 1950)
US dancer. She studied with Sybil de Neergaard and Phyllis Marmein and at the School of American Ballet, and in 1967 made her debut with New York City Ballet where she was appointed soloist in 1974 and principal in 1977. One of the last ballerinas to be trained directly by Balanchine her technique was considered exceptional in its dynamic allegro, precision, and musicality. She excelled in ballets like Theme and Variations, and Balanchine created two showcase roles for her in Ballo della Regina (1977) and Ballade (1980) as well as reviving Four Temperaments and Square Dance especially for her in 1976. Ashley's other created roles included the leads in Robbins's Requiem Canticles (1972), in Tharp and Robbins's Brahms/Handel (1984), and Martins's Fearful Symmetries (1990). She danced Petipa's Paquita and Sleeping Beauty as a guest artist with Sadler's Wells Royal Ballet in 1987. Between 1969 and 1973 she toured the US with a small company headed by d'Amboise and between 1980 and 1981 she was director and dancer with her own group, Merrill Ashley and Dancers, touring Hawaii. She retired from the stage in 1997, incidentally setting a record as the dancer with the longest career at NYCB, and has subsequently worked as a coach, also staging several works from the Balanchine repertory for companies worldwide. She has additionally directed the Dance Aspen Summer School, appeared several times on television, and is the author of Dancing for Balanchine (New York, 1984).