Paola Cantalupo was trained at the Ballet School of La Scala in Milan, where she made her debut in the corps de ballet. She won the gold medal at the Prix de Lausanne in 1977 and the bronze medal at the USA International Ballet Competition in Jackson in 1979. She was hired by Maurice Béjart at the Ballet du XXè siècle and then, in 1980, by John Neumeier at the Hamburg Ballet. In 1984, she continued her career as a principal dancer with the National Ballet of Portugal, where she performed the great roles of the classical repertoire, including Giselle, Swan Lake and La Bayadère.
She then joined the Ballets de Monte-Carlo in 1988 where she was named Etoile the following year by HRH the Princess of Hanover. Her eclectic repertoire includes the major roles of the Ballets Russes (Scheherazade, The Firebird, Les Sylphides), works by G. Balanchine, A. Tudor, J. Kylian, W. Forsythe, R. Petit, as well as the major creations of Jean-Christophe Maillot (Romeo and Juliet, The Nutcracker Circus, Cinderella, La Belle).
The Italian critics awarded her the “Leonide Massine” Prize in Positano in 1991, the “Danza e Danza” Prize in Venice in 1993, and the “Carrière” Prize in 2001. She was named Knight of the Order of Cultural Merit of the Principality of Monaco in 2002. Holder of the “Certificat d’Aptitude aux fonctions de Professeur de Danse”, awarded by the French Ministry of Culture, Paola Cantalupo is regularly invited as a teacher or jury member in international competitions (Prix de Lausanne, Youth American Grand Prix, …). She is also Vice-President of the Association Danse Médecine Recherche (ADMR) and an honorary member of the International Association for Dance Medicine & Science (IADMS).
Since January 2009, she has been the Artistic and Pedagogical Director of the Ecole Supérieure de Danse de Cannes Rosella Hightower. From 2012 to 2017, she also held the same position for the Cycle Supérieur of the Ecole Nationale Supérieure de Danse de Marseille. This double direction gave rise in 2017 to the creation of the Pôle National Supérieur de Danse Rosella Hightower.
On Sunday 5 December 2021, Brigitte Lefèvre, Artistic Director of the Cannes Dance Festival, had the honour of awarding Paola Cantalupo the distinction of Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. This sign of recognition from Roselyne Bachelot-Narquin, Minister of Culture, salutes a life dedicated to dance through an exceptional career.