The Five Best Male Ballet Dancers Of All Time!

Ballet is one of the most charismatic dance forms of all times. It has captured minds for years with its elegance, style and drama. While all those who contribute to ballet in some way or the other are important, some people are etched into memory forever.

People think of ballerinas when they hear of ballet. But male ballet dancers have their own charm and charisma. Some of these dancers have made their own mark in the history of ballet. Read on to know more about the five most influential ballet dancers of all time!

  1. Mikhail Baryshnikov

You probably know Mikhail Baryshnikov even if you haven’t watched ballet, as he appears in many movies. Baryshnikov is a Latvian-born ballet dancer who started his dazzling career with the Kirov Ballet in Leningrad.

Misha, as he was fondly called, was a short dancer. Even when dancing pointe, he was shorter than ballerinas. Therefore, he was mostly given secondary roles. That, along with the restrictive traditions of the USSR was frustrating to him. When on tour with the Mariinsky Ballet, he defected to Canada.

Mikhail Baryshnikov

Later, he moved to the States in 1974 and became the principal dancer at New York City Ballet. Here, he worked with George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins. Soon, he became the director at American Ballet Theatre, introducing many new dancers and choreographers.

After his work at the American Ballet Theatre, Misha began to work at the White Oak Dance Project, as a co-founder. Through this, he produced original work for older dancers. In 2003, he won the Prix Benois de la Danse for lifetime achievement.

Currently, he works at the Baryshnikov Arts Center in New York, where he produces different ballets. The company also performs on tour in different locations in the world.

  1. Rudolf Nureyev

Born on the Trans-Siberian express, Rudolf Nureyev spent his childhood in the capital of the Soviet Republic of Bashkir, Ufa. He was admitted to the Kirov Ballet School in Leningrad in 1955, and trained under Alexander Pushkin. Later, he joined the school as a soloist and debuted as in the pas de trois in Swan Lake.

Rudolf’s success was a turning point in his life, and when he appeared on stage at the Palais Garnier, he defected to France. He met with Erik Bruhn who was the principal dancer with the Royal Danish Ballet and left for Copenhagen to study with him.

Rudolf Nureyev

He began to perform there with Margot Fonteyn and kept working with them. When he performed Act III from La Bayadere, he became an international dancer. Dancing as a guest star for major ballet companies in Europe, the States and Australia, he started to try many different styles.

Soon, he was remounting classic tales like the Sleeping Beauty, Don Quixote, Swan Lake and Raymoda, also choreographing Tancredi and Manfred.

He later became the director of the Paris Opera Ballet and held that position for 6 years. He performed for a few more years after this, dying at the age of 54. Unlike Misha, however, Rudolf returned to Russia to see his mother once.

  1. Sergei Polunin

A relatively younger face in the world of ballet, Sergei is a mere 30 years old. At the young age of 19, he was the principal dancer in the Royal Ballet of London, the youngest ever!Sergei Polunin

Sergei graduated from the Kyiv Choreographic Academy and then joined the British Royal Ballet School. He received many accolades including the Prix de Lausanne, Youth America Grand Prix and was named the Young British Dancer of the Year. He became a soloist at the age of 19 and was praised for his portrayal of the Knave in Alice in Wonderland.

He began a freelance career to focus on his creativity and began working as a guest dancer in a few ballet companies. Of recent, he has started Project Polunin to create original works of ballet. Through the company, he aims to bring many different artists under the same roof to create interesting works of ballet.



  1. Vaslav Nijinsky

The Russian Nijinsky had legendary fame and was celebrated for his leaps and sensitivity. He had an excellent school career and then became a soloist at the Mariinsky theatre in 1907. Here, he had famous ballerinas as partners, including Mathilde Kschessinskaya and Anna Pavlova.

Vaslav Nijinsky

After joining there, he performed in Giselle, Swan Lake and The Sleeping Beauty. When Serge Diaghilev formed his company, Ballet Russes, Nijinsky joined him. The choreographer created Le Spectre de la rose, Petrushka, Scheherazade and other ballets exclusively for him. When they performed in Paris, Nijinsky took the theatre by storm. His body and expression were beautiful, featherlight and strong. His dramatic acting made him a genius of the ballet.

When he began his choreography career, he created ballets for Diaghilev’s company. His choreography was considered original and was highly praised. Sadly, at 29, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia and lived out his life in Europe, dying in London in 1950.

  1. Carlos Acosta

Cuba might be late to the ballet scene, but it has made a brilliant debut with Carlos Acosta. He started as a poor child in a family with 11 kids. To help him avoid bad company, his father enrolled him in a funded dance school. Here, he found his passion for ballet and graduated with the highest honours.

Carlos Acosta

He began working in North American and European companies and joined London’s Royal Ballet in 1998. While there, he was described as “a dancer who slashes across space faster than anyone else, who lacerates the air with shapes so clear and sharp they seem to throw off sparks”. His skill made people draw parallels with him and Mikhail Baryshnikov and Rudolf Nureyev.

Carlos has danced with many companies and was a permanent member of the Royal Ballet. He was then associated as a Principal Guest Artist there, enabling him to focus on international guest appearances. He worked there for 17 years and finished his career there by dancing in and choreographing Carmen.

Acosta is slated to be the next artistic director of the Birmingham Royal Ballet in 2020.



So, do you feel inspired to learn ballet? It can be a very beautiful art form to watch and learn. These are just a few of the many artists who have left their mark on ballet as it is today. Someone you know could be next!

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