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. She 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. 

Latest Posts


Getty Images

How Do You Like Our New Look?

Notice anything different about our site? Perhaps the bigger, splashier images and the fun new fonts?

Welcome to the new pointemagazine.com! We just got a fabulous new redesign, and we can't wait to share the results with you. Have a look around—our exclusive dance photography looks more beautiful than ever, and our stories are easier to navigate. We think you'll agree, ballet has never looked this good!

Intern at Pointe!

Are you a total bunhead who loves to write? You might be the perfect fit for Pointe. We're seeking an editorial intern who's equally passionate about ballet and journalism.

Keep reading
Darian Volkova, Courtesy Shayer

How I Deal with Racist Remarks as a Ballet Dancer of Color

After years of rigorous training, ballet dancers become accustomed to constructive and oftentimes harsh criticism. Being scrutinized is something that comes with the territory.

I myself spent the better half of my high school years in Russia, where political correctness does not get in the way of progress. We were trained to use criticism as fuel to propel us forward. Everything said in class or rehearsal was meant to help better ourselves and not to be taken personally.

But where is the line between helpful advice and offensive language?

Keep reading