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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TaraMarie Perri in tree pose at Storm King Art Center. Photo by Sophie Kuller, Courtesy Perri

5 Self-Soothing Exercises You Can Do to Calm Your Anxiety

Physical stillness can be one of the hardest things to master in dance. But stillness in the bigger sense—like when your career and life are on hold—goes against every dancers' natural instincts.

"Dancers are less comfortable with stillness and change than most," says TaraMarie Perri, founder and director of Perri Institute for Mind and Body and Mind Body Dancer. "Through daily discipline, we are trained to move through space and are attracted to forward momentum. Simply put, dancers are far more comfortable when they have a sense of control over the movements and when life is 'in action.' "

To regain that sense of control, and soothe some of the anxiety most of us are feeling right now, it helps to do what we know best: Get back into our bodies. Certain movements and shapes can help ground us, calm our nervous system and bring us into the present.

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