Betsy Struxness. Photo credit: Susan Stripling
Betsy Struxness, a New York City-based performer who’s made a name for herself as one of the leading dancers in the Broadway community, creating art isn't just simply something she wants to do — it's something for which she was born. Through a new series of self-created online dance videos she’s calling #PatioJams, Struxness, a member of the original Broadway cast of Hamilton and graduate of Juilliard’s dance program, shares her passions for movement, fashion, photography, and music.
Struxness, who’s also appeared on Broadway in Wicked, Memphis, Leap Of Faith, Scandalous: The Life And Trials Of Aimee Semple McPherson, and Matilda has been dancing for as long as she can remember.
"My mother put my sister and me into dance and creative movement when I was about three or four years old,” Struxness said in an interview with Dance Network. “That was in Knoxville, Tennessee. When I was about five, we moved to Kansas City, Missouri where she enrolled me at Kansas City Ballet and I absolutely fell in love.”
“Hunter”, featuring Betsy Struxness. Video courtesy: Betsy Struxness/PatioJams
After graduating from Juilliard and pounding the pavement of New York City’s streets, Struxness began to find a sort of consistency on the boards of Broadway.
“Sergio's work fit really well into my body,” Struxness said of Memphis choreographer Sergio Trujillo. “He is a technical choreographer, so he pretty much left me free to do my thing.”
“Lorin [Lotarro] knew my training and background, having graduated from Juilliard as well, so she really pushed me during Scandalous,” Struxness detailed of the Broadway choreographer who also set the movement to Sara Bareilles’ Waitress. “I had some interesting partnering work, some drop splits and bounce splits, and some Argentine tango which was new to me, but I LOVED...after I worked through some frustrating bits.”
“Peter choreographs far more as an actor than a technical dancer,” she continued, discussing Matilda, Billy Elliot, and Groundhog Day movement-builder, Peter Darling. “So he started bringing me back around to some of the odder parts of my personality. While in Matilda, because of his movement, I became a better actor.”
In 2015, however, everything changed for Struxness when she was cast in the original Off-Broadway production of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton, choreographed by Andy Blankenbuehler.
“Hamilton marked an interesting point in my career. At every turn, this piece of art was incredible to discover and make,” Struxness said. “I loved how dense the material was, how intelligent, and how much DANCE was in the show.”
“With Andy, all I had to do was watch him in the Hamilton auditions and I just tried to look like him,” Struxness explained of Blankenbuehler. “I'd taken some hip-hop while in Chicago doing Wicked 10 years ago, and Hamilton was the first time I could truly put any of it into use. Not only was the hip-hop component strong, but because I'm such a classically trained dancer, Andy used that within the show as well.”
“But personally,” she continued, “I was completely burned out on the theater schedule before I even started [Hamilton]. I knew from the beginning that I didn't want to stay in it and run it very long."
Struxness had discovered a change within herself about the kind of art she wanted to create and how she wanted to go about creating it.
“I had switched from being a “product” person — ready to know the show and just perform it— to a “process” person and loving the creative rehearsal part,” Struxness said. “Since Hamilton was so creatively and artistically fulfilling, it's also left me wanting only to seek THOSE pursuits, which ultimately means a shift in career trajectory. So it was the pinnacle of my Broadway ensemble career, and potentially the end of it too.”
“But,” she continued, “this is all very positive.”
Nonetheless, in the creation of her new dance video series, Struxness says she’s certainly pulled inspiration not just from her time at Hamilton, but bits of wisdom from the many different major choreographers for whom she has danced.
“After the two years I spent developing and working on Hamilton, I feel like I've found a wonderful amalgamation of everyone I've worked for, along with some very ‘Betsy' personality quirks,” Struxness said. “All of these choreographers have trusted me though, and they've allowed me to add so much of myself into their moves— but, because they're also all wonderfully talented, their work makes me want to do my best in return.”
For a multi-disciplined creator, the establishment of a platform through which one could express their personal artistic drives seems only natural, but in Struxness’ case, the origins of #PatioJams seemed to grow out of a sense of despondency.
“Interestingly enough, [#PatioJams] came out of a bout of depression,” Struxness said. “While I'm ready to switch career trajectories, very few people are willing to hire me to do so. This has been going on pretty much since I left Hamilton and I went into the dumps for a long time. Once I'd had enough wallowing though, I knew I needed to help myself out, so I began to read The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron. Through the writing and visualization tasks in the book, I finally saw that there are a few things that always lift me up. First and foremost, dance.”
As for the song choices and the fashion aspect of the videos, “Music aids in dance and I always dance better, and more freely when I feel like I look good,” said Struxness.
“Wonder Woman”, featuring Betsy Struxness. Video courtesy: Betsy Struxness/PatioJams
In the videos she shoots on her patio space at home, viewers will always get to see a bit of Struxness’ true in-the-moment expression.
“I’ve always had a knack for improv,” Struxness explained. “So, I thought, ‘what would this look like if I put it all together and filmed it?’ The first one I filmed was ‘Wonder Woman’ by Lion Babe. I had so much fun making it, that I've made 33 in total, all in about seven months.”
Armed with more than just a knack for improvisation, Struxness is also a writer, speaker, musician, and photographer. Her love of photography extended beyond just portraiture and travel shots when she became an internet sensation after a series of backstage selfie/photobombs she posted went viral.
“The #StruxSelfie came about authentically,” Struxness laughed. “We were still in previews [for Hamilton] I think, and Busta Rhymes came backstage after the show and was chatting with Lin as though they were buddies. I couldn't believe such a legend of hip-hop was attending a preview of an Off-Broadway show.”
“Then, they just kept coming,” she said of the constant slew of celebrity audience members, “and we were all rather flabbergasted.”
Overall though, Struxness seems to not only just want to create, but lives to do so; and, with the new series of videos she’s put out through #PatioJams, Struxness wants audience members to find the deeper societal meaning in her movement.
“I hope they're entertained, for sure— but there are subtleties in there as well,” she said. “I usually try to pick a song that, moves me, that says something I believe in, and that is women driven.
"We Move Lightly”, featuring Alicia Albright. Video courtesy: Betsy Struxness/PatioJams
“‘Immigrants’ was an exception, but that was because of the families that were being separated at the border down in Texas,” she added. “‘Quiet’ was a response to how I was feeling during the Kavanaugh [Supreme Court confirmation] hearings. Each one of [the videos] suits the mood I'm in that particular day. They are an expression of freedom and a glimpse into how I move when no one is telling me what to do.”
Recently, Struxness has brought in a few friends to shoot their own personal versions of #PatioJams, too.
“I wanted to have a few guest stars so that the audience can see what dancers choose to move to — and HOW, of their own accord, without direction or choreography from the outside. In a sense,” Struxness is asking, “what moves dancers to move?”
So far, Struxness’ list of guest stars includes Haley Stone — the CEO of WERQ Dance Fitness and her sister, her dear friend and current dance captain of the West End company of Hamilton, Greg Haney, and her best friend and Original Broadway cast member of Disney’s Frozen, Alicia Albright.
“Quiet", featuring Betsy Struxness. Video courtesy: Betsy Struxness/PatioJams
Michael Mahany serves as the New York City Correspondent for Dance Network. He is also a professional actor, musician, dancer, and writer. Follow him on Twitter, Instagram, or click here to find out more.