On December 5th, Irine Fokine died at the age of 88. She was the founder of Irine Fokine School of Ballet in Ridgewood, New Jersey, where for over sixty years countless students and I trained in a rigorous, disciplined environment. Ms. Fokine is the niece of choreographer Michel Fokine, and her mother, Alexandra Fedorova, was a prima ballerina at the Maryinsky Theater in Russia. Irine moved to the United States in 1938, and she danced for many years before establishing her school. Her school’s annual Nutcracker was produced for the last fifty-two years, and was the performance highlight for her students (I have vivid memories of rehearsing for and performing myriad roles in her production…year after year after year).
Ms. Fokine was a strict disciplinarian and as a teacher, she meant business. I considered myself lucky that she never made me cry – a common occurrence among the younger ballet students. But her rigorous approach stemmed from her passion for and dedication to classical ballet. She devoted her life to it, and her school stayed open until this past August, when she decided to close the school and retire. It’s a bit spooky that she died so shortly after closing the studio – it was so much a part of who she was that it’s as if she couldn’t live on without it. Also, December was usually her busiest month as she frantically prepared for her school’s Nutcracker, so it’s ironic – yet perhaps fitting – that she passed away at this time.
I heard from another one of Fokine’s students that she said, “I’ve lived my life exactly the way I wanted to. Now all I have to do is go to hell for it.” Indeed, she was quite the character. Ms. Fokine will be deeply missed by me and the many individuals who studied with her. She shared her tremendous love of dance and passion for artistic excellence with so many students, and she’ll always be remembered.
For more on Irine Fokine, read Editor in Chief of Dance Magazine Wendy Perron’s reflections on her time as a student at the school.