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 #1: Don't be so sensitive. Be strong.

Lesson #2: Pay attention to timing.

Lesson #3: Don't let épaulement be an afterthought.

Lesson #4: Be passionate, and don't throw away your movements.

Lesson #5: Mind the wind up before you turn.

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

Lesson #7: If you put in the time, the work stays with you. (Just watch her partner with David Hallberg.)

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AMDA students learn how to present their best selves on camera. Photo by Trae Patton, Courtesy AMDA

AMDA's 4 Tips for Acing Your Next Audition

Ah, audition day. The flurry of new choreography, the long lines of dancers, the wait for callbacks. It's an environment dancers know well, but it can also come with great stress. Learning how to be best prepared for the big day is often the key to staying calm and performing to your fullest potential (and then some).

This concept is the throughline of the curriculum at American Musical and Dramatic Academy, where dance students spend all four years honing their audition skills.

"You're always auditioning," says Santana Trujillo, AMDA's dance outreach manager and a graduate of its BFA program. On campus in Los Angeles and New York City, students have access to dozens of audition opportunities every semester.

For advice on how dancers can put their best foot forward at professional auditions, Dance Magazine recently spoke with Trujillo, as well as AMDA faculty members Michelle Elkin and Genevieve Carson. Catch the whole conversation below, and read on for highlights.

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July 2021