As a longtime ballet fan, I first heard of Joy Womack several years ago as only the second American to graduate from the Bolshoi Academy in Moscow (graduating at the top of her class), and the first American to be appointed a soloist with the Bolshoi Ballet. Soon after that, she moved to the Kremlin Ballet as a principal dancer, where she danced Odette/Odile, Gamzatti in La Bayadère, and Masha in The Nutcracker. Leaving Russia in 2018, Womack has since danced with Boston Ballet and Universal Ballet, most recently landing at Paris Opera Ballet. Her unlikely journey from Texas to Moscow to the most renowned stages around the world was captured on a documentary called Joy Womack: The White Swan (2021).
Among other things, the documentary reveals the exacting standards and enormous pressure of Russian ballet. She faced the expected challenges of having the perfect body (“If you do not have the aesthetic, just forget about it, do not even try it”—she says at one point in her documentary). In addition, Womack faced corruption—including demands to make payment in order to be cast in leading roles. Now dancing for her “dream company” in Paris, Womack’s perseverance has paid off. But not only is Womack determined enough to break through the barriers, she’s also especially inspiring to compassionate dancers and athletes for her dedicated vegan diet.
Womack shares that she takes vitamins in the morning and at night, and that they are an essential part of her recovery and peak performance. In addition to a Vitamin C and a multivitamin containing all the B vitamins (a must for any vegan), Womack also takes “Mitochondrial Recharge” for increased energy that she explains “changed the muscle definition in my legs.” Magnesium is great for memory and stress relief: “It’s important to take these if you’re learning new choreography.” She takes Omega-3, which helps with her flexibility—and here we thought it was only great for brain health, dry eyes, and light sensitivity!
Womack also incorporates holistic remedies. Holy basil is something she takes when she’s struggling with depression and stress. “Sometimes I take a hot bath and a holy basil, and it gets me in the mood for sleeping.”
For food, Womack starts her morning with a fresh juice like grapefruit, pineapple (which is a dancer favorite for anti-inflammatory powers), or orange, and an espresso. Lunch is always a side salad paired with a soup, including Russian cabbage soup and her favorite, a mushroom soup with coconut milk. She avoids nuts or chocolate because they tend to make her gain weight, but her favorite indulgence is Thai food. If she’s making food at home, she is partial to simply satisfying, whole plant-based dishes like this vegan caramelized butternut recipe.
Eating so well wasn’t always possible for Womack, especially when training in Russia. “If you don’t look the part, you’re not going to get the part. And they’re very candid about it. My teachers would say, “congratulations, you look skinnier!”” She says.
To young dancers who may be struggling with their diets or body image, Womack has encouraging words. “Think about yourself as a whole person, not just yourself as a dancer but as an individual unique person, you cannot be your full self if you’re starving. It helps if you take your mindset out of that current status and look at the bigger picture, it will really help your perspective and longevity,” she says. Her message isn’t just about ballet, but about “empowerment, the power of resilience, getting back up when knocked down to keep going. There’s integrity to that and value finding strength within yourself.”
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Photo: Joy Womack via Instagram