McBride reflects on lifetime of dance in season’s first CDC lecture



Patricia McBride’s mother enrolled her in dance classes when she was 7 years old because she thought she could use a little more grace. She had no way of knowing that her daughter would someday become a world-renowned ballerina.

Now, decades later, McBride will be featured in Chautauqua Dance Circle’s first lecture of the summer, where she will talk about her training as a Balanchine dancer and her illustrious career with the New York City Ballet. The lecture, titled “The Making of a Balanchine Dancer,” will be held at 3:30 p.m. today in the Hall of Christ.

More than 60 years since McBride’s mother ushered her into her first dance class, McBride still credits her mother as one of the most important people in making her lifetime of dance possible. As a single mother, Margaret McBride worked hard to pay for her daughter’s ballet lessons, drive her to classes and attend her performances.

“I have a lot of love and admiration for my mom,” McBride said. “She worked, she supported the family and she was always there for me.”

By age 13, McBride was commuting to New York City for ballet training. One day, someone told her mother, “She looks like a Balanchine dancer,” and urged her to take McBride to the American School of Ballet. McBride says she cried because she was afraid of leaving her school, but it was ultimately the encouragement of her mother that motivated her to audition.

From there, McBride’s life became a whirlwind of dance slippers, leotards and tricky choreography. 

At only 14 years old, she received a full scholarship to the American School of Ballet and two years later was invited to become a company apprentice. McBride became a junior soloist a year after that, and then was elevated to the role of principal dancer at age 18, becoming the youngest principal for the New York City Ballet.

During her time at the American School of Ballet, McBride came to know and work with George Balanchine, one of the century’s most prolific ballet choreographers. He also quickly became one of the greatest sources of inspiration and influence in McBride’s life, pushing her to challenge herself on the dance floor and choreographing solos specifically intended for her.

“In dance, you live being very insecure,” McBride said. “You worry, ‘Will I be good enough? Will Balanchine like me? Am I doing this right?’ But we were so devoted to [Balanchine] and had such respect and admiration for him that it never felt like work. It was just pure joy.”

McBride said that Balanchine became both her mentor and a father figure, teaching her not only about dance, but about confidence, humility and sheer genius. Today, McBride re-stages many of Balanchine’s pieces and teaches a Balanchine variations class with the Charlotte Ballet.

“I owe so much to Balanchine,” McBride said. “He’s still with me, in my heart. He’s with me every day.”

These days, McBride spends her summers at Chautauqua Institution, where she lives and teaches ballet with husband Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux, artistic director of the Chautauqua Dance program. The couple first came to Chautauqua in the early 1970s, when dance was virtually nonexistent on the grounds, and they have since built up the School of Dance and fostered a love of ballet within the Institution. 

McBride’s life’s work now revolves largely around her students, who she describes as “wonderful human beings as well as wonderful dancers,” in both Chautauqua and in Charlotte, North Carolina.

“I get my inspiration still by watching them dance,” McBride said. “For me, the learning never stops.”

Reflecting on her life, McBride credits dance and destiny for everything she’s accomplished. She is amazed by the way dance has woven her life together: giving her a career, bringing her to her husband and introducing her to Chautauqua.

“I grew up in the ballet, and it took me places I’d never dreamed about going in the world,” McBride said. “I feel so lucky because I got to do what made me happy and what I had wanted to do my whole life. Dance was my dream come true.”

McBride will speak in further detail on her lifetime of dance at today’s lecture. The talk is one in a series of lectures sponsored by the Chautauqua Dance Circle that will occur over the course of the summer, in an effort to increase education and enjoyment of dance at Chautauqua.