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List of Famous Dancers

Tulika Nair
With the number of dance forms prevalent all over the world, it is difficult to compile a list of all the famous dancers. We have tried to talk about a few of these virtuosos.
"We dance for laughter, we dance for tears, we dance for madness, we dance for fears, we dance for hopes, we dance for screams, we are the dancers, we create the dreams." - Anonymous
All artists are dreamers. It is through these dreams that they allow us mere mortals to visit those beautiful parallel worlds that normally, would have its doors shut tight to us. And somehow, in my opinion, there is no art form that makes our passage to these colorful universes, easier than dance.
The grace, rhythm, and expressionist technique that dancers possess, can either make us laugh with pleasure or cry in empathy, all in a matter of the mere five minutes that they possess.
Dancing can be as varied as you want, and as personal as you make it. There is no easy way to define what comprises dance; it depends on the social, cultural, and moral traditions of the place where it is being performed. Neither is it easy to list out the type of dance forms.
But a task that is almost next to impossible is making a list of the most well-known dancers in the world. We have tried to compile a list of those dancers who have changed the way the world looked at dance.

Anna Pavlova (1881 - 1931)

A Russian ballerina, Anna Pavlova was one of the most famous names in classical ballet dancing. She was the first ballerina to tour the world and was famous for her signature performance, The Dying Swan.
She was single-handedly responsible for changing the ideals that were in place for the body type of ballerinas then and also introduced the modern pointe shoes.

Mikhail Baryshnikov (1948 - present)

Most of us are familiar with Mikhail Baryshnikov as Sarah Jessica Parker's artist boyfriend in the T.V. Series, Sex and the City, but the fact of the matter is that Baryshnikov is one of the most famous living male ballet dancers.
He defected to Canada in 1974, because of the steadfast adherence to classical performances in Russia. He has been the artistic director of the American Ballet Theater. His continued involvement in theater, television, and cinema has increased his fame in the dance world.

Vaslav Nijinsky (1889 - 1950)

One of the most famous ballet dancers, recognized all over the world for his athletic prowess while dancing and his instinctive and brilliant characterizations on stage, Vaslav Nijinsky was a contemporary of Anna Pavlova.
It is said that after his death, a medical examiner opened up his feet to see if there were any unusual formation of bones that allowed Nijiinsky to perform his famous gravity defying leaps. He was sadly disappointed on finding nothing.

Jack Cole (1911 - 1974)

Called the Father of theatrical jazz dance, Jack Cole started off as a modern dancer. He combined styles from modern dance, with jazz dance steps prevalent at that time and infused it with ethnic influences of the period.

Katherine Dunham (1909 - 2006)

An anthropologist and a dancer, Katherine Dunham is often called the Matriarch of Black Dance. She was one of the most influential jazz dancers of the 20th century.
Not only was she an innovator in the field of dance, creating techniques followed till date, she was also one of the most famous dance anthropologists, studying the influence of African styles of dancing on the dance forms in the west.
Martha Graham (1894 - 1991)
The first dancer to be ever asked to perform at the White House, Martha Graham's dance career lasted for almost seventy years, choreographing dances till the age of 96. She was honored with the title of 'Dancer of the Century' by Time magazine for her contribution to the genre of modern dance.
She said about dance, very famously, "I have spent all my life with dance and being a dancer. It's permitting life to use you in a very intense way. Sometimes it is not pleasant. Sometimes it is fearful. But nevertheless it is inevitable."

Sammy Davis Jr. (1925 - 1990)

Famous for his genius at tap dancing, Sammy Davis Jr. was an American entertainer, who began dancing at the age of four in vaudeville. A recording artist and actor, he had his own television show in the 1960s. He was a supporter of several civil rights movements and was a victim of racial discrimination for the longest time.
Once when Jack Benny asked him on the golf course, what his handicap was, he replied saying, "Handicap? Talk about handicap - I'm a one-eyed Negro Jew."

Fred Astaire (1899 - 1987)

Mikhail Baryshnikov once said about the genius that is Astaire, "What do dancers think of Fred Astaire? It's no secret. We hate him. He gives us a complex because he's too perfect. His perfection is an absurdity. It's too hard to face."
Fred Astaire was an entertainer to the core, a Broadway performer, a film actor, choreographer and singer, he started dance in films as we know it today. His pairing with Ginger Rogers in almost 10 musicals is very famous.
But he always maintained that he did not want to get tied down to another partnership after trying very hard to live down his earlier partnership in ballroom dancing with his sister, Adele.

Gene Kelly (1912 - 1996)

Singin' in the Rain has been the benchmark for musicals for the longest time now, and for the most part the credit goes to Gene Kelly for his athletic dance routines in the film as silent movie star Don Lockwood.
He was the star of many Hollywood dance musicals in the 1940s and the 1950s. He also choreographed his own routines and those which others performed.

Michael Jackson (1958 - 2009)

The King of Pop, is arguably most famous for his moonwalk, a step that millions have tried imitating but never been able to recreate with the finesse that Michael Jackson displayed.
He is the most influential and successful entertainers of all time, with contributions to music, dance especially breakdancing and fashion with his own, inimitable sense of style.

Gregory Hines (1946 - 2003)

An American actor, singer, choreographer and dancer, Hines is known mostly for his tap dancing abilities. He started dancing at a very early age along with his brother and father.
Far from an exhaustive list, this compilation is a subjective choice. A list of men and women who achieved their place in the annals of history after a lot of hard work and perseverance.
Maybe George Balanchine was right on target when he mentioned this conversation he had with an acquaintance of his, "Someone once said that dancers work just as hard as policemen, always alert, always tense, but see, policemen don't have to be beautiful at the same time."