Ashley Bouder was born in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and began her ballet training at the age of six at the Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, with Marcia Dale Weary. After attending the 1999 Summer Program at the School of American Ballet (SAB), the official school of New York City Ballet, she was invited by SAB to continue her training during the Winter Session. As a student, Bouder performed featured roles in Balanchine's Danes Concertantes and Stars and Stripes for the School of American Ballet's 2000 Annual Spring Workshop. She was named an apprentice with New York City Ballet in June 2000 and became a member of the corps de ballet that October. She was promoted to the rank of soloist in February 2004, and in January 2005, Bouder was promoted to principal dancer.