Since I wrote about legendary choreographer Marty Kudelka last week, I feel compelled to tell the story of Kudelka’s protégé this week. Many of us fell in love with hip-hop dancer, Ivan Koumaev, on season 2 of So You Think You Can Dance (SYTYCD), but since then, he’s grown into one of the most sought-after dancers/choreographers in the business. Through hard work and perseverance, Koumaev literally made his life’s dream come true by securing a spot working for Justin Timberlake.
Born in Russia, Koumaev moved to the United States when he was just 8-years-old. Soon after, it was discovered that he had an abnormally small aorta with holes in it, so he underwent a major surgery to correct his condition. Once he was fully recovered, Koumaev started dance training under Kimera Lewis, but knew that he wanted to pursue hip-hop dancing as a career when he saw the movie Breakin’ two years later. Although, it was when Koumaev witnessed Timberlake perform “Like I Love You” on the VMAs when he was 15-years-old that he knew he couldn’t wait much longer to make a move from Seattle to L.A. and start his career.
A year later, Koumaev was officially a L.A. resident and he immediately immersed himself in classes taught by Wade Robson, Tabitha and Napoleon, Marty Kudelka, and Tovaris Wilson. After taking a few years to work on his craft, he got his first big break at age 18 when SYTYCD chose him to be in the top 20 on its sophomore season. Koumaev made it all the way into to the top 6, which put him on the show’s sold-out tour that year. Here is one of my favorite dances from Koumaev and his partner, Allison Holker.
Throughout his time on the show, Koumaev made a fan out of Ellen DeGeneres and she invited him to dance on her show after his SYTYCD elimination. During a post-dance interview, Koumaev expressed his desire to work with Timberlake and that he had auditioned for him but didn’t make the cut. DeGeneres, who is good friends with Timberlake, told him about Koumaev and hoped that Timberlake would consider Koumaev for the future. Fast-forward some years, and we all know the ending to this story. Here is Koumaev on Ellen.
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Before his relationship with Kudelka and Timberlake formed, Koumaev had a very successful dance career and was featured with big name musical artists such as Jason DeRulo, Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus, Usher, Chris Brown, and Ne-Yo. His skills were also used on commercials for Microsoft and Pepsi, as well as in the movies Step Up 3D, Footloose, and Rock of Ages. Some of his favorite dance jobs include anything involving Kudelka and the Michael Jackson tribute that Chris Brown performed on the 2010 BET Awards choreographed by Rich + Tone Talauega.
Once Koumaev teamed up with Kudelka though, his career really took off. He was featured as a lead dancer on Justin Timberlake’s 20/20 Experience World Tour from 2013-2015 and co-choreographed some of Timberlake’s music videos from the album. Out of the whole 20/20 tour experience, Koumaev’s favorite moment was when he stepped on stage in his hometown and saw everyone he grew up with so excited that he actually made his dream come true. Nowadays, Koumaev still works extremely close with Kudelka, but continues to lend his dance knowledge to others through teaching master classes and being involved in the NUVO Dance Convention. “To be a part of the next generation of dancers is the truest honor and pleasure I can have as a teacher,” Koumaev told Jake’s Take.
To me, Koumaev has had one of the richest journeys in the dance industry. He went from living in Russia, to having a heart condition, to SYTYCD and dreaming about dancing with Justin Timberlake, to making his dream come true. This is a prime example that sometimes you must trust your instincts and your path in life. From an early age, Koumaev knew what he was supposed to do with his life and he took the necessary steps to get there, letting no obstacle get in his way.