Famous Women Dancers

Rachel Hanson
dancer

Every genre of dance has its famous female stars. Whether one looks to the prima ballerinas floating across the ballet stage or to the light-footed ballroom dancers who fly across the dance floor in swirls of movement, there are many women to admire for their technique, grace, and artistry.

Famous Dancers by Genre

The following dancers come to mind when recognizing the greatest female dancers of all time.

Famous Ballerinas

  • Anna Pavlova
  • Fanny Elssler
  • Marie Taglioni
  • Carlotta Grisi
  • Natalia Makarova
  • Maria Tallchief
  • Margot Fonteyn
  • Suzanne Farrell
  • Gelsey Kirkland

Modern Dancers

  • Martha Graham
  • Twyla Tharp
  • Isadora Duncan
  • Katherine Dunham
  • Ruth St. Denis
  • Mary Wigman

Ballroom Dancers

  • Ginger Rogers
  • Irene Castle
  • Julianne Hough
  • Cyd Charisse
  • Rita Hayworth

Exotic and Burlesque Dancers

Biographies of Famous Female Dancers

Of all these famous women dancers, a few of these have become household names. The following women's biographies are full of important feats and unforgettable performances.

Anna Pavlova

Even if you are not a ballet enthusiast, chances are you have heard of Anna Pavlova, the physically tiny Russian ballerina who rocked the world of classical ballet at the turn of the century. After being accepted into the elite Imperial Ballet School, it didn't take her teachers long to realize that her unique style was exceptional and she became an instant hit. It is estimated that she performed over 4,000 times, and started a ballet trend in America as many little girls began to take lessons after seeing her performances. Anna also was instrumental in the design of today's modern pointe shoe and was so passionate about her craft that she actually died while rehearsing for a show in Europe. She became an inspiration to many future ballerinas, and her gumption and drive for the art of dance has long been cherished.

Martha Graham

Modern dance would be quite different today without Martha Graham, who has often been referred to as the "mother of American dance." She broke away from traditional ballet focusing instead upon the ferociously unconventional and sharp movements that would become modern dance. Her style was high-energy and fierce, involving an abrupt and jerking style that can truly only be achieved by dancers gifted in her specific school of artistry. Many argue that Graham's movements cannot be taught, as they are rather "felt" by each individual dancer.

In 1998, Martha Graham was honored as one of Time magazine's 100 most influential people, and her style and choreography continue to be replicated throughout the modern dance world. Paul Taylor, Twyla Tharp, and Merce Cunningham are just a few of her "descendants," and her unique brand of dance is sure to live on for future generations.

Ginger Rogers

Most known for her film performances with Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers was an actress and dancer who stole the hearts of film audiences around the world. Her career took off when she entered, and won, a Charleston dance contest and was sent on a performance tour as her prize. Ending up in New York City she landed a job on Broadway, where she was discovered in the musical Girl Crazy and offered a Hollywood contract. Signing with Paramount Pictures she went on to make famous films with Fred Astaire, in which the couple flirted and danced like movie audiences had never seen before. During her film dance career, her dancing talent and charisma helped her to earn better salaries and billing than she was originally offered. In this way she was able to help the art and appreciation of dance evolve during one of its most critical periods.

Josephine Baker

Born in St. Louis, Baker left home at an early age having dropped out of school and already married by the age of 13. She set off performing on the artistic circuit of small, run-down theaters in the U.S. South, and was later discovered in New York City by an American living in Paris. She signed a contract to join the first revue in Paris that would feature African Americans and dynamic nudity, and once she arrived in Paris and started rehearsals she was quickly promoted to become one of the stars of the show. She was catapulted to instant fame by her Danse Sauvage, and later her "Banana Dance," and went on to enjoy a fifty-year successful career until her death in 1975. Known for her unforgettable sense of rhythm, her unfailing smile, and her sweet singing voice, Josephine Baker was one of the most-loved dancers of the 1920s and 1930s in Europe.

Dancing Art

Some of these women began as dancers and had careers solely in dance, as is often the case with ballet dancers. On the other end of the spectrum you will find actresses or singers who also dance as part of their performance repertoire. Whether your personal dance taste leans towards classical ballet, modern movement, or a touch of the exotic from other corners of the globe, these famous dancers will wow you with their abilities to bring their chosen genres of music to life.

Famous Women Dancers