Catching Up With ABT’s Betsy McBride: Why Her Promotion to Soloist Was Worth the Wait
In 2015, Betsy McBride made an unconventional career move. Then a young principal dancer at Texas Ballet Theater, she left to join American Ballet Theatre’s corps de ballet. Now 29, McBride has charmed audiences for the past seven years with her lyrical movement style and expressive visage. And though her repertoire with ABT has included soloist roles ranging from ballets by Alexei Ratmansky to 19th-century classics, she’s remained a member of the corps—until now. In July, she was promoted to soloist.
We chatted with McBride to hear about what she’s learned from her years in the corps, how it feels to be rewarded for her work and what she’s looking forward to in this next chapter.
Congratulations on your promotion! How did you feel when you heard the news?
I was really surprised and shocked, and so emotional. I’ve been doing soloist work for pretty much the whole time I’ve been with ABT, so I’ve always thought it’s a possibility. But at the same time, I’ve tried not to get my hopes up too much. So it was very nice to finally get the recognition.
You left Texas Ballet Theater as a very young principal in 2015. What drew you to ABT?
I joined TBT when I was 15. I started doing soloist and principal roles pretty quickly, and then I became a principal there, so I just got very comfortable. I was looking to broaden my horizons and push myself. As a little girl I loved ABT; I had gone to its summer programs and watched performances at the Met, and had fallen in love with the story-length ballets. I also really love New York—there’s so much opportunity and appreciation for ballet here that you don’t get in Texas. I also liked the fact that ABT travels; I was really interested in experiencing tour life.
When you switched companies you were taking a gamble, knowing you might spend the rest of your career in the corps. In your 2018 Pointe cover story, you mentioned that this required quite a bit of humility. What does it feel like to look back on your path now?
I’m happy with my decision, especially now that I’ve been promoted. I definitely questioned my path a lot. I got a lot of criticism and judgment from people I didn’t even know for leaving my position as a principal and joining the corps, and that was really hard to hear. But now that I’ve been promoted it feels extra-rewarding, since I did take a step back, which is very different from most people’s careers.
What helped you work through that judgment and frustration?
The camaraderie of the corps, especially the women. We’re all such good friends and it’s such a good support system. When you’re working that hard together, and it’s a group effort, it feels really rewarding when we do a good job.
Over the past seven years you’ve been such an integral member of ABT’s corps. How has your perspective on the corps de ballet changed over time?
A lot of times the corps works so hard and just doesn’t get the same kind of recognition. We’re not appreciated as we would like sometimes. I’ve learned to really value the corps de ballet because usually they’re the ones that are onstage for the entire ballet, every single night. We never really get a break. And if you mess up, you’re letting down a whole group. Whereas if you’re doing a solo, you can kind of fudge it if you have to. I have so much respect for the corps de ballet.
Looking ahead to life as a soloist, what are you most excited for?
I think I’m most excited to be able to focus on my soloist roles. For so many years it’s felt like I’ve been carrying the weight of two positions in the company. I’ve often been double-booked for rehearsals and felt like I was always playing catch-up.
At the end of 2022, ABT’s artistic director Kevin McKenzie will step down after 30 years at the helm. How are you feeling about this new chapter?
I was really excited to be promoted by Kevin, because I have worked with him for all of these years. But I’m really excited for this transition, too. Kevin seems really happy to be able to move on with his life, and Susan Jaffe seems wonderful. I think it’ll be a really exciting time for all of us.
What’s the biggest lesson that you’ve learned from your winding path?
Perseverance and patience. During the first half of my career at TBT, everything happened so fast. I wasn’t used to feeling kind of stagnant for so long. So the biggest thing for me was to keep a good attitude and keep putting in the work, and to try to focus and not dwell on these other issues.
This summer marked another exciting step for you: You married Simon Wexler, your longtime partner with whom you joined ABT in 2015. What’s he been doing since he stopped dancing?
He graduated from Columbia University and now works for a hedge fund, so he’s in a totally different world. I think it’s been really nice that we can have different careers, but that he still understands the ballet industry. When I’m having a bad time at work, it’s nice to be able to step out of that world and come home and think about something other than ballet.
Looking forward, which dream roles are still top of your list?
I have so many, but one day I want to do Juliet again. Having watched so many different dancers and interpretations, I think it would definitely feel different than when I was with TBT. I’d love to dance that.