Famous Modern Dancers

Rachel Hanson
modern pose

Modern dance features some amazing dancers, and some of the most famous modern dancers greatly influenced the entire history of dance.

Roots of Modern Dance

In the history of modern dance, one most easily recognizes the work of Martha Graham. Often called the 'Mother of modern dance' and easily the biggest influence on modern dance in America, her career was long and fruitful. Her influence can still be seen on the generations of modern dancers that followed her.

Martha Graham

Martha Graham, born in 1894, had one of the longest dance careers in history, as she was active for 75 years. She died in 1991, but her company, the Martha Graham Dance Company is still going strong and features many principles of modern dance that are recognizable from the time period when Graham was dancing the solos herself.

Graham's motto she took over from her father, a psychologist: "Movement never lies." Very early in her career, in 1925, Graham had already left the companies that she was working with in order to start her own productions. Her first show, in April of 1926, received rave reviews not only for the dancing, but for the ingenuity of the movement. Perhaps one of the keys to Graham's success as she strayed from the traditional world of dance was that she used modern music instead of 18th and 19th century music. Traditionally, all dancing was done to older music, but the musician and accompanist, Horst, with whom Graham worked extensively, had introduced her to the world of modern music and convinced her that her movement style would mesh well with the modern composers. Horst proved to be right, as Graham furthered the development of her own style once she used the modern music almost exclusively.

Martha Graham's dancing soon took a focus on emotions and themes of Americana. These two themes are her signatures, as well as her modern approach to movement; she remains one of the most famous female dancers of all time.

More Famous Modern Dancers

While Martha Graham is the first name that pops into anyone's head when modern dance is mentioned, plenty of other famous modern dancers have graced the dance world with their novel approaches to dance.

Mary Wigman

Mary Wigman was one of the great European dancers of the early 20th century. She called her own style dark and expressive, and focused on bringing real human emotions and experiences into dance. Her style was brought to America by one of her students, Hanya Holm, who started a school in New York called The Mary Wigman School of Dance.

Lester Horton

Lester Horton enjoyed a brief but brilliant career as a modern dancer, choreographer, and teacher. He chose to work out of California instead of New York City, which meant that he was away from the center of the dance world, but next to the center of the movie industry in Hollywood. He therefore worked on several movie musicals, the most notable of which was the 1943 version of The Phantom of the Opera.

Twyla Tharp

Still an active choreographer in New York City today, Tharp has greatly influenced the worlds of both modern and classical ballet dance. One of the only ones to succeed at thoroughly integrating ballet and modern dance techniques, Tharp has been widely celebrated for her choreography. She has won many awards and received honorary degrees from several schools and her style and influence on the dance world are still progressing.


Whether you are looking for some modern dance steps or simply looking to be wowed by some great dancers, these modern masters of dance are inspired and inspiring.

Famous Modern Dancers