“F”(ail) for pointe work:
(no, you read that right…watch the video!)
“F”(ail) for pointe work:
(no, you read that right…watch the video!)
Since I’ve been harping so much about Joffrey Elite, here’s a video about its mother series, Dance Moms. Turns out a lot of what I could smell in JE is actually true about Dance Moms, and worse:
Sit back for a moment and think about those dancers who have been stalled forever at the soloist level, or maybe even at coryphee or in the corps. I’m talking about the standouts who never seem to get promoted.
The late Rebecca Wright comes to mind: she came to ABT as a soloist after having been a principal at the Joffrey (the present-day Joffrey does not have principal dancers; not sure of the history but it probably has been different in the past). For a current cult ballerina I’m thinking of Sarah Lane, who is famous with the public for having been the body double who did the actual dancing in Black Swan, but who is more famous among ABT fans as being the girl who keeps getting passed over for the big promotion, even though she is renowned for her Giselle and other interpretations.
In the recent past, of course, there was our beloved Evgenia Obraztsova, who lingered for years in soloist levels at the Maryinsky. Or maybe Yulia Stepanova, same problem. Both are now well-regarded primas at the Bolshoi, so who knows what the Maryinsky’s problem was.
Anyway, let me know about your favorite cult ballerinas.
I mentioned this monstrosity in a previous post. Here you see the “reality show” formula at its worst: fake shaming, fake competition, fake drama, all ending in a fake cliff-hanger.
Add to that student dancers who are not ready for any kind of limelight. All the kids appear deficient in basic classical technique, so how is it helping them to spend their days in 6th position, executing a free-for-all edition of “modern dance,” (actually as I said earlier, it bears more resemblance to high-school drill team garbage), if they are aiming to be classical dancers? And the boys can’t partner, or at least what they’re being asked to do is way beyond what they can manage.
There’s always yet another stupid team competition (are we dancers or are we cheerleaders?); we have that lousy choreography where people march around in lockstep for a bit and then throw themselves by their stomachs (and why does it look exactly the same as the previous lousy choreography they did, when the subject is ostensibly so different?). And of course because there’s magically a new competition every two weeks or so, they have to be in an eternal rush to have new dances and costumes for each competition, just like Dance Moms! (Note: most real ballets take at least a month to choreograph and prepare, and are rehearsed to the point of exhaustion.)
Meantime back in the real world, I have to point out that this is nothing like
This documentary simply shows life at an elite ballet school with no detectable added drama. It assumes ballet life is interesting enough on its own. It doesn’t reek of a bunch of writers sitting around a table throwing out ideas like, “let’s have Arielle just dying for love of Jason, but then she finds out he really wants Josh, and meantime they’re all worried about their next big competition and whether Mr. Ballet Master is going to let them dance anymore if they don’t get a good score from the judges…”
To sum it up, nothing depicted in “Joffrey Elite” prepares the kids for life in a ballet company, so what’s the point?
The point of ballet school is clear when you watch the SAB documentary. This is the way ballet backstories should be portrayed on TV: just tell the truth. It’s quite dramatic enough.
P.S. the Joffrey Ballet must cringe at the “Joffrey Elite” series and the inevitable confusion it will cause. How do I know? Look at the website of the Joffrey Academy (the actual school of the Joffrey Ballet, as opposed to the Joffrey Ballet School). See anything there that tells you they may be trying to distance themselves from all this? Yes.
Because I ripped into a little kid for making a truly horrible pointe shoe video, I feel the need to show you a video from a professional dancer who knows what she is talking about:
Again, another comment that I just have to turn into a post. Thank you for the kind words, Paz Puente. Everyone, please read this. And before you get very upset, remember that this isn’t just about Joy, but what she and other dancers insist on doing to themselves (think about Misty Copeland dancing for months on a broken leg):
What I most miss in the social network era is slow thinking, articulate reasoning and intention behind content.
This is why I appreciate this blog so much: the intention of its content points to staying true to the original ballet and and an ongoing reflection about what ballet is not.
As I mentioned in other comments, I am far from being an expert on the art, but indeed in eating disorders. It took me ages to overcome them and I am still bound to the consequences, so I feel responsible of bringing the right information to the potential sufferers and in this aspect, Joy weaves plenty of red flags.
It’s easy to imagine her (or her teeny groupies) reacting badly to this blog or the opinions of those like me that are not really against her or her way of promoting her career but the questionable role model she is is to adolescents who are looking up to her content with naivety and lofty expectations.
There are few spaces where accurate information (and warning) can be published uncensored. I often fear that our perspective is misenterpreted as trolling. It’s not. This is very important to understand. My concern includes Joy with real compassion.
Everyone is entitled to self-promote, to make their lives public and to risk their lives, but to a certain limit. If you have followers with poor emotional intelligence -still in development-, if you belong to a profession that is prone to unhealthy patterns and obsessive behaviour, you owe viewers and followers some honesty so they can make informed choices.
There’s a big difference between a prima and a parasuicidal young ballerina who admits chronic eating disorders and displays a conduct which is generally self harming, especially if you are obscure about the themes treated.
There’s a big difference between work ethics and pathological public choices.
There’s a big difference between telling/showing others how your life is and using your social networking to sell snake oil and orient to unsafe medical procedures.
We’ve written about the ballerina hacking already.
Remember that one of the potential risks of autologous stem cell transplant was immune depression and infection?
Well. Bear with me, please and let’s analyze Joy’s posts last week:
First we see this in Instagram:
She gushes over performing at 104F fever (40ºC).Usual trick of foreshadowing impening drama.
Then she goes mia for days, leaving followers freaking out and praying for her.
Message: dismiss any of your abused body’s screams for rest, proper food and medical attention. Run to the brink. That’s what being a prima is all about. Swallow your Prima supplements. Be a martyr in the name of ballet.
Three days ago, she writes in Instagram: “Survival instinct is one of the tools cultivated almost exclusively on tour. I am grateful to be home safely after a close call during the end of the latest adventure in mainland China”, and she appears smiling (moon face from… bingeing/purging maybe? Massive cortisol and adrenaline surges from not stopping even when your body is giving up?)
Message: I am a survivor. To be a prima is to be a survivor. Be a barrier breaker. Risk death, it’s worth it.
A day ago: https://www.instagram.com/p/BRJxJOmDl4U/?taken-by=joy.womack&hl=es
She pulls a photo from the “Extreme ballerina” photoshoot, which was, in her own words “the coldest, most exhausting and challenging ever”
and she informs us that she is in “post pneumonia” like she has been at the supermarket.
Scary and self evident.
Some of her video titles are:
“Chaotic pursuit of perfection”
“How to rehearse on no sleep”
“Struggle through rehearsal”
“Danger, plateau ahead”
“Beginning of a dry spell”
“How to move forward regardless of your head”
“Loving the curveballs”
“Toxic Swan Lakes”
“Rest when you are dead”
“Working hard for you”
“At the end of the rope”
“Surviving in Halloween in Russia”
“Accepting the hard challenges”
“Turning on survivor mode”
“Teaching is hazardous”
“Art = extreme sport”
This drama-vocabulary would mean nothing in the era of click bait but considering that the average age of her groupies is 15-16 and even younger (according to the appearance of the askers she selects for her Q&A), easily gullible, impulsive, emotionally extreme and worship inclined as most adolescents, it’s another thing. Think these titles as a recorder to-do/to-be list in a 15 year old brain.
I can’t help feeling concerned, so here’s my unsolicited advice for thosethat read this blog and also follow Joy’s self inflicted ordeal:
1. The body is the vehicle of ballet. You cannot perform on empty. You cannot abuse it without harming your future career. You should never perform on a high fever because it is deadly.
2. Pneumonia and lousy immune system are part of the potential consequences of playing with not fully understood and therefore unsafe innovative medical technology. Mixing hyperbaric therapy, autologous stem cell therapy, little sleep, too much exercise, eating disorders and swallowing supplements as if they are legitimate substitutes for right food, proper rest and respecting physical limits is a recipe for disaster. Be humble, apply common sense, respect your limits and stick to basics: eat, sleep, think properly, have a support system, stay in balance.
3. In Joy’s prima supplements page something is being sold as L-Thianine. There’s no such thing. It’s called L-Theanine. It’s an aminoacid. If her prima mom and herself cannot even care about misprints we have a problem.
4. Masochism doesn’t make you a better ballerina. It may kill you. Be kind to your future self.
5. Narcissism won’t make you more visible or a better ballerina either. It only speaks of extreme self loathing, personality disorders and secret desperation. Think it twice before making an extreme person your role model.
6. There’s no substitute for life balance in performing arts.
7. Status anxiety, top level apartments, catchy hashtags won’t cover up for your technical issues, your lack of charisma and your obious death wish. There are better and healthier role models, people who knows how demanding ballet is, how precious, how intricate, how meaningful. Joy would be happier if she made inventory of WHY she is in this, because there are a lot of alternatives that would get her the attention, the care, the self importance she is trying to win through celebrity. It’s not easy to belong to a big family, lots of siblings and workaholic parents. Invisibility is one of the feelings that can result from just being one more.
8. Ballet is an art that asks for the very last drop of your energy and focus. The only rational motive to embrace it is sheer love for it. I cannot feel Joy’s love for her profession and that’s why connecting with her on stage is impossible.
9. If you want a rational approach to self care and feeding as a ballerina to follow and imitate, watch this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5356zt0JiDY
10. Do yourself a favor and go youtube hunting of “healthy ballerina”. Really inform yourself about what it takes to sustain your body, your energy and your mind balance in this profession. Joy Womack doesn’t represent health in ballet.
11. On Joy’s helium voice: bingeing and purging can permanently affect vocal cords and depending on what area of them is most damaged it can lead to hoarse or extremely high pitch voice. I’ve met living examples of both. Also the extreme tension of her neck can be creating that effect. Don’t binge, don’t purge. Period.
12. On the music (because someone asked), she uses chillstep ambient mostly. The type of soundtrack used by top level youtubers, which she faithfully imitates. She has a souncloud channel https://soundcloud.com/joy-womack-1 and she pulls a lot from https://www.youtube.com/user/MrSuicideSheep / She frequently fails to respect copyrights.
13. On trashing your partners and peers in the profession: it’s not a very intelligent choice. Surviving alone is stressful. There are other ways of move your career forward, less childish than being delusional about your skills and assuming that those that criticize you are envious. Cooperation is possible without giving up your ambitions.
Thank you for bearing with me, despite the lengthy comment.
Thank you for this blog.
During my YouTube haunt tonight, I found a new video by Joy Womack in which she blamed her on-tour loneliness on the fact that she didn’t come up through the corps and didn’t “bond” with anyone; also, she reiterated the “jealousy” excuse when talking about how her colleagues freak out whenever she pulls out a video camera.
At this point I don’t know what to say except that it’s getting old. It’s obvious that she needs to leave Russia, but it’s not so clear as to whether she’ll be happier in another company elsewhere. A lot of her problem is herself; until she realizes that, it’s going to be same-old, same-old.
ASIDE: the music she uses in her non-performance videos is hideous. I keep fast-forwarding through it. Where does she find this stuff? It’s either repetitious to the point of where you want to scream…well, it’s always that way…or there’s some girl singing in a voice that sounds like she just sucked on helium. Sometimes it’s just plain weird (once she had background music where some guy was reciting poetry or a speech or something). Never does it have anything to do with what’s going on on-screen.
Often, this screechy background music is just plain TOO LOUD.
Anyway, on to my next rant…a video series called The Joffrey Elite.
This is a reality series and follows that sick, sad, sorry old formula to the last drop of BS. The story is that a group of students are selected by the Joffrey Ballet School (NOT affiliated with the Joffrey Ballet!!) to become “the elite,” which is a group that performs at those silly team competitions that are springing up around the country. You know, like Dance Moms, only with pointe shoes.
Along the way they have the usual staged backstage dramas (“you’re on probation!”) and the usual happy endings (“we got first place in our first competition!”), coupled with the requisite silly challenges (“we didn’t score 100%!”). At one point I felt like shouting, “you didn’t score 100% because your students aren’t very good!” Because they aren’t. They are students: young, unfinished dancers ostensibly training for the lofty rigors of classical ballet.
If that’s actually who these kids are, this series will cost them eventually in real-world terms. Let’s put it this way: why are serious pre-professional ballet students wasting their time on high school drill-team choreography? Are they aspiring to be cheerleaders? Meantime they are losing serious classroom and rehearsal time in the most difficult of all the disciplines of western dance.
Aside from that, the series is so trite and predictable and just plain stupid that it made me wonder why the Joffrey Ballet School got involved in this in the first place. This particular school has a reputation that outstrips that of the Joffrey Academy (the school that is affiliated with the Joffrey Ballet), which is a young institution that just underwent a major management shakeup and as a result of all this, hasn’t gotten very far in its first 6 or 7 years. The Joffrey Ballet School, in contrast, has a solid history that goes back to 1953 and has earned a reputation for producing fine dancers. Kids fight to get into that school.
So why risk it? What’s the end game here? Are they wishing for fame and fortune by going down the reality-tv route?
This is not, after all, the Joffrey School’s first foray into the questionable world of reality shows. They had a presence in the deplorable Dance Moms series as well. At this point, I guess I can assume it’s a pattern. But as I asked, why? Is it doing them any good?
Is it doing ballet any good?
I can only hope that this doesn’t spread to other schools. I know one company has already succumbed (Ballet West), but I’d hate to see it spread to other companies as well. The one thing that may stop it is the dancers themselves. One hopes that if Joy Womack is getting in trouble with her colleagues for filming everything they do while filming herself (a new form of collateral damage), maybe dancers across the U.S. will stand up with their unions and stop the reality-show trend in its tracks. After all, it could end up making ballet look like one big, fake, stupid drama, kind of like professional wrestling.
One may argue that it exposes a whole new audience to ballet. But when you consider a typical reality-show audience…well, maybe ballet is better off without it.