Joy Womack: The Road to Russia
As the first American to graduate from the Bolshoi Ballet Academy’s main training program, Joy Womack found fame even before going pro. Although her journey was far from easy, she feels it was the right choice. “My time at the Bolshoi created me as a dancer,” she says. “I now have offers from two companies in Russia and I feel ready.”

Womack began her serious training at age 9 with former Balanchine dancer Yvonne Mounsey at Westside School of Ballet in Santa Monica, California. She soon added private sessions with Russian ballet master and prominent coach Yuri Grigoriev. Her dream was to join New York City Ballet, “do the ‘American’ thing,” she says.

But her family moved to Austin, Texas, when Womack was 12 and she couldn’t find any strong Balanchine studios in the area. “I thought it was the end of the world,” she says, with a laugh. Intrigued by videos of Russian dancers (“I fell in love with Diana Vishneva”), Womack enrolled at the Vaganova-based Austin School of Classical Ballet.

Just a year later she was offered a scholarship to the Kirov Academy of Ballet of Washington, D.C.  Yet she received little encouragement once there. “They told me I didn’t have enough turnout or flexibility,” she says. In her second year, she was told that she would need to look for another school. She was heartbroken.

Luckily, during American Ballet Theatre’s New York summer intensive, former ABT principal Leslie Browne had given Womack a vote of confidence, and encouraged her not to give up. So Womack returned to New York to audition for ABT’s school. While there, an unexpected opportunity arose: A master class with the Bolshoi’s Nathalia Arkhipova led to an invitation to study at Moscow’s Bolshoi Ballet Academy.

Arkhipova took Womack under her wing, pushing her to prove herself. Womack was the first American to train in a class with Russian students at the famed academy. She spent tireless hours in the studio and hustled to learn the language. One of only 10 in her level, she was consistently given opportunities to dance leading roles during the school’s performances on the Bolshoi stage–in front of more senior Russian students.

Womack believes her winding road gave her the confidence to succeed in any situation: “That American encouragement and Russian work ethic was an important mix,” she says. “Sometimes it was hard to fit the mold and be successful at each school I went to. But I wouldn’t be the artist I am without all of these influences.”

[Editor's note: After this story went to press, Womack became the first American woman to sign a contract with the Bolshoi Ballet.]

Whitney Huell: School Smarts
As a serious African-American ballet student, Whitney Huell grew up with her heart set on joining Dance Theatre of Harlem. But just as she was about to graduate from the South Carolina Governor’s School For Arts and Humanities, the company went on hiatus. Huell was determined not to let the setback derail her dreams. She decided to continue her training in a college program that would prepare her for a professional life.

The South Carolina native entered Indiana University’s well-respected ballet program. “It wasn’t my favorite option at the time, and it was definitely unconventional in my mind,” she says. Yet she met with a happy surprise on campus. “I loved, loved, loved it,” she says, with a giggle. “I had always enjoyed school, and at IU I had a balance of academics and dance. Plus, I was able to graduate in three years; the ballet program staff know you have to get out into the real world.” IU turned out to be the perfect fit for Huell: She enjoyed full days of dancing, learned a variety of techniques and got plenty of performance opportunities, since the program is set up with an eye toward helping students achieve their career goals.

In her last year, Huell was snatched up by Ballet West director Adam Sklute for Ballet West II, and he soon promoted her to the main company. “When I started at Ballet West, I realized IU had been exactly like a company in terms of workload and amount of rehearsal,” she says. “It was like a company in size, too. All of the 40 students were motivated and passionate, just like professionals, and they pushed me to work my hardest.” Although she had initially feared college would take her away from the ballet world, it actually gave her a realistic taste of a professional dancer’s life.

College also gave her perspective. She grew as an artist through working with a variety of choreographers, such as former Paris Opéra Ballet dancer Jacques Cesbron and former NYCB dancer John Clifford. “The whole experience opened my eyes to things I’d never been exposed to,” she says, “from frat parties and friends outside ballet to choreography being set on us.”
Although it was tough to be older than other members of Ballet West II, “I know I made the right decision,” Huell says. “It serves me. After ballet I have a degree to fall back on!”

Emily Kadow: Daring Decisions
This season, Emily Kadow joined San Francisco Ballet as one of the rare dancers in the corps who didn’t come through the company school. Instead, she created her own path. From the very start of her training, Kadow sought out teachers who would serve her best.
Originally from Tampa, Florida, Kadow’s family moved to Pennsylvania when Kadow was 6 so that her sister could train at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet. Kadow enrolled soon after. “Right away I wanted to dance seriously,” Kadow says. She studied under Marcia Dale Weary, with a style Kadow says “isn’t Balanchine, but has Balanchine influences. She makes you very strong with several classes a day.”

They moved back to Florida four years later, and Kadow studied privately under Javier and Isabel Dubrocq, gaining Cuban and Russian technique, a far cry from Dale Weary’s approach. “It was very slow compared with what I was used to,” she says. “But now Russian style—the port de bras, the footwork, the way they turn—is my favorite.” Kadow wanted to explore the technique even further, so she went to the Kirov Academy of Ballet of Washington, D.C.

A year later, after a chance meeting with master Vaganova teacher Edward Ellison, she joined his small academy in New York (at age 14, she was the youngest student). Training with Ellison resulted in a bronze medal at Youth America Grand Prix, and scholarships to both the Princess Grace Academy and The Royal Ballet School. Kadow attended their summer programs, but chose to stay with Ellison during the year. She felt she still had more to learn from him, and she wanted more of the lessons and style he offered.

Eventually Kadow switched to ABT’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School for the opportunity to train with director Franco De Vita. “Also, it was great to go back to a big school with kids my own age and other styles of dance,” she explains.

After a year, knowing it was her last chance to attend The Royal Ballet School’s year-round program, Kadow set up her own audition and was immediately asked to stay.

Today, Kadow is back on U.S. soil with SFB after a year dancing professionally with Ballet du Capitole in Toulouse, France. Her oscillation between techniques and school sizes while training helped her discover who she is as a dancer. “Sometimes it got confusing because I’d get contrasting instruction,” she says. “But I would just try both ways, and decide what worked best for me. You can stay at one school and be a great dancer. But if you want to experience different things, change! You have to decide for yourself.”

Lauren Kay is a dancer and writer in New York City.


I want to be a professional dancer, but my parents won't listen. They either don't think I can do it (contrary to what my teachers have said) or they won't let me take the necessary steps to become a professional. Please help. —Audrey

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Rigorous program, check. Well-rounded technical training, check. Purposeful liberal arts curriculum, check. Study your craft abroad, check! If you are looking for all the above, the Joan Phelps Palladino School of Dance at Dean College truly has it all.

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They say that pigeons mate for life—perhaps that's why these birds naturally symbolize the young lovers in Sir Frederick Ashton's The Two Pigeons. In these two clips from a 1987 performance in Pisa, Alessandra Ferri and Robert LaFosse—then stars with American Ballet Theatre and New York City Ballet, respectively—dance a rapturous pas de deux at the end of Act II. With tiny pricks of her feet and bird-like flaps of her elbows in Part 1, Ferri marks her anguish, thinking she's been abandoned for another woman. Later, both she and LaFosse grow more and more entangled as they reconcile, Ferri dancing with the passionate abandon she's famous for. I love how in Part 2 (0:20), they can't seem to get enough of each other as their necks arch and intertwine. At the end of the ballet, two pigeons fly in to perch symbolically on the chair—er, there's supposed to be two. It looks like one missed its cue at this performance! No matter—Ferri and LaFosse's dancing make it clear that these young lovers are meant to be together for life. Happy #TBT!

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Summer Study Advice
The author at 13, rehearsing at her home studio, Ballet Arts Theater, in Endicott, NY. Courtesy McGuire.

This story originally appeared in the December 2010/January 2011 issue of Pointe.

As a young student at a small ballet school in upstate New York, I was obsessed with getting into the School of American Ballet. From the age of 10, I entered class each day with the ultimate goal of studying at SAB dangling before me like a carrot on a stick. Every effort I made, every extra class I took was for the sole purpose of getting into what I thought was the only ballet school that really mattered.

I auditioned for SAB's summer program for the first time when I was 12. In the weeks that followed, I became a vulture hovering over my family's mail, squawking at my mother if the day's letters were not presented for my inspection when I walked through the door. The day the letter finally arrived, it was thin and limp. I cried for a week as I dealt with the crushing feeling of rejection for one of the first times in my life.

My mind filled with questions and self-doubt. What was wrong with me? Why wasn't I good enough? I figured I must be too fat, too slow, my feet too flat. I had worked so hard. I had wished on every fallen eyelash and dead dandelion in pursuit of my single goal, just to have a three-paragraph form letter conclude that I was a failure. For a while, I let myself wallow in the comfort of my resentment, content to believe that success should have come easily, and that to fall was the same as to fail.

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Pointe Stars
Photo by Theo Kossenas, Courtesy The Washington Ballet

You made a deal with your mom to take ballet classes in exchange for a ride to tryouts for the football team. How did that work?
I thought that I would take ballet for a couple months, become a master and then leave that alone and concentrate on football. Ballet had other ideas, which perplexed me, and ultimately, I think, made me fall in love with it.

How is The Washington Ballet evolving under Julie Kent's leadership?
It's still early, but I think that the company is growing stronger classically. And we have Julie, Victor Barbee, Xiomara Reyes and Rinat Imaev—a great team of people who are giving their input and expertise, which is quite helpful.

Mack in 'Swan Lake.' Photo by Theo Kossenas

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Summer Study Advice
Summer intensive students at the School of American Ballet. Photo by Rosalie O'Conner, Courtesy SAB.

As a young student, Shea McAdoo's classes at the Master Ballet Academy in Scottsdale, Arizona, were “strict, straightforward, very classical and purely Vaganova." She appreciated the Russian rigor and precision, but when she was accepted to the School of American Ballet's summer course at 13, she leapt at the chance to learn something new. The vastly different emphasis on Balanchine technique at SAB was illuminating: “It changed my whole way of thinking about musicality and accents. I'd never known there were so many ways to do a tendu! And the épaulement—I loved how they talked about light hitting your face, tilting your chin to show off your diamond earring."

McAdoo's experience was transformative, even when she returned home. “Of course, I lowered my arms back down in second and didn't cross my wrists," she says, “but there were stylistic choices I brought back with me." Today, as an apprentice with Oregon Ballet Theatre rehearsing Balanchine's Serenade, she credits her ease with the ballet's fluid port de bras to her summer at SAB.

Learning about ballet's various styles and techniques is an important part of a dancer's development. With summer intensive auditions approaching, it's a perfect time to consider broadening your training. While it can be initially confusing, immersing yourself in a style outside your comfort zone can be eye-opening and influential for your future training and career. And the benefits of diversifying your training can last beyond a single summer.

Shea McAdoo in OBT's production of "Paquita." Photo by James McGrew.

Let Curiosity Be Your Guide

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