I worshipped Patricia Macbride, a 2014 Kennedy Center Honoree. I first saw a photo of Ms. McBride, a New York City Ballet ballerina, in a children’s book, A Very Young Dancer, when I was 11. It was love at first site. I grew up in El Paso, Texas, so I was a ballerina in tumbleweeds and dust storms in the 70s and 80s. I was as physically far away from New York you could get. So I gazed at her photos for hours. I wanted to do a limb-exchange with Ms. McBride, where I would magically zip on her fine-boned, long legs and sinewy arms to be topped off, or down, with her pliantly arched feet.
Ms. McBride’s frequent photos in New York Magazine, Newsweek, and Time during the 70′s ballet-boom lined my bathroom mirror. A Vogue spread on her and a few other New York City ballerinas became the wallpaper of my closet door. I thought that if I stared enough at her, I would some how become more like her. I never got tired of looking her, and still don’t.
I didn’t get to see her perform when we went to New York City on an annual basis. It was her photos that made me a better dancer. The images of her, or Patty, as she is known now, inspired and guided me toward better technique. Most people don’t realize how intensely visual dance is. As the young dancers learn ballet technique, it is the image that shows, teaches, and reminds them how and what to do with their bodies. We are constantly calling up images of what we and the positions and steps look like, and then how we are supposed to look while doing them. It’s like a slow-motion video clip playing in your brain: arms, hands, neck, legs, knees, ankles, feet. This is why young bun-heads stare at youtube videos of dancers for hours.
Last night during Ms. McBride’s interview with Mary Curtis in Charlotte, NC, the audience was given the gift of seeing photos of Patty from her childhood and her long career. When it got to the ballet photos I remembered seeing almost every single one in some print-publication from the 70′s and 80′s. I could name each ballet and her partners.
Patty as Coppelia taught me to be smiling and pleasant while having absolutely correct technique.
Ms. McBride in her signature Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux got my turns going. Relaxed, feminine arms on top of demon-speed feet.
Jerome Robbins’ Dances at a Gathering to piano pieces by Chopin sang the tension out of my shoulders and made my eyes water.
Tarantella was all about break-neck pace and stamina.
Rubies said that some jazzy moves were OK. And work on that flexibility.
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Patricia McBride and her husband Jean Pierre Bonnefoux have been heading my local ballet company, The Charlotte Ballet, for about 20 years. I’ve been involved with our company as a Dance Academy parent and now I serve on the Board of Trustees. Patty is always pleasant, relaxed, and welcoming. She’s a breeze of calm with a smile. I try to cultivate this vibe within myself so people will like me more. And, this is before her Eternal Youth. Her lifetime of having a good attitude, being nice consistently, and moving while using her brain has given her Agelessness. Recent photos of Patty McBride line the mirrors of my memory.