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By Lauren Kay
The Broadway dancer combines technique with flair.
Struxness in Scandalous. Photo: Jeremy Daniel, Courtesy Scandalous.
Betsy Struxness started ballet when she was 5, and by the time she was 6, she knew that she wanted to dance on Broadway. “I told my mother,” she says. “I didn’t necessarily know what Broadway was, though.” As her recent stint in the ensemble of the short-lived Scandalous proved, she has the flair that Broadway demands, coupled with a strong technical base from years of classical training.
Her Scandalous job tested all her skills. The production’s ensemble created the saints, sinners, and followers who surrounded celebrity evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson—no small task.
As a McPherson acolyte in choreographer Lorin Latarro’s opening number (see “On Broadway,” opposite), Struxness’ graceful buoyancy gave the stylized steps sophistication. Later, as a playful Irish lassie, she swung effortlessly through intricate partnering. Then, as a brash prostitute, she let her sassy sensuality loose, sliding into splits and turning with snappy ease.
“I needed a dancer worthy of a soloist’s power who could also sing very well,” Latarro says. “When Betsy started dancing in the audition, I lit up. She’s a perfect combination of wild abandon, gorgeous technique, and star quality. Your eye is simply drawn to her.”
For Struxness, navigating the path from her ballet roots to a musical theater career has had challenges. A native of Kansas City, Missouri, Struxness took classes through high school at Kansas City Ballet’s school. Seeking more training, she went to summer programs at Pacific Northwest Ballet School and the School of American Ballet. “I fell in love with New York,” she remembers. “I saw my first Broadway musical and the caliber of dancer was phenomenal.”
As her interest in musicals grew, she felt tension at her ballet studio. “I’d get snide comments about my commitment,” she says. “I didn’t understand why I had to choose between ballet and musical theater. I think the two can be integral to each other.”
When it came time to apply to college, Struxness knew that returning to New York was a priority. After Juilliard accepted her, she shifted her focus to concert dance. At Juilliard, she eventually gained confidence as an artist. But at first, she struggled with discouragement and frustration. A summer in karate classes changed her attitude. “I returned to school a different person,” she says. “I finally felt strong. I was no longer seeking anyone’s approval but my own.”
After graduating, Struxness worked the cruise ship circuit, followed by tours of Oklahoma! and All Shook Up, and eventually as a swing in Wicked’s Chicago production. In 2010, she finally moved to the Broadway production and fulfilled her longtime dream. Since then, one job has followed another, including a long stint in Broadway’s Memphis.
Despite Scandalous’s early closing, Struxness enjoyed the range of the choreography. “It’s a huge show, and we did so much,” she says. To accommodate the intense work, she completed a 40-minute warm-up, including a ballet barre and Limón exercises, before every show.
Having now danced in the original casts of two Broadway shows, Struxness, about to appear in the British import Matilda, dreams of creating a principal role. Though she still feels the tug of ballet and concert dance, she has built her success on appreciating their strengths while following her own goals. In a dance career, “you keep at it by being yourself,” she says. “And being happy.”
Lauren Kay is a NYC dancer and writer.
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