Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
2700 F St., N.W.
Michael McBride and his boyfriend Samuel Roberts were getting drinks at Locksmith, a local haunt near their New York City home, on an unassuming January day in 2016. While McBride was expecting a casual drink, he was shocked when Roberts suddenly jumped to his feet and began singing the Warblers rendition of “Teenage Dream” by Katy Perry from “Glee” joined by a group of their friends wearing matching Warbler uniforms.
For “Glee” fans the song marked the start of Kurt and Blaine’s relationship. As their friends and family flooded the tiny bar, McBride and Roberts would also kickstart a chapter of their own relationship.
Roberts got down on one knee and asked McBride, who had started crying, to marry him.
He said yes.
“I am the nosiest person that you will ever meet. The fact that I had not even a clue. I’m wearing mom jeans and a sweatshirt and I smelled like bleach. I had been cleaning my apartment all day,” McBride says.
The theatrical proposal shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. McBride, 29, and Roberts, 40, are both dancers in the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. They spend six months of the year performing in New York City and the other half touring all over the world.
The company stops by the Kennedy Center for a six-day residency Feb. 6-11 with McBride and Roberts performing separately and together. The couple will unite on stage for works including “The Golden Section,” “Stack Up” and “The Hunt.”
“It’s really fun when we get to connect and play off each other,” Roberts says.
From roommates, to friends, to lovers, the couple first met in 2009 when they both auditioned for the Alvin Ailey company, which they approximate as being 80 percent gay men, on the same day. They were also each hired by the company that day. McBride, a newbie to the professional dancing world, admits he doesn’t remember meeting Roberts that day. He was too overwhelmed with securing his contract.
However, his emotional response was exactly what caught Roberts’ eye, given he was a more seasoned professional dancer.
As a company rule, dancers were required to have roommates on tour. McBride and Roberts found themselves forced to be roommates as everyone else in the company was already paired up.
But they didn’t start out in sync. McBride says they were “operating on different schedules.” Roberts admits he “loved being with the locals” and was a fan of the nightlife. However, McBride was more into exploring cities in the daytime.
“Because I was new I would wake up very early and go see all the cities with my camera because I was just so excited to travel,” McBride says.
McBride says their relationship became more intimate in September 2010 while they were touring in the United Kingdom. A personal tragedy had rocked McBride leaving Roberts as an unexpected support system.
“It was shortly after my sister had passed. I was emotional and dealing with a lot of stuff with my family. There was one night when I really needed to just sit down and have dinner with somebody and not necessarily need to talk and just to be easy. He was in the room and so I said we’re going to dinner. I think that was the first time that either of us ever realized we had a lot more in common than either of us expected,” McBride says.
Both had become interested in dance at a young age on the outskirts of big cities.
Roberts, who is from Quakertown, Pa., a town in the suburbs of Philadelphia, went to a dance class with his cousin at 10 years old when a teacher spotted his enthusiasm.
“The teacher saw that I was fidgeting around in the back and she asked me, ‘Hey, why don’t you get up and join us?’ And I never sat down,” Roberts says.
Roberts continued to dance into high school and eventually made a good friend who he describes as his “surrogate mother” who would take him to auditions in New York City.
“She took me to the audition at Juilliard, which at the time I had no idea what it was, thankfully. I was able to just go in and do my thing. I made it in and I was so pleased,” Roberts says.
While at Juilliard, Roberts met Robert Battle, who would go on to become the artistic director of Alvin Ailey. Before joining Alvin Ailey, Roberts’ achievements included becoming a founding member of Battle’s dance company Battle Works in 2000.
McBride, who hails from Johnson City, N.Y., started dancing in a small dance studio at 8 years old. In high school he became more serious about dance and attended the Ailey dance program at Fordham University. He joined the company while a senior in college.
In addition to that dinner, McBride and Roberts would continue to share many memorable moments.
During their first year they encountered the D.C. blizzard in 2010. They recall getting stranded in their hotel for a week and the Kennedy Center canceling performances.
Despite the close quarters, their relationship didn’t become romantic until a couple years later.
After dating for a few years, the couple found themselves back in the United Kingdom on tour. They walked past a diamond shop and decided to look at rings together.
“We were just looking in the window and this woman came out and asked us if we’d like to look at some diamonds. We were like, ‘Eh.’ She was like, ‘We have Champagne’ and we were like ‘Absolutely.’ We went in and had some Champagne and we were looking at rings and to our surprise we found two rings we really adored,” Roberts says.
Soon after, Roberts found himself seriously considering proposing.
“I sort of woke up one morning and was like, ‘Wow, I really, really, really love Michael and I want to spend my life with him. There’s no reason for me to not do this. I can’t see one.’ I was so sure of it this one morning. So I said something to his father and realized I wanted to do a flash mob,” Roberts says.
McBride and Roberts admit they both had always gotten emotional watching flash mob proposals online.
It took Roberts a year of planning with friends and family to pull off the special moment in the bar. On the big day, Roberts asked McBride’s friend to take him out of the neighborhood for dinner while he finished the final preparations including a videographer who set up five cameras in the bar. McBride, who says the couple were also planning a road trip to Key West, Fla., that night with their dog, never expected that day he would get engaged.
Now, the couple has purchased an apartment together in the Bronx. Living and working together can be a challenge but the couple says they’ve been able to figure it out.
First, they recognize the importance of having their own space. Roberts says he first moved into McBride’s studio apartment and when they were looking for their own place together they had one request.
“We would live in hotels six months of the year and then be in his studio and the only room with a door was either a closet or a bathroom. When we were purchasing the apartment we had to have one room that is not a bathroom, not a closet,” Roberts says.
Second, they try to make their time off together as much of a vacation as possible.
“One thing that Sam has taught me, even if we have 12 hours off, to make that 12 hours a mini-vacation of sorts and really delve into being relaxed whenever we can in whatever city we’re in. That’s one of the things I fell in love with so much and so fast,” McBride says.
The couple says they take time to visit their families apart. The company now also has rotating single rooms while on tour. Sometimes they will get single rooms so that they can invite each other over for a romantic dinner.
As Valentine’s Day approaches, McBride and Roberts say they are big on the holiday. They will be spending it on tour in Atlanta and this time the planning is in McBride’s hands.
“It’s sort of been tradition that Michael will plan a day for me. It generally starts with a really wonderful breakfast and then some activities throughout the city,” Roberts says.
However, the wedding planning is taking more time. They expect to marry in fall 2019, possibly in the Catskill Mountains, but are working on saving money for the ceremony of their dreams.
As always, the couple plans to put their own special twist on the day.
“It’s also really fun because so many of the wedding traditions that we all know from throughout time are heterosexual entities. So a wedding can be whatever we want it to be. There’s no one to say, ‘Well, it should have been this or that.’ It’s a new frontier,” McBride says.