How Kirsten Russell Won The Capezio A.C.E. Awards

Russell's winning number, Islands. Photo by Joe Toreno

In 2015, Kirsten Russell's musical, lush, powerful choreography won her the Capezio A.C.E. Awards. Now, she's in demand as a visiting artist and choreographer at studios around the country. But her foray into dancemaking was actually a happy accident. Midway through her dance degree at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, she badly hurt her foot and thought it might be a sign she should stop dancing. “I was injured for a year," she says. “That was my lowest point." Instead, she took up choreographing. “Boot on my foot and all!" she says. Her time spent flexing her choreographic muscles paid off: When she walked away with first place in the A.C.E. Awards, it was only her second time entering the competition. After producing her own full-length show last year with her prize money, she's now focused on putting as much of her work as she can on film.


Russell (left) with her sister, Kayla. Photo by Jennifer Robertson Photography, courtesy of Russell

Training: CC & Co Dance Complex; University of North Carolina School of the Arts

Choreography: Won first place in the 2015 Capezio A.C.E. Awards competition and premiered a full-length show in 2016 at Dancerpalooza

Teaching: JUMP dance convention

Her process “Before I start any movement, I have to listen to the song over and over again until I see the entire piece in my head. That part can last hours or even days, depending on how much time I have. Unison choreography is my favorite thing about watching dance, so any unison work is choreographed a day before I begin actually setting the piece."

On musicality “I have the hardest time explaining how I deal with musicality while creating, but I think it comes to me because I had an incredible tap teacher, Emily Shoemaker. When I started choreographing, matching a move to every single count became really interesting to me—because of the speed and lack of transition that happens. I'm addicted to filling the smallest amount of music with the most movement possible to challenge myself."

The best part about winning the A.C.E. Awards “Being able to hire the dancers who were in my piece for my show. They basically started my career in the first place, so that made the experience even more unbelievable." DT

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