Ninel Kurgapkina was born in Leningrad in 1929. Kurgapkina was one of the last pupils of Agrippina Vaganova. She graduated and joined the Kirov Ballet in 1947. Her repertory includes Aurora (Sleeping Beauty), Myrtha (Giselle), Odette-Odile (Swan Lake), Kitri (Don Quixote) and Parasha (Bronze Horseman). She was appointed a Director of the Vaganova School in 1972. Among her pupils are Olga Chenchikova, Uliana Lopatkina, Irma Nioradze, Zhanna Ayupova, and Anna Polikarpova.