Ballerina Joy Womack Reflects on the Legacy of NYCB Star Yvonne Mounsey
Updated: Apr 28
Yvonne Mounsey is a legendary name in ballet circles. As a company member of the New York City Ballet during its formative years, she originated the roles in some of George Balanchine's most famous works.
Her contributions to dance still live on, thanks to the Westside School of Ballet, the school and company she and Rosemary Valaire founded in 1967 in Santa Monica, California. Her school adhered to the principles of the Balanchine technique and has created several generations of professional dancers in the ballet world and beyond. Even though Mounsey passed away in 2012, her legacy still lives on.
Last Saturday, Westside Ballet held its annual fundraising gala where they celebrated Mounsey's 100th birthday. Prima ballerina Joy Womack was one of the guest artists performing at the gala, but she also had personal reasons for doing so — she was once a student at Westside Ballet. She spoke to Dance Dish about the lasting impact Mounsey had on her career.
"Coming to that studio and learning about her legacy growing up was so inspiring," Womack shared. "She made you believe that a career in dance could be possible if you worked hard."
Womack knows that her career would never have been possible without Mounsey's input because her parents weren't thinking about a career in ballet for their daughter.
"We moved away to Texas and it was really, really sad," she revealed. "She took my dad aside and said, 'Joy has talent, don't let her quit. If she doesn't find the right school, go to a Russian school.' It meant so much to me because my parents were never ballet parents."
She never left Westside Ballet completely, Mounsey stayed present in her life until her death.
"After we moved to Texas, Yvonne would always let me come back and take classes," she said. "She was concerned about what I was doing, where I was, and even to her last moment, she would let me come, listen and sit by her and tell me stories. She believed in me. I want to be able to carry on her legacy."
Womack thinks the school and Mounsey's work is not only important to ballet, but it's also vital to the Southern California dance scene. Students have gone on to major ballet companies as well as Broadway and commercial dance careers.
"I believe in what she's built here in Los Angeles. I think it's incredible to see how many dancers she's produced," Womack explained. "This is a really special place. I'm very loyal to Westside [Ballet] because it is an institution that's been around for almost 60 years and that's incredible."
Now that Womack is performing all over the globe, there is one story she always carries with her. It's a beautiful reminder that mentorship lasts generations in the dance world.
"I put on my first pair of pointe shoes and she had me come to an audition for the older girls' piece in a show the school was doing," Womack reminisced. "I'll never forget my first steps on pointe — she had me do a circle of piqué turns and I think I fell. She told me, 'Balanchine used to say that if you fall, that means you try.' I just remember thinking she believes in me and I knew that she would help me achieve my dreams."