Dancer to Dancer

Joy Womack

Joy Womack performing Leonid Lavrosky's "Classical Symphony" for the Protégés III showcase at The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Photo by Vihao Pham.

Spirited. Vivacious. Exciting. Joy Womack naturally has the trademark Bolshoi Ballet energy. But when she arrived at the company’s academy in Moscow in 2009, her teachers went straight to work reining it in. “They considered me a Kitri type of dancer,” Joy says. “As they put it, I needed to learn to ‘dance like a ballerina instead of a soloist.’ ” Two years later, her focus and intense seven-day-a-week schedule has paid off. Joy now balances fiery attack with delicate articulation and expressive épaulement.

Joy, 17, began her pre-professional studies at the Balanchine-based Westside School of Dance in Santa Monica, CA. She switched to Vaganova style at 12, when her family moved to Texas and couldn’t find a strong Balanchine studio in the area. Just three years later, her technique was so promising that when Joy auditioned for the  Russian American Foundation’s Bolshoi Ballet summer program in NYC, one of the teachers invited her to train year-round in Moscow. While international students are usually placed in the school’s separate foreigners’ program, at her teacher’s request Joy became the first American offered a spot in the school’s elite three-year course meant for Russian dancers only. (At the time, Joy knew very little of the Russian language. Now she’s almost fluent!)

As one of only 10 girls in her level, Joy has found the competition intense. Like most of her classmates, she wakes up at 6 am to work out, which includes giving herself her own class so that she’s on top of her game when school begins. But the opportunities she’s been given make the effort worth it. Last winter, Joy went on tour for a month with her class to Italy and Greece, and she was chosen to perform the lead in Leonid Lavrovsky’s Classical Symphony at The Kennedy Center last March. At the academy’s winter performance in November, she will command the Bolshoi stage as Lise in Yuri Grigorovich’s full-length La Fille Mal Gardée.

Although she’d love to join the Bolshoi after graduating next year, Russian law currently prohibits the company from hiring foreigners. Her other dream? Becoming a principal at a top company. “I’d love to perform Jiří Kylián, Kenneth MacMillan and all the classics,” she says. “I just want to dance everything!”

Fast Facts

Dance idol: Natalia Osipova. “I’m still starstruck every time I bump into her. She’s not afraid to let all her emotions out onstage.”

Most played on her iPod: “This song that a guy in Austin wrote for me called ‘You’re a Joy.’ ”

Favorite food: Alpen Gold Dva Shokolada, a Russian candy bar.

Her perfect day off: A picnic on the beach in Santa Monica with her friends and family.

Secret talent: “I do great impersonations, especially of Russian ballet teachers.”

Did You Know? Joy’s aunt is Grammy Award-winning country singer Lee Ann Womack, famous for singing “I Hope You Dance.”

Jennifer Stahl is a senior editor at Pointe magazine.

Photo by Lee Gumbs, courtesy Taja Riley

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