Dance Advice | Dance FAQ’s | Some of the Greatest Dancers and Choreographers of All Time

Dance Advice | Dance FAQ’s | Some of the Greatest Dancers and Choreographers of All Time

Some of the Greatest Dancers and Choreographers of All Time

You can learn a great deal by looking at the greats. Here is a partial list of some of the greatest dancers and choreographers of all time who have made an impact in the world of dance and entertainment

Fred Astaire

Fred Astaire was born on May 10th 1899 in Omaha, Nebraska, USA and died on June 22nd 1987. In my opinion, he was the greatest dancer of all time and is certainly one of the most influential. He starred in thirty-one musical films and at least ten stage musicals (in London and on Broadway), including numerous TV specials. Fred Astaire was a virtuoso dancer who revolutionised dance on film. This included dancing on the ceiling and walls in ‘You’re All the World to Me’ from Royal Wedding (1951). Talking about his process he said:

Working out the steps is a very complicated process— something like writing music. You have to think of some step that flows into the next one, and the whole dance must have an integrated pattern. If the dance is right, there shouldn’t be a single superfluous movement. It should build to a climax and stop!” From Astaire Dancing – The Musical Films by John Mueller (1986 – Alfred A. Knopf).

Gene Kelly is another Hollywood giant and star of dance and film and he said that ‘the history of dance on film begins with Astaire.’ Choreographer, Jerome Robbins, would go on to say, ‘Astaire’s dancing looks so simple, so disarming, so easy, yet the understructure, the way he sets the steps on, over or against the music, is so surprising and inventive.’ Fred Astaire was known for being a perfectionist and my favourite dance performance of his is ‘Puttin on the Ritz’from Blue Skies (1946) and various scenes from Funny Face (1957), including the ‘Mac scene’. I also strongly advise that you watch the complete That’s Entertainment! (1974) series of films to learn about the dance in Hollywood and the greats.

Gene Kelly

Gene Kelly was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the USA on August 23rd 1912 and died at the age of eighty-three on February 2nd 1996. He was a Hollywood giant and known for his athletic dance style. He is most well known for his incredible dance performance in Singin’ in the Rain (1952). He revolutionised Hollywood dance and is credited with introducing ballet to the masses via motion picture. In 1945 he choreographed and danced in a ground-breaking film called Anchors Aweigh which was a live-action performance with the cartoon mouse, Jerry Mouse, which gave him, renewed critical acclaim.

The Nicholas Brothers

The Nicholas Brothers were a dance team of brothers called Fayard (1914–2006) and Harold (1921–2000). They danced a style called ‘flash dance’ which combined tap dancing with acrobatics. It was very prominent in the 1920s and 1930s. ‘Jumpin Jive’ performed by Cab Calloway and the Nicholas Brothers from Stormy Weather (1943) is one of the best dance performances on film of all time. It is incredible! Please take careful note of the next sentence: Fayard and Harold had no formal dance training! They learned by watching and imitating professional dancers from the Vaudeville shows and other performances. They would even go on to teach tap master classes at Harvard University.

My brother (Harold) and I used our whole bodies, our hands, our personalities and everything.” Fayard Nicholas interview USA Today (2005) – Published 1/25/2006

The same interview had a quote from Fred Astaire who said:

Astaire once told the brothers that the acrobatic elegance and synchronicity of the Jumpin’ Jive dance sequence in Stormy Weather (1943) made it the greatest movie musical number he had ever seen.”

Mikhail Baryshnikov

Mikhail Baryshnikov was born in Latvia (the former Soviet Union) on January 27th 1948. He is simply one of the greatest male ballet dancers of all time and my favourite performance is Albrechts’ variation from act II of the romantic ballet, Giselle (1977). He floats with grace and performs with incredible strength and power. He defected from the Soviet Union to Canada in 1974. The New York Times critic, Clive Barnes said that he was ‘the most perfect dancer I have ever seen.’

John Travolta

John Travolta was born on February 18th 1954 in Englewood, New Jersey, USA and in my opinion, is one of the most underrated dancers of all time. He is well known for his musical roles in Saturday Night Fever (1977) and Grease (1978) as well as some of the biggest movies of all time. His disco dance moves influenced other greats of dance in the 1970s and 1980s. He taught Michael Jackson, who incorporated many of his moves into his music videos and performances including, ‘Smooth Criminal’. Travolta famously danced with Diana, Princess of Wales, at the White House on November 9th 1985 and the black dress she wore went on to be known as the ‘Travolta dress’. It was auctioned and became the most expensive dress at around £250,000 in 2013.

Bob Fosse

Bob Fosse, choreographer and filmmaker, was born in Chicago, Illinois, the USA on June 23rd 1927 and died on September 23rd 1987. He directed and choreographed the great musicals, Chicago in 1975 and Cabaret in 1972. He created a distinct style of choreography and is linked with the term ‘jazz hands’ for his prominent use of hands and lines. He choreographed and directed the film Sweet Charity in 1969 which starred Shirley MacLaine from the original Broadway musical (which he originally directed and choreographed). He is well known for his use of hats and gloves and he choreographed one of the most spectacular dance performances on film, from Sweet Charity called the ‘Rich Man’s Frug’. He was surely one of the greats and a real innovator.

Wade Robson

Wade Robson is one of the greatest dancers and choreographers of all time. He is also a worldchanging advocate of child welfare and a great teacher. He was born on September 17th 1982 in Brisbane, Australia. He choreographed some of their most iconic choreography of the 2000s including artists such as NSYNC and Britney Spears. His choreography for the NSYNC song ‘No Strings Attached’ is one of the great pieces of pop choreography, in my opinion. He hosted his own MTV dance show called The Wade Robson Project and judged US show So You Think You Can Dance. Wade Robson was known to study animals and include their movements into his choreography, even when he was a young man. He is one of the greatest pop choreographers and dancers of all time.

Michael Flatley

Michael Flatley is an American Irish dancer born on July 16th 1958 Chicago, Illinois, USA. He is most well known for Riverdance and Lord of the Dance. Flatley ‘reinvented’ Irish dance and brought it to worldwide acclaim. He is one of the most famous and richest dancers in the world.

Rudolf Nureyev

Rudolf Nureyev is widely known as one of the best ballet dancers of all time. He was born in Russia on March 17th 1938 and died in France on January 6th 1993. He defected to the west in 1961, even though the KGB were monitoring him and tried to stop him. He went on to serve as chief choreographer and director of the Paris Opera Ballet.

Josephine Baker

Josephine Baker was an iconic dancer born on 3rd June 1906, St. Louis, Missouri, USA and died on the 12th April 1975 in Paris, France, where her career was mainly based. She became the most famous dancer of Folies Bergère in Paris, known worldwide. Her image was iconic and her costumes even included artificial bananas! She became a visual symbol of the art deco and jazz age in the 1920s with her striking look and erotic performances. Writer Ernest Hemingway, according to her website, is said to have called her “the most sensational woman anyone ever saw”. Josephine Baker is probably most well known for dancing the Charleston and swing but the truth is that she had her own unique style. She also, in addition to being an amazing performer, was an amazing human being contributing to the Civil Rights Movement by refusing to perform to segregated audiences and even being awarded the Chevalier of the Légion d’honneur by General Charles de Gaulle for aiding the resistance during World War Two.