Irina Kolpakova in the studio with Katherine Williams. Photo by Quinn Wharton for Pointe.

7 Tough-Love Lessons from the Legendary Irina Kolpakova

Being coached by a treasure like former Kirov prima Irina Kolpakova is an experience most dancers only dream of. But company members at American Ballet Theatre have been the lucky beneficiaries of her wisdom since 1990. Thanks to Instagram, where pros like Gillian Murphy and James Whiteside share snippets of their sessions with Kolpakova, any ballet lover can be a fly on the wall during rehearsals with the famed ballet mistress.


Though she's well into her 80s, don't you dare think that Kolpakova has gone soft. This Dance Magazine Award recipient coaches with incredible passion, not to mention a dash of humor, and never lets a dancer rest on their laurels—yes, even James Whiteside needs to be reminded how to properly prep for a pirouette now and then.

We've gathered videos of our favorite tough-love lessons from Kolpakova. Take note.

Lesson #6: Placement matters...and Kolpokova possibly cares about it even more than Gillian Murphy doing a quintuple. 

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February 2021