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Joy Womack has left the Bolshoi

275 posts in this topic

ETA: Her version of her Nutcracker solo is that she did well, some reports are that she did not. We'll really never know unless we can find an uninterested witness.

Or a video, I suppose. Easier to assess for oneself when it's not filtered through others' ideas.

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I agree that if Bolshoi were a law firm, it would be a top white shoe law firm. However, it is not necessary to work in one to be a great attorney. Same with Joy, she can find success in a different company. She seems very resilient and I am sure she will find her place. What a person wants at 18 is usually not what they want at 25. This is a huge blow for her but I think in the end it will work out.

ETA: Her version of her Nutcracker solo is that she did well, some reports are that she did not. We'll really never know unless we can find an uninterested witness.

Catherine, on 20 Nov 2013 - 05:55 AM, said:snapback.png

Yet those first years often have three years of reviewing documents and sitting in a library doing research during their minimum 80-hour/week summer internships during law school, were editors of their Law Reviews, and were mentored not only by the best academic legal minds, but also by teachers with years of actual experience in some law schools. If they can't expect more than anonymous scut work as a first year, why would a newly minted member of the corps at the equivalents of Skadden, Arps, et. al. expect special opportunities?

Interesting analogy. It would be interesting to hear from someone who had a similar experience at a white shoe law firm or a big law firm. (I once read a book, a long time ago, which, I think, asserted that Skadden was formed as a response to discrimination in white shoe firms, so I have never thought of it as "white shoe".)

I can attest to lots of "scut work" at small firms, too. One of my main jobs there was to make love and war with the photocopy machine (an olden day, broken down, beaten up, miserable s.o.b. who caused me many late nights and misery.) The dungeon document reviews were a reprieve and relative pleasure in comparison. Boring, tedious, skin destroying, but a break from the fight with the toner and paper jams.

Back to ballet: an uninterested witness would give his opinion, but we have seen wide divergences of opinion, from observers of the same performance.

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Answering Writer here: Yes, it is very common that teenagers marry in Russia. Why it is like that I don't know. It is certainly not to get away from parents, as many newly weds have to live with their in laws. Maybe it is just a local custom, like here in Sweden people tend to get married very late and first time mothers are getting older all the time - I think average age of a first mother here is about 35.

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I can attest to lots of "scut work" at small firms, too. One of my main jobs there was to make love and war with the photocopy machine (an olden day, broken down, beaten up, miserable s.o.b. who caused me many late nights and misery.) The dungeon document reviews were a reprieve and relative pleasure in comparison. Boring, tedious, skin destroying, but a break from the fight with the toner and paper jams.

I spent a chunk of time working for a small firm when I got out of school -- greetings to another vet of the Great Copier Wars!

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The Morning News has published a story describing a talk Womack gave at a Virginia library five days before leaving, and may have summed up the whole mess perfectly:

Joy’s fairy-tale role as the first American to dance with the renowned Bolshoi had become a cautionary tale for those same young dancers she had hoped to inspire.

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Answering Writer here: Yes, it is very common that teenagers marry in Russia. Why it is like that I don't know. It is certainly not to get away from parents, as many newly weds have to live with their in laws. Maybe it is just a local custom, like here in Sweden people tend to get married very late and first time mothers are getting older all the time - I think average age of a first mother here is about 35.

20 years ago it was customary for the happy couple to receive a generous supply of vodka to mark the occasion from the state. Perhaps this still happens. In the UK people are becoming increasingly averse to marrying at all.

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A quote from the LA Times article:

"It was a huge lesson for me," she said. "They have so much money at the Bolshoi, they have the best building in the world, they have so many talented people. What they however need is attitude adjustment."

That will go over well, I'm sure.

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This recent quotation exemplifies why I discounted as convenient, facile, or insufficient, the suggestions that her ego and demand for solo roles, and her inability to deal with being a small fish in a big pond:

"I begged to be put in corps de ballet just to be able to dance on the stage. 'No', they would say. 'You are sticking out, you are too different, you raise your leg too high, you do it way too emotionally.' She had to live on less than $500 a month in Moscow, one of the most expensive cities in the world, trying to eat her meals at the theater's canteen to save money. And even then she didn't always get paid. 'They even forgot to pay my salary on time and would sporadically pay me something in cash when they realized I was there,' she said. In March, Womack persuaded Galina Stepanenko, then the acting ballet chief, to watch her dance her Cinderella rendition for "The Sleeping Beauty," which had a four-show vacancy for the role. Stepanenko told her she was 'charming' and that the part was quite 'fitting' for her but the role suddenly went to a friend of Filin's wife, Womack said. 'I was frustrated and really desperate,' she said. 'Never on any cast list. I was always on the reserve showing up for performances and sitting in the wings. Dancers and teachers started making jokes about her. 'Someone said that I was an American cheerleader with the company, dancing and noiselessly screaming 'Yeah! Yeah!' in the wings," she recalled, her brown eyes tearing up. 'It would have been funny if it were not so sad.' One teacher said he couldn't stand watching her doing nothing and managed to arrange for her to appear in the corps in "Ivan the Terrible" on April 20, her birthday. That was a birthday gift she would never forget, she said. In the year that she was with Bolshoi, she danced the "Nutcracker" part once and made seven appearances in three different shows with the company corps. ...'She was such a hardworking young woman and real fan and patriot of the Bolshoi from the very beginning, said Vyskubenko, who Womack said helped her get her bearings in the theater. 'She was ready to do any work, to dance anything, but she was kind of lost and little noticed from the very start. Soon she practically turned into a kind of ghost on the premises.'"

She never seems to indicate a dissatisfaction with being in the corps, but rather, a desire to be in the corp. Her complaints to Sergei Filin also don't seem to be in that vein, either:

"'When I finally approached him with pleas to give me the lowest corps de ballet contract, he said to me: 'You must be smarter, Joy. You must be sneakier. You should talk with other dancers and find out how it works here and what is the best way for you to be here,'" Womack said. She quit the next day."

I am not saying she deserved to dance, to be in the corps, or to be a soloist. I just did not read any interviews that made me think she quit because of grunt work or a sense of entitlement.

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It is not true that she never expressed dissatisfaction with dancing in the corps, because when she went for advice, the advice was for getting prominent parts. She didn't reply, "But I want corps roles, not $10/K per solo roles."

She wanted to be in the corps rather than dance nothing. That is a lament of just about every soloist who has been on the record: not being given solos and not allowed (back) into corps roles. The Bolshoi is not a 30-50-dancer-sized company where soloists have to dance senior corps roles just to put the ballets on stage.

She quotes "them" as to why they didn't want her to be in the corps: she didn't fit the role in their estimation. It's their company; they get to make that judgement call. They could make it on the basis of her line, that she emoted too much, and her dancing didn't meld into the group -- pretty much the "Chorus Line" corrections the Director gives Cassie -- or they could make it on the basis of her enthusiasm, which was a cultural misfit from the start. She says nothing about trying to take that feedback and adjusting her dancing to fit their specs.

Filin, whom she claimed she wouldn't speak about, told her to "talk to the other dancers and find out how it works here and what is the best way for you to be here." She had no obligation to fit in culturally or learn and follow the group norms, and she left to join a smaller company in Russia. (She's confirmed that, only not which one.).

She thinks the problem is with them, and they need to change their attitude, a bigger indicator that she thought much more highly of her place than even expecting important roles. They begged to differ.

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I am not saying she deserved to dance, to be in the corps, or to be a soloist. I just did not read any interviews that made me think she quit because of grunt work or a sense of entitlement.

This whole affair is just murky. She was hired into the corps according to her own statements on social media, the AD says she was in the corps but she calls herself a soloist. And she says in many interviews that she asked/begged for featured roles. That's pretty cheeky for a brand new, just out of school dancer. It looks like she danced one night in a solo role in Nutcracker. Many corps dancers are given the opportunity to cover and ultimately dance a solo role. It's a chance for the dancer to show that they can handle being out there in the spotlight alone. One solo role doesn't make anyone a soloist.

And now she says she begged to dance in the corps. If she was told she didn't fit in the corps, that's not a good thing in any company- large,small, Russian or anywhere else in the world. It's not a compliment; it makes a dancer less likely to be used. The hard facts that aren't murky are that she didn't dance in the corps or as a soloist to any great degree while she was at the Bolshoi, no matter what rank she describes herself to be. Patience would have been a virtue. She was a new dancer in a very large company. There is a lot of standing around, waiting and hoping in this situation. New dancers are wise to learn every single spot in the corps when they are called to rehearsals. It's not assumed that new dancers will dance corps roles at all and every single person standing in the back (in reserve and on the sidelines) is just hoping for the chance to go in at a moments notice and dance in the corps.

And this new interview? Goodness, someone please save this girl and tell her to be quiet now. She's made accusations which she doesn't look prepared to take any further than the press. She's quit her job or she was fired according to one article. She's thrown her twitter tantrum. And in the process, she has burned bridges and potentially hurt her future ability to be employed. She's not Svetlana Zakharova, or Natalia Osipova; she's a new graduate with unrealistic expectations. The Bolshoi has bigger issues to deal with at the moment; I'm sure they have moved on- Womack would be wise to do the same.

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I am not saying she deserved to dance, to be in the corps, or to be a soloist. I just did not read any interviews that made me think she quit because of grunt work or a sense of entitlement.

Once again, this misrepresents the arguments made here. No one is arguing that she quit because she wasn't being given solo roles or that she didn't want to do corps work, even as a last resort. Her place as a small fish in a big pond is brought up to show how naive and unreasonable her expectations were and to show how little she seems to have listened and observed during her four years in Russia. She chooses to make statements to the press that reinforce this conclusion and speak to her credibility.

She has every right to want a good, positive working environment in which she dances a lot, is appreciated, and progresses. She has every right to leave an environment that is toxic. That doesn't obligate the Bolshoi to be the environment she wants it to be to fit her dreams, any more than it would NYCB, RDB, POB, or any other big institution, where careers stagnate and dreams dissolve on a regular basis.

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It's amazing to me how much media attention this is getting. Don't the LA Times and the NY Times have more important Arts news to fill the paper.

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Does anybody know the veracity of whether or not Womack was given a red diploma and how common that is at the Bolshoi? Who else might have gotten one and how is that dancer faring?

I wondered the same thing. The only thing a google search shows up is on her springform site; she states that she got the red diploma and goes on to state that Nastia Limenko also received a red diploma. She also states that Nastia Limenko went to the Stanislavsky. The Academy's Facebook page doesn't seem to list the graduates or honors for them but there are several entries from a Womack- dad? with photos and videos of her performing what looks like the lead in the school's performance of Paquita. Perhaps someone who understands Russian or has access to the school announcements from JW's graduating class could confirm her statements but a simple google search only shows statements in social media.

Joy's facebook has photos of her red diploma. Her name is printed inside. I don't doubt she received one. I was surprised they were so rare that only two girls got one in her year. I know she has stated multiple times that she was the only on taken from her graduating class.

Does the Bolshoi routinely take on no new dancers from a graduating class? She apparently was a late hire, so when the dancers were hired no girls from her class were on the list, according to her.

I think the Bolshoi reality did not meet the fantasy. Things like this happen in a lot of professions. A first job isn't always a good fit but it does not have to determine the rest of your career.

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I agree 100% with swanchat and with so many others who are posting here.

I have been watching Joy Womack's journey for the past four years, in the beginning not so much because I wanted to but because I live in Los Angeles. And as she was born here, the local mainstream media was reporting on her, in the papers as well as on television. As a former ballet dancer and a former ballet teacher I found this enormous attention that she received quite dangerous because it added so much unnecessary pressure. Being marketed as "the first ever" with the typical "the sky is the limit"-dreams before even starting your studies at the Olympus of classical ballet can backfire. And it sure did.

When the so-called scandal first broke last week, I had high hopes that Womack had never given the interview to Izvestia but had confided in a friend who had leaked the story to the press. I should have known better. As someone pointed out so eloquently in this forum, she is a professional when it comes to creating her own stardom through social media, as so many people choose to do nowadays. In the meantime, it has become clear that she did not only give the initital interview but she continues to talk to the press elaborating on individual aspects. What consequences will this have on the next girl that GETS to dance a solo part on the Bolshoi stage? Will she be asked how much she paid for it or will the question be even worse? How will Womack's latest statements in the L.A. Times affect the teacher she allegedly respects so much? Will he keep his job or will he suffer the consequences for having a private conversation with a student that betrayed his candor by offering the contents of this conversation to the international media?

There is corruption and injustice at the Bolshoi Ballet - of course, there is. It's a theatre. Show me any theatre in the world where corruption and injustice do not exist. These places are crammed with people that feel overlooked or ignored because they do not have the right connections or not enough money. But fact is that ballet is also an industry with experts who spot exceptional talent where the untrained (and even a very trained) eye can only see a moving body. And the Bolshoi will not overlook a potential superstar that was grown in their own factory. They had three years to watch Womack's development. If they had seen something in her that required immediate promotion to ensure that she didn't leave for another company, they would have promoted her and this with a loud bang in the U.S. media.

One more thing: She begged to be given the lowest corps contract but at the same time she put her legs too high and did her steps with too much emotion? This doesn't fit together. The dancing of the corps is based on the abilities of its weakest link, only this will create unison. You cannot fit into a group if you try to stick out. And those who have never learned to follow, will hardly ever be able to lead - that's at least what teachers used to say when I was a young dancer.

I am sure that I am not alone in saying that I feel deeply sorry for Joy Womack, not because of what happened to her but because of how she handled what happened to her. After that, one can only hope that there is a ballet director out there who will risk to hire her. As far as I know, as the winner of the fairly new Asian Grand Prix ballet competition, she joined Ruslan Nurtdinov's production of "Virtuosos of the World Ballet" and is currently touring Russia with renditions of the Black Swan and Auber's Grand Pas Classique. This is a wonderful opportunity but not a solution for her career. And a far cry from the Bolshoi stage.

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I was struck by the fact that she arranged a sham marriage (against the wishes of her parents) in an effort to further her career. How many 18 year olds do you know who would do such a thing? This seems to me evidence of her complete and unhealthy obsession, which seems to have clouded any possibility of sound judgment.

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When I was 20 and traveling in Europe, I was offered money for a sham marriage to bring someone home to the US. Now the advice is online, and much of it is bogus. (There are excellent peer-run immigration forums that spend most of their time debunking the myths and old info.)

If Womack wanted to stay in Russia, she could have gotten all kinds of advice easily. A sham marriage could have been one of the suggestions to bypass years of applications and red tape. It would have been a demographic oddity for me to bring home a foreign-born husband at 20, even then, but it's not for a young Russian.

For all that dancers are taught to shut up and be obedient, it's hard to imagine becoming a professional dancer without being equally driven and headstrong.

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I can't judge her. All I see is a 19 year old who had a dream, worked hard on fulfilling it, endured a truly scary year beginning with the acid attack on Filin (we in America are not used to that degree of scariness in a ballet company), and then was so worn down that she called it quits with that company. She made PR mistakes. She's 19. Did you know that the final stage of childhood has a range of from 18-25 years old? Periods of impulsivity and ambivalent behavior are common during that period. The myelin doesn't fully lay down over the frontal lobes until about 24 or 25. Womack does not seem unlike countless teens I know who may not be fully consistent. I admire her tenacity. I acknowledge that she made mistakes. But geeze, no matter what the law may state about the age of adulthood (American law itself is ridiculously behind medical science: all it takes is a look at how the courts view mental illness to ascertain that), what we now know scientifically is that she's still a kid. I don't care what kind of personality she may or may not have: she's still unformed. I was on my own at her age too, having chosen not to attend college along with my peers. I'd hate for anyone to be judging my actions at that time; I now know I wasn't anything near adult maturity at the time. Few of my in-college friends were any further along. I believe in cutting her some slack.

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Things like this happen in a lot of professions. A first job isn't always a good fit but it does not have to determine the rest of your career.

This!

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I can't judge her. All I see is a 19 year old who had a dream, worked hard on fulfilling it, endured a truly scary year beginning with the acid attack on Filin (we in America are not used to that degree of scariness in a ballet company), and then was so worn down that she called it quits with that company. She made PR mistakes. She's 19. Did you know that the final stage of childhood has a range of from 18-25 years old? Periods of impulsivity and ambivalent behavior are common during that period. The myelin doesn't fully lay down over the frontal lobes until about 24 or 25. Womack does not seem unlike countless teens I know who may not be fully consistent. I admire her tenacity. I acknowledge that she made mistakes. But geeze, no matter what the law may state about the age of adulthood (American law itself is ridiculously behind medical science: all it takes is a look at how the courts view mental illness to ascertain that), what we now know scientifically is that she's still a kid. I don't care what kind of personality she may or may not have: she's still unformed. I was on my own at her age too, having chosen not to attend college along with my peers. I'd hate for anyone to be judging my actions at that time; I now know I wasn't anything near adult maturity at the time. Few of my in-college friends were any further along. I believe in cutting her some slack.

That's all true, but at the same time she is in a profession in which people are expected to behave maturely at an early age. NYCB is an example. You enter the company at 15-16-17 and it's sink or swim. To me what is interesting about Womack is that she had in interest in putting it all out in social media from the beginning, so there was always an element of self promotion. Self promotion is not necessarily bad, but it can be a two way sword.

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I can't judge her. All I see is a 19 year old who had a dream, worked hard on fulfilling it, endured a truly scary year beginning with the acid attack on Filin (we in America are not used to that degree of scariness in a ballet company), and then was so worn down that she called it quits with that company. She made PR mistakes. She's 19.

...Womack does not seem unlike countless teens I know who may not be fully consistent. I admire her tenacity. I acknowledge that she made mistakes. But geeze, no matter what the law may state about the age of adulthood ... she's still a kid. I don't care what kind of personality she may or may not have: she's still unformed. I was on my own at her age too, having chosen not to attend college along with my peers. I'd hate for anyone to be judging my actions at that time; I now know I wasn't anything near adult maturity at the time. Few of my in-college friends were any further along. I believe in cutting her some slack.

I agree for sure . . . indeed even if one thinks she made more than PR mistakes (and that I just don't know).

I certainly don't hold it against her that she has made use of social media in her career.

(As I was typing Vipa just wrote that social media can be a double-edged sword. I was about to add something about "a Frankenstein monster"--but it's also a reality of our lives, and far more so for Joy Womack's generation than for mine. )

Edited to add: I perhaps should say something about ballet dancers being expected to mature fast, sink or swim, as Vipa writes. Sure--not that that is something we should all just accept as a good thing, especially when a 15 or 16 year old is involved--but I think there can be some understanding when somebody that age appears to make mis-steps and starts to sink. Not exactly analogous but shortly after Charles Ward (older at the time) was promoted to soloist at ABT, he went racing onto the stage at the WRONG TIME in the music in Act III of Sleeping Beauty because he was so over-excited. He says all that happened was that Antony Tudor came up to him and said "I think I know why you did that." (Story is from a published interview--don't remember exactly where it was published.)

Womack has been through an ordeal--let's assume the worst (for the sake of argument only) and say it's of her own making. I would still be inclined to cut her some slack.

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I don't think she should be given a free ride on this one. The Twitter thing, plenty of people have done, and plenty of people her age treat social media casually and make their mistakes in public on it. Interviews with Izvetsia, after which she said she'd no longer talk about it, then NYT, LA Times, and Elizabeth Kiem are not the blow-ups of a 19-year-old. She made allegations that she expected to walk away from, and she involves more and more people in each interview. At this point, she owns it, regardless of any wishes or regrets.

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Helene, that's where our difference of opinion lies. I DO see her interviews as the immature thinking of a 19 year old.

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I certainly agree that she's still a kid. I'm sorry her dreams didn't come true. It happens. Failure is a potential learning experience and those who learn and grow from it become successful.

For me, it's not her disillusionment or the fact that she made what seems to be some poor life and career choices. I just that I get a bit testy when these kids use social media for self-exaltation long before accolades are truly deserved. In this case, it is remarkable that she was able to secure a spot at one of the world's most recognizable name schools at such a young age. That is certainly something to be proud of and if, in adolescent fashion, she wants to use social media to brag then who's to argue that she shouldn't. Likewise, the awarding of the school's highest honor is something to be proud of and again, in adolescent fashion in this day and age, bragging in social media is part of their lives. Social media is not vetted information. It's what the author wants to portray and I get irritated when I feel that what's being portrayed isn't exactly true and yet, it's put out there as fact. Here's the thing though, a great many of these social media savvy kids have parents either doing this PR for them or contribute in large part and they should know better. A quick look at the Bolshoi School Facebook page shows several entries from a parent in this case. It is a double edged sword and the pressure that is heaped on these kids to live up to their own hype is immense. Not every kid who found great success as a student goes on to find the same success as a professional - in any field, much less the fickle field of ballet and the double edged sword of social media leaves these kids so vulnerable when things don't go well, or as planned, or dreamed. When things don't turn out as planned, the pattern of going to social media and even traditional media is established and these adult-adolescents use these tools to whine, complain, make excuses and throw "twitter-tantrums." This is just not a good thing as many will read these social media tantrums and not even question what's being put out there. In this case, there are more than a few inconsistencies. Understandable that it's adolescent inconsistency but it's also understandable that adults and folks who are thinking critically would question the hype. She and her parents chose to use media to promote her, now they are using media when things haven't gone well. Those who should be protecting her have only made her more vulnerable. As I've said before, someone with maturity needs to counsel this girl to be quiet now. The ruckus would die down in due course and she could go on with her career. There are lots of 19/20 year olds at the beginning of their career who have not chosen to be at the mercy of social media and self-promotion who will go on to have long and fulfilling careers; she might do well to consider joining their ranks.

ETA: Kids would be well informed if they were taught not to believe everything you read (especially in social media) and that you will know you are doing something special when other people are talking about you instead of you hyping yourself!

Parents of aspiring dancers and young professionals should learn from this and understand their role in protecting instead of promoting adolescents and young adults.

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... Those who should be protecting her have only made her more vulnerable. As I've said before, someone with maturity needs to counsel this girl to be quiet now. The ruckus would die down in due course and she could go on with her career.

...That I agree with too. However, I suspect that she and those around her think the "ruckus" will help her career (outside of Russia at least)--they may be wrong, but...they may not be. That is, it's not obvious to me these days what helps and doesn't help, whatever I may believe is in good taste or shows good judgment. Certainly she must be pissing off a lot of powerful people who have friends/influence even outside of the Bolshoi and Russia. Time will tell.

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This might sound weird, but here goes. In figure skating, there is a certain type of person (usually American, with a little bit of wealth but perhaps not that much) who becomes infatuated with the idea of "Mother Russia." This type of fan will adopt a Russian name, Russian mannerisms, follow around Russian figure skaters, and a few will go that extra step of only speaking in Russian. It's not just fans -- Johnny Weir is exactly that kind of skater. Luckily for Weir he's married a Russian and seems to be living the dream. Happy for him.

From Womack's interviews it sounds as if she had an extreme version of this mentality. A more practical-minded 18-year old graduate of the Bolshoi school might have taken that diploma and fielded a variety of offers from various companies before taking the best offer with the best contract and terms. Instead, she arranges a phony marriage, ran into financial problems, and seems to have encountered some shady people who took advantage of her aggression and ambition, and finds herself unemployed (or is she?) at 19. She's very bitter that it didn't work out, and she's not handling it maturely.

But seriously, ballet doesn't have to be about leaping onstage as Odette/Odile on a Russian stage. Great big world out there, and while she's young and uninjured, she should just explore other options.

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