Renowned prima ballerina Joy Womack, 23, brought her skills and technique to a master class at Texas Metropolitan Ballet in Killeen in January. The California native was the first American female soloist with the Bolshoi Ballet and is currently a principal dancer with the Kremlin Ballet in Moscow. She has taught master classes around the world, but this was her first opportunity to share her training and experience with young dancers in Central Texas.
“I’m happy to see ballet return to regional America,” Womack said.
School Owner Randall Marks met Womack in 2010, in Austin when she was a ballet student, and saw great potential in her.
“I knew Joy would be something special as a dancer,” he explained. “Joy is genuine, warm and she puts people at ease.”
While Womack visited her family in Austin, Marks asked if she would teach at the school, and she agreed. Unlike some ballerinas who are aloof, Womack is very approachable. 13 advanced students glued their eyes and ears to Womack soaking up her movements and directions. The two-hour class started with her emphasizing ballet basics, such as placement and turn-outs. Womack moved among the students adjusting each part of their bodies from feet to fingertips. Her frequent commands included control, and internal focus.
“Ballet is a mental game. If you think before you do it, you will change the game,” she said.
Womack’s elongated and classical physique was constantly in motion. Even seated, she clapped to the music, then glided her arms through the air. And her approach had an immediate impact on the students when she called out encouragement.
“Stomach, good. Shoulders inside, better,” she said. Although she cautioned them not to seek her validation. “Don’t look to me for approval. Look to yourselves.”
Displaying the easy authority of a benevolent mentor to the aspiring dancers, Womack playfully joked and laughed hoping they would relax.
“I see all of you smile,” she said after about an hour. “It’s a miracle.” But she was also a disciplinarian when scolding one group for rushing in. “That’s not allowed in ballet. Do it again.” And they did — slower.
Though blessed with the graces of ballet, such as poise and lyricism, Womack is noteworthy for her strength and sheer power. The students marveled when she soared across the room in a few leaps. As time progressed, so did the difficulty of each ballet sequence. At one point, a sea of students’ legs reached into the air with quivering muscles straining to copy Womack’s steady, effortless movements.
“Joy put me through a lot of pain, but it was beautiful pain,” said student Michaela Powers, 15.
The rare chance to take a master class with a prima ballerina was appreciated by all the dancers, including Raquel Simmons, 26, who came from Temple and watches Womack’s online videos.
“Joy is an awesome teacher,” she said. At the end of the class, Womack praised the students’ great attitude and encouraged them to improve. “You’re the only one, that can make a better you.”