The Born-Again Balletomane's Blog

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Reality Ballet January 30, 2017

The following is a comment from a regular contributor.  I found it interesting.  Please read through it; I’ll add my thoughts below.

From atlanticw

I find the entire Joy Womack situation bizarre. I noticed she has not been promoting her prima bars in a long time and I thought it odd. I then checked the company’s Facebook account and apparently they stopped producing the bars in September 2016-claiming their manufacturer closed unexpectedly. The prima bar site is now stating it will start selling some sort of vitamin supplement which goes along with her physician parent’s business. The more likely scenario is that no one was buying her stuff and they just quit producing. As if the world needed another granola bar-particularly one that was very expensive.
She left to guest star at some ballet school in Salt Lake City and posted that she was taking classes at Ballet West. Now she is taking classes around ABT. Sounds like her plan was likely to attempt to get in somewhere in the US and it’s not panning out. As someone who used practice US immigration law, I find it difficult she had no idea her Russian visa would be expired. While all governments are unique, deadlines are pretty much set for those things and the terms are clear. Absent any issues at the actual border crossing her visa would be valid until it expired- and she should have known very well its date.
I did see she was attempting to get a Russian green card. She has alluded in the past to not being sponsored by the Kremlin which again is bizarre. I feel that a state run ballet company can sponsor someone if they really want to get it done and they just clearly didn’t care enough.
I can never really tell her skill level but from videos I don’t think she seems like an exciting dancer to watch. That, paired with her attitude and the liability she poses but her youtube channel I can’t see many companies really going for it. It is true that stars like Misty Copeland are all over social media, but she doesn’t seem to be bashing people or sharing every single little detail about her life like she’s a Kardashian or something. Joy would have been better off staying more anonymous and then attempting to audition around the US. She’d be lucky for a spot in a regional company like Ballet West. For a company that even had its own cheesy reality show (breaking pointe) they still probably couldn’t even deal with her antics.
To me, she literally embodies the generation Z/younger millennial desire to be ‘instagram famous’. Everything is about perception and optics, yet nothing to back it up.

Regarding the Prima bars, I too noticed she stopped mentioning them months ago, but I never bothered to take the extra step to go to the website and see why.  Who knows what the backstory is…there always seems to be so much that doesn’t add up in her case.  I did see the two recent videos promoting “bodyhacking,” and was alarmed.  She could really fall into an expensive trap there.  I used to work in a medical setting and know how tight the restrictions are and how careful one has to be about making even quasi-medical claims.  The FDA has driven numerous small supplement companies out of existence for making spurious claims, and clients are quick to sue when promised miracles don’t happen.  It’s a very tricky sector of the market; if one enters it at all it’s safer to do it in only one state (restrictions vary widely from state to state), and engage in doublespeak whenever possible.  That is to say, don’t make any solid claims whatsoever.  Leave it all between the lines.  Womack’s “body hacking” videos didn’t do that.

Whether it is true that her entire career is nothing but a cover for a marketing scheme, or that she thought she could bluff her way into superstar prima-ballerinadom by becoming famous on YouTube and social media (and sell stuff on the side!)…well, as Atlantic says, it’s impossible to tell because we in the West haven’t really seen her dance.  Yes she rose quickly to principal status at a small Russian company, but there have been rumors about her father’s political influence that haven’t been answered.  Then again, this sounds ridiculous, but there were questions surrounding Evgenia Obraztsova’s mother’s influence as Genia began advancing at the Maryinsky.

The rare bits of feedback from audiences inside Russia haven’t always been positive, but the fact is that some Russians seem to have a problem supporting non-Russian dancers.  Not that they don’t or won’t; see David Hallberg as a recent reference.  But Keenan Kampa, really the most similar case to Womack’s in terms of training and outcome, admitted that the hostility of the Russian audience was part of what drove her from the Maryinsky.  Of course she had also developed a heart problem as well as a severe hip injury, but one wonders if she’d have left even if the physical problems hadn’t occurred.  I now believe she would have.

Aside from the career-ending physical problems, the main difference with Kampa is that we had seen her dance.

One has to wonder what was in Womack’s mind once she entered the Bolshoi’s school — an event which is still a source of controversy; although she was undoubtedly a student there, I still haven’t seen clear evidence about whether she was in the Russian class or the foreigners’ class.  She continues to insist she was in the Russian class, yet at least one teacher at the school said she was in the foreigners’ class, and of course there are fellow former students and others who say she was in the foreigners’ class.

Did she begin to think that she might sell her wares in the U.S. on the basis of her being an American graduating from a Russian school and soaring into prima ballerina stardom in Russia, the cathedral of ballet, in a just few years?  If so, she never realized that the market just isn’t there.  Most people in the U.S. aren’t interested in ballet except for a few dancers  who are genuinely unique (Misty Copeland comes to mind), and those of us who do love ballet would want to see her dance, live, before becoming convinced and then maybe buying something more than a ticket.

Another point is that we do know ballet here in the west, and we no longer easily accept that the Russian ballet school is infinitely superior to all other schools (in the upper body, maybe, but the Brits and others are pretty good at that part too — so what’s the big deal?).  We have too many brilliant schools of our own.

Because of facts like that, hiding behind the former iron curtain was never going to help her for long.  She had to — and still has to — come out and show us something.  Snippets of Swan Lake, even lengthy ones, aren’t going to do it unless you’re like Svetlana Zakharova, a genuine prodigy who explodes like a flash of lightning on camera, no matter what you actually think of her dancing.

For most dancers ballet performance requires, sooner or later, living proof. Cameras flatten everything and distort it, and individuality, unless sparkling, is often lost.  I’ve been depending on videos of dancers for a long time (as I no longer live close enough to a large city where professional ballet performances are held) and let me tell you: on video, very few classical dancers make an impact.  It’s as if ballet on video is a whole different art form.

Womack did say on one video that she felt that if she left Russia, she would no longer be unique.  She said something to the effect that there were “thousands like her” in the U.S.  I thought that said a unintentional mouthful.  All I can add to that is that much of what I see her doing on videos is fouettes.  Nice, powerful fouettes, even if she travels like crazy (to be fair, most dancers do).  But what about everything else?  I watched the snippet of her in class with ABT, and although almost no one ever really looks outstanding in class..she didn’t either.  I had to struggle to pick her out; as it turned out, she was the girl hanging around doing a million fouettes after everyone else had trotted off, and she was apparently holding up the following group in the process.  That’s the way it looked, anyway.  To be fair, the camera angle was so narrow that it was hard to tell what was really happening.

Interesting to read the stuff about her visa.  That part boggles my mind, and it’s good to hear from someone who actually worked in that field.  Again, it seems there is another low gray cloud surrounding Womack’s story, to the extent that she’s given a story.  David Hallberg has never had a problem with his visa, has he?  And I don’t hear anything to that effect from other American dancers in Russia, either…not that they blast everything over social media.  And so we are left wandering in the dark.

This “visa problem” is also rather interesting in light of the fact that the Kremlin Ballet apparently recently cracked down on her video habit.  The two could be related, but I’ll allow that they’re probably not.

Anyway, what I’ve seen of her dancing leaves me feeling that she might be a good fit at a major company as a soloist (or a coryphee if any company in the U.S. has them; I think SFB does).  Her interpretations of roles seem to be at the soloist level — very carefully reciting her advanced lessons, but with no lightning bolts of insight and no unique language of her own.  (Again, I am left to judge via snippets on video.)  It could be that she is just too young to achieve that, but then again, one thinks of the very young Giselle Berthea (still a teenager and currently in ABT’s corps, but not in the corps for long if what’s said about her turns out to be true): apparently the kid was born that way.

Maybe that’s the entire issue with Womack’s dancing: perhaps she wasn’t born that way, (and that’s okay!) but is trying to make us believe she was.  Like I said, we have no way of knowing until she shows us.  And like Atlantic says, maybe she’s damaged herself so much on social media that she’ll never get a chance in a U.S. company, or even one in Europe.  This could be why she’s hinting at putting her own touring company together…if indeed, that’s what she’s hinting at.

Who knows…


15 Responses to “Reality Ballet”

  1. malonek Says:

    I cannot really judge either although I saw her dance live but not in a role big enough. I saw her dance only once, at the Kremlin ballet where she dance one of the three big swans. She stood out – she was always later on music than the others. If not for her different musicality, she’d look like a ideal Russian dancer to me. Soft arms, nice movements, looked like her feet were supported with an air cushion. Musicality is the crucial part of ballet for me though and that made me consider her not on par with the other dancers. Even my friends, who know nothing of ballet except than “if you’re in Russia you gotta see it” noticed her.
    To answer your question, what makes the Russian dancers better I see one quality that is not visible on video. Compared to others, there is a lightness to their dancing which makes it look much more like from a different world. This is only applicable to the best of the best, even in Russia. I also had the opportunity to witness a terrible Giselle in a theatre just next to the Bolshoi. Both in the Kremlin and in the Mariinsky the dancers had the wonderful lightness to them. I need to mention though that my observation/comparision might not be fair because I’ve seen top Russian dancers dance live but I have only seen “better average” western dancers dance because the stars visit my city not that frequently and I never found the time to go there. Rather, didn’t want to find it because two spectacular soloists don’t make a performance if the corps stays the same as in a regular performance – I only went to performances where a bigger part of a company arrived but those weren’t the stars.

    • theworstat Says:

      Thank you for your valued insight. May I use your comment as the basis for my next post, in the next few days?

  2. betagold7 Says:

    She just posted on her facebook that she got her visa problems sorted out and that she’s flying back to Moscow now. Interesting to see what will come next.
    I follow this blog since a long time (occasionnally checking if something new is up – since I’m on wordpress now I’m a real follower) and I love your comments on the various topics of the ballet world. Thank you so much. I find it especially great how you discuss Joy – not hating her, but bearing a critical distance. I miss that a lot in the comments on her youtube videos, since there you only find her fans who think she’s the greatest dancer ever born and that she’s always so mistreated. My problem with her is that she really doesn’t seem to be completely honest (like being a principal while she was a leading soloist). Obviously, she doesn’t have to tell us everything about her life – but I find it funny how she never reacts to “controversial” questions.
    Let’s see what she will work on now in her company. She always stated she’s in Russia because she has much more performance opportunities than dancing in the US – she actually doesn’t perform that often with the Kremlin Ballet.
    I’m no expert in judging her dancing, but I watch a lot of ballet (especially the Royal Ballet) and she hasn’t left an impression on me personally. But it’s true that seeing someone dance in real is so much different! Videos really can’t transport the feeling – it’s so sad. She might know herself that there are things she still has to overcome. She is still young and can work on things, but I am left with the impression that she wants everything at fast pace. Roles come slowly, it’s just like that. And I don’t like her not being grateful for the roles she’s dancing (there were some videos where she stated to not like the Diamond Fairy so much and also her constant complaints about not getting lyrical roles like Giselle, Juliet etc). It’s part of the job to perform – as long as she doesn’t set up her team and goes on tour. But still, she will need a repetiteur to train her, because having never performed certain roles, it might be difficult. There’s so much more to write about the topic… I’m going to end it here for now.
    Thank you again for your lovely posts.

    • theworstat Says:

      Thank you for following this blog. I’m honored.

    • ngiam14 Says:

      The Perm ballet company does seem to distinguish between prima ballerina’s and principal dancers (source: chapter 14 of Monica Loughman’s book) so Joy might not have been wrong in calling herself a principal dancer. She also mentioned that prima and not principal was the highest rank at the Kremlin ballet in several videos.

      • theworstat Says:

        Every company is different. As the Kremlin Ballet uses the designations “soloist” and “principal” (this information is from the English version of their website), it was up to Joy to refer to herself as a soloist, not up to us to guess what she meant by “principal.” It is this sort of thing that causes me to continue to have issues with her.

        I thank you for your comment, though, and hope to hear more from you.

  3. KatiSzed Says:

    I was also surprised in general about her grandios ‘season two’ of project prima, and the she’s barely uploading any videos at all. There’s a part of me that just wants to shake her and get her to wake up and smell the old pointe shoe. I get way to much of a feeling of entitlement and that combined with her very vague (though grand) announcements of what’s to come is a strange package.
    I agree with the statements made that one can’t always tell how good a dancer is simply judging by a video, and judging by her videos she’s a good dancer, but by no means exceptional. Then again, I was seriously tearing up watching clips of Alina Cojocaru in Giselle, and I was sobbing by the end of Manon Lescaut with Aurelie Dupont. So, it’s not to say that if it were really amazing we’d definitely notice it.
    I’ve mentioned before that I’m always mystified by her so-called meagre financial status (to the point where she was on patreon, though that also seems to be fizzling out). One shouldn’t judge, but all the short-notice (or at least, that what they seem to be) trips to the US, or these fancy medical procedures all cost money. Someone has to be paying for those flights…
    I’m following the prix de lausanne this week and in todays daily dance dialogue the director of the royal ballet and the director of the zurich ballet will be talking about company life and social media; the do’s and don’ts. Maybe Joy should tune in…

  4. I’m not surprised to hear Joy had trouble staying in unison. Joy said that the reason the Bolshoi gave her for not giving her corps roles was because “she lifted her leg too high”. She seemed to interpret it as “you are too good for the corps” while the closer interpretation seems to be an inability to stay in unison with the other dancers.

    And that brings us to the issue of “alternative facts.” I will give her the benefit of the doubt and say that a lot of it may be due to a mix of naivety and language barrier. It’s easy enough even when you are communicating in your first language to interpret a, “your qualifications are impressive” as “you will get the job” and then be left wondering when you don’t get it. But I can imagine her thinking when a director says “this is a good fit” that she will get a role or an opportunity and then be left scrambling when it doesn’t materialize.

    I think the only thing I am not able to attribute as a “miscommunication” is the Green Card Husband saga. People marry for all sorts of reasons other than love, so I’m not going to judge her for marrying someone for a work permit. But if this was really a marriage of convenience, why create a whole documentary around the sham? Did she think having a ballet dancer husband would help improve the Joy Womack brand?

    In any case, this coupled with a need for attention and her own delusions of her place in the ballet world is a recipe for disaster. I do hope that during this break, someone sat her down and told her to tone down the social media. Having an army of fans is great but I think she’s realized by now that the Prima Friends don’t pay the bills.

  5. KatiSzed Says:

    I almost forgot about the marriage sham! I’m not to judge, but not only in that case but I think also sometime quite a while ago she was advertising a documentary made about her (not unlike the one planned about her and her ex-hubby) but there’s no news on that.
    I think it would help her to just stick to the facts, and don’t make big announcements until you are 200% sure it’s happening. Of course, things can happen but in her case a lot of the time there are grand announcements and almost none of it happens. Like a candle that fizzles out a few minutes after it’s been lit.
    I think social media is ok, it’s a matter of how you deal with it and to watch what you’re saying. She claimed to be totally honest with her viewers and show the negative side of dance (when she was boo-hooing about mean co-workers putting down her ‘creative outlet’ when they didn’t want to be filmed in class) yet she was almost never totally honest about a lot of other controversial topics. It would have helped her more if she’d been more honest or at least opened up a bit about those issues rather than yacking on her employer.
    But I think this is generally a bit of problem of the younger generation (heck, I’m only 28 but I feel like an old sock sometimes 😉 ) is the sense of entitlement and the need to share minute details of your life on Facebook, instagram, youtube and co. Nobody is entitled to anything, and especially as a young dancer you have to work your way up the ranks – if you work hard and have the talent and a director sees that talent you WILL be promoted in your given time. (Or not – like Evgenia not reaching principal until she switched to the Bolshoi etc etc)
    Like you said, maybe someone just sat her down for a real-life talk. Even though fans don’t pay bills she certainly tried to make that happen!

  6. Paz Puente Greene Says:

    I wrote a long comment under the bodyhacked ballerina video. It was respectful and in no way it could have been considered “troll-like”. I addressed some of the concerns about the procedures, as many viewers were asking what negative side effects stem cells could have short and long term. It was immediately eliminated.
    I also made very clear that it’s her body after all, that it’s very frequent among people with eating disorders to be ‘masochistic’ and ascetic regarding their body. This I said knowing perfectly how this tendency manifests, as I suffered severe anorexia in the past.
    In many videos, Joy has admitted to having issues again.
    In July 2016 she even suggested that she was in relapse (the balcony talk) and spoke about plummeting weight and body image concerns. There was something strange about that video, she even expose her naked breast for a couple of seconds, while adjusting the camera, and it was not edited.
    In the comment I also wondered if the bodyhacking commercial was an attempt to reorient her Prima business and her parents’ struggling healing facility. I reminded the viewers that her mother, is a double graduate in Harvard and an integrative medicine pioneer. I assume that she would not make her daughter go through dangerous interventions or let herself be dragged by Joy’s eagerness to become a superhuman.
    I was kind and objective and the only possible reason for the comment to be blocked and flagged could be my answer on autologous stem cell therapy to be “baby science”, still not regulated, still alegal. Too in research phase to guarantee that the cells will not be affected in such a way that they are more prone to become cancerous in the future, especially in Joy’s case, as she is so young.
    This confirms that Joy’s social image is fiercely protected.
    I am ok with anyone on the Internet managing their business, net worth and social media as they please, but I also feel that her parents are trying to save their business by lluring ballet-oriented viewers to imitate her (without informing them about the potential negative effects of complex and novel procedures) and that she is full blown relapse of her eating disorders, very disoriented and lost.
    I am not ballet cultured so I cannot give my opinion on her skills. I only know that her ballet doesn’t make me feel anything. Moving spectators to deep thinking or feeling is the ultimate purpose of art. She looks too concerned about how others see her to flow or let a deep message flow through her.
    Yesterday she uploaded a Nutcracker piece to youtube. I saw it like a response to your latest posts.
    A big hug from Spain.

    • theworstat Says:

      Thank you for your insight. I used to work in a hematopoietic stem-cell transplant program in a major hospital. This was a decade ago, and no doubt much has changed. I do know that stem-cell therapy is now used for many other conditions, including sports medicine and spinal treatments, so certainly it has advanced. Back when I was involved, most of our patients were people with blood or lymphatic cancers and the procedure was reserved only for the most serious, last-hope cases. Still, even with all the advances, to see it used rather casually in a feel-good clinic concerned me.

      It is a huge LEGAL risk, if nothing else. But I never stopped to consider the long-term consequences…that part is definitely unknown, and very frightening.

      I’ve also questioned the wisdom of her parents allowing Joy to live alone in a distant country when she has a known eating disorder, but I guess I may be going in over my head there. I also had an eating disorder when I was in my early 20’s, so hugs to you; I understand. I also know that without my parents never allowing me out of their sight during my illness, I might not be here now.

      • Paz Puente Greene Says:

        Hugs to you, too, from long term total recovery lane.
        In part, we can speak about these subjects with knowledge and objectivity because we were there and we came back. We also have some medical education to assess the risks of what she is subjecting her body to.
        What few people get about eating disorders beyond starving and overexercising is that it’s a very obsessive compulsive, narrow focused and autistic mental state. Those who suffer it are not only perfectionistic, but self aversive and self punishing and they are actually trying to control what they feel out of control THROUGH their body and body-control measures.
        She is creating a world not for us to live in, but to control how we perceive her and to control (through her perception of how we are perceiving her) a deep sense of being lost and vulnerable in strange land.
        She has teachers -no matter how beloved or devoted- who pinch her flesh, call her fat and push her to live on broth and lemons.
        The only reason why she is not extremely underweight is that she is bingeing out of camera and video editing or that she is carefully monitoring the exact amount so she can burn it. Her life is gym-class-rehearsals-a bit of sleep-gym-class-rehearsals. Rinse repeat.
        Some time ago I wondered how many prima bars was she eating to cover the energy expenditure. I suspect that she is in an hyperactive ednos now, with secret binges and intermittent fasting.
        Even in such a state, her body is hers to punish and break down to pieces. Even misguided by a malfunctioning brain and a disastrous cognitive model of life, when you are adult and corageous enough to move overseas and live in the Bolshoi/Kremlin Ballet microcosmos, the minimum is that you are respected for your daring choices.
        That’s not the point, really.
        The point is that now, many of her teeny groupies (she has some and a bunch are from Spain) are looking up to her and starting to create a mental model of a ballet career that is not Sylvie Guillem’s or Tamara Rojo’s fierce perfectionism and careful body-preserving choices, but Joy Womack’s posthuman/eating disorder fueled athleticism.
        As I said, I am not a ballet cultured person. I know more than the average, but in no way I can offer an informed and deep opinion like yours, for example.
        My concern is that a lot is going into that channel that may induce unhealthy perspectives and choices in teens.
        And doctors practicing ballet hacking on youtube without telling viewers that the first issue in stem cell therapy is that you cannot predict that they declare total cancer war on you short or long term. In a medical facility you have to sign an excruciatingly long informed consent sheet.
        Ballet is a demanding discipline. A little or a lot of masochism, gritty work ethics, tolerance for pain, discomfort and healthy limits shattered from time to time are part of it, but there’s so much effort invested now by directors like Tamara Rojo to eliminate eating disorders and install recovery and rehab facilities especially designed for ballet and so many dancers like Georgia Reed are having the guts to show the not so cute, not so glam reality of ballet to the newcomers that it’s disheartening that Joy’s desperate efforts to sort out her life derail them.

        No supplement will ever replace healthy, balanced eating. No bodyhacking will ever replace right rest and humility to meet body limits with common sense. No social media campaign will ever replace true LOVE for ballet and narcissistic driven goals won’t keep ballet alive in a generation who wants it stardom/visibility now, no effort, no journey.
        It’s sad, to say the least.
        I only ask that Eleanor Womack is honest enough to state the risks of enduring these procedures Joy liberally displays like the panacea. The risks of oversupplementation is not reminded either (I’ve seen Joy happily telling us that she sometimes shoots herself three B12 vitamin injections per week when she is stressed or overworked) and now she is selling supplements.
        Imagine supplements + stem cell therapy + hyperbaric,148/

        Not even a tiny disclaimer has been attached to her video.

        Another big hug from Spain.

  7. theworstat Says:

    That is a fantastic comment that could be posted as an article on this blog. Would you approve of this?

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