Dancer Patricia McBride, who taught ballet at IU, will receive Kennedy Center Honors Sunday

Former Indiana University professor Patricia McBride will be in good company Dec. 7. The longtime New York City Ballet dancer will receive the Kennedy Center Honors in Washington alongside actor Tom Hanks, singers Al Green and Sting and comedian Lily Tomlin.

The 2014 honorees will be seated with President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama as their peers take the stage to deliver tributes and performances.

Patricia McBride

Patricia McBride is now the associate artistic director and master teacher at the Charlotte Ballet. Photo by Jeff Cravotta.

Then, all of them are headed to your living room. The awards, now in their 37th year, will be broadcast at 9 p.m. Dec. 30 on CBS.

Violette Verdy, distinguished professor of ballet at the IU Jacobs School of Music, said of McBride, “I’m one of her most devoted fans and a longtime friend. I’m so glad she’s getting those honors.

“To meet Patty is to love her forever,” she said.

Verdy, who also had a long career with the New York City Ballet, described first seeing McBride dance in a rehearsal. “We were still in the old school on Broadway,” she said. “There was something about her that was so great. I actually applauded her, because she was so extraordinary.

“What a dancer! She was effortless, never striving, very devoted and with no equal. She did exactly what the choreographers wanted. And how beautiful and serene her face was.

“She demonstrates a selflessness we don’t see much in great performers,” Verdy said. “She is a rare jewel.”

Full circle

It seems fitting for McBride to receive a Kennedy Center Honor. After all, she danced at John F. Kennedy’s inauguration. It was one of many special moments in a 30-year career with the New York City Ballet.

Patricia McBride

Patricia McBride c. 1977. Photo courtesy of the New York City Ballet.

In 1961 McBride became the youngest principal dancer in the company’s history. She danced for George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins. She danced with Rudolf Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov. And she danced with Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux, who became her husband.

Bonnefoux came to Indiana University in 1985 to lead the ballet department. McBride continued to dance in the spotlight for another four years before her retirement from the New York City Ballet. On June 4, 1989, she was showered with more than 13,000 roses during a spectacular tribute at Lincoln Center. She soon joined Bonnefoux in Bloomington, becoming a full professor of dance at IU that fall.

Bloomington years

In interviews during her tenure, McBride always remarked at the kindness and warmth of the people here.

And the dedicated ballerina became a devoted teacher.

“I just put all my energy into dancing, and when I stopped dancing, I put it into teaching, staging ballets at the university and being a mother. I think you’re only happy in whatever you do if you give it your all,” McBride said Nancy Upper’s 2004 book “Ballet Dancers in Career Transition.”

Patricia McBride

Patricia McBride c. 1977

“You never stop learning when you’re a dancer, and it’s the same thing with teaching. You learn and you grow.”

Michael Vernon, the current chair of the department of ballet, said of McBride, “She’s just a wonderful teacher. She’s so generous as a person in terms of imparting her craft upon her students.”

Though Vernon didn’t witness her work at IU, he has known McBride since 1977, when he staged “Sleeping Beauty” at the Eglevsky Ballet on Long Island, N.Y. Both Vernon and McBride now spend their summers teaching ballet at the Chautauqua Institution in upstate New York, where Bonnefoux is the artistic director.

McBride and Bonnefoux left IU in 1996 for the North Carolina Dance Theatre, now known as the Charlotte Ballet. She is the associate artistic director and master teacher at the company, while he serves as its president and artistic director.


Upon learning she was named one of the 2014 Kennedy Center Honorees, McBride reacted with grace and modesty. “I’m honored, astonished, moved, humbled and ecstatic to have been chosen,” she said.

She thanked the committee and gave credit to her choreographers Balanchine and Robbins, “who made this all possible.”

“It’s extraordinary to be honored for something that I have loved doing and has given my life so much meaning and fulfillment,” McBride said.

Again she deflected the spotlight, this time to her family. “My mom would have been so happy … Thank you for making me look good to my children and grandchildren!”

And that is what is most exceptional about Patricia McBride. As Verdy said, she is always thinking of others.

“She is selfless, completely.”

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