Most Famous Dancers

Close-up of female dancer

Famous dancers have delighted audiences around the world with daring choreography, fast footwork, and entertaining style.

A Selection of Well-Known Dancers

From old Hollywood glamour to modern street rhythms, these well-known performers have made their mark on the art form of dance.

Famous Ballet Dancers

  • Anna Pavlova - Pavlova is the most famous ballerina from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. She traveled the world to share her love of ballet, and Pavlova's signature dance was The Dying Swan. She was instrumental in modifying the pointe shoes of her era into the style used by dancers today.
  • Vaslaw Nijinsky - Nijinsky was Anna Pavlova's male counterpart of the time period. He was especially noted for his athleticism and his ability to become the character in a dance.
  • Rudolf Nureyev - Despite a delayed start to his dance instruction caused by World War II, this Russian dancer rose to fame with the Kirov ballet. However, at the height of the Soviet Union, he defected during a tour of Europe, and soon became a principal dancer with Britain's Royal Ballet.
  • Margot Fonteyn - Fonteyn was a top dancer in the Royal Ballet beginning in the 1940s. Among her many performances, she had leading roles in productions of Swan Lake, Aida, and The Firebird. She frequently worked with Nureyev after his joining the Royal Ballet.
  • Maria Tallchief - Tallchief was both the first American and the first Native American to earn the title of prima ballerina. She was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame in 1996.
  • Mikhail Baryshnikov - Baryshnikov is one of the most famous dancers of the late 20th century. Despite his ballet roots, he is a strong supporter of modern dance.

Famous Modern Dancers

  • Martha Graham - Graham was a pioneer of modern dance, preferring to call it "contemporary dance." The Martha Graham Center of Contemporary Dance carries on her legacy of soulful performances.
  • Alvin Ailey - Ailey founded the American Dance Theater in 1958. This group of black performers brought modern dance to New York, and later the world. The troupe continues to this day as a host of programs under the banner of the Alvin Ailey Dance Company, building the next generation of famous dancers.

Famous Tap Dancers

  • Fred Astaire - Astaire brought his tap dancing style to numerous movie musicals of the 30s, 40s, and 50s. Over the course of a career spanning more than 70 years, he appeared in 31 films and was awarded the American Film Institute's Lifetime Achievement Award in 1981.
  • Ginger Rogers - Rogers was Fred Astaire's frequent dancing and acting partner. After getting a start in vaudeville, her partnership with Astaire was instrumental in changing the way audiences thought about movie musicals.
  • Gene Kelly - Kelly was another fixture in movie musicals in the 40s and 50s. His most iconic performance is arguably a toss-up between his paired performance with Jerry the cartoon mouse in Anchors Aweigh and his rain-splashed dance from Singin' in the Rain.
  • Sammy Davis Jr. - This multi-faceted entertainer was a singer and actor in addition to demonstrating skillful tap dancing. As a member of the Rat Pack, he was also a cultural icon. He was inducted into the Tap Dance Hall of Fame in 2005.
  • Gregory Hines - Hines demonstrated his tap skills on Broadway. He earned the 1992 Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical for his performance in Jelly's Last Jam. Following in the footsteps of his idol, Sammy Davis, Jr., he was one of the most famous faces in tap in the late 20th century.
  • Savion Glover - From his first starring performance at the age of ten in The Tap Dance Kid, Glover has become known for his fast footwork and modern style.

So Many More

Of course, there isn't room in a single article to list all of the famous dancers of the world or to relate every detail of their fascinating lives. Hopefully, this taste of some of the best the field has to offer has only whetted your appetite for more.

Most Famous Dancers