Renowned prima ballerina Joy Womack, 22, brought her skills, technique and elegance to a special master class at Texas Metropolitan Ballet in Killeen on Tuesday. 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 extensive training and experience with young dancers in Central Texas.
“I’m happy to see ballet return to regional America,” Womack said Tuesday.
It was also the latest step forward for the new ballet school that opened in August. Recently, the school’s first production of “The Nutcracker” sold out all its performances in Killeen and Temple.
Owner Randall Marks met Womack in 2010 in Austin when she was a ballet student. Although she was not one of his students, Marks saw great potential in her.
“I knew Joy would be something someday as a dancer,” he said. “It’s really nice watching her grow.”
While Womack visited her family in Austin during the holidays, Marks asked if she could teach a class at the school, and she agreed. Unlike some ballerinas who are aloof, Womack is approachable, Marks said.
“Joy is genuine, warm and she puts people at ease immediately,” he said.
Thirteen 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 precisely adjusting each part of their bodies from feet to fingertips. Her frequent commands included control, and heels on the floor and focus internally.
“Ballet is a mental game, not a physical game. If you think before you do it, you will change the game,” she said.
Often Womack gave students personal instruction to correct a step. “Don’t worry,” she said, hugging a dancer. “We all make mistakes.”
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 as they danced.
“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 also noteworthy for her strength and sheer power. The students marveled when she soared across the room in a few leaps, bringing applause from them.
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, awesome teacher,” she said.
At the end of the class, Womack praised the students’ great attitude and encouraged them to be better from one day to the next.
“You’re the only one that can make you, a better you,” she told the class.