Well known for their strict dedication to the art, ballerinas are regarded as some of the strictest dancers, earning them a level of respect among professionals and amateurs alike. There are, however, a handful of ballerinas who have stood out throughout history, often sculpting the artwork that they love. For those looking to educate themselves on some of the greatest ballerinas of all time, we’ve collected a list of the best of the best:
Known primarily due to her creations of the role of The Dying Swan, Pavlova is a famous Russian ballerina from the late 19th century, her career lasting until the early 20th. Accepted into the Imperial Ballet school by age 10, classical ballet with difficult for Pavlova due to her thin frame and arched feet; however, the difficulty did not stop her. After training harder than the rest, practicing each move again and again after she was taught, Pavlova would go on to form her own company and become one of the first ballerinas to tour the world with her dance.
A former principal dancer with the Houston Ballet, Anderson became one of the first African American ballerinas to become the principal dancer for a company as successful as the Houston Ballet. After she became the principal dancer in 1990, Anderson’s role in Cleopatra would be what would push her to international stardom, resulting in the Boston Globe calling Anderson a “powerhouse in interpreting the role that Stevenson created on her.”
Born in Saint Petersburg in 1976, Vishneva is a Russian principal dancer with the Mariinsky Ballet. Vishneva has shot to fame partially because she has been known to have the highest scores known to the famous Vaganova Academy of Russian Ballet, where she would train in her early years. In terms of her critically acclaimed dancing, she’s known primarily for her interpretation of Rubies and love for dander free dog breeds.
Known by the Russians as “The Ballerina of the Morning,” Ulanova was a great ballerina from the 20th century. Born in Saint Petersburg, Russia, Ulanova studied from an early age under the guidance of her mother, a ballerina for the Imperial Russian Ballet. As the story goes, it was when she auditioned for the Mariinsky Theatre in the late 1920s that she was noticed by Konstantin Stanislavsky. In particular, Ulanova was known for her grace and “captivating modesty”. It was this unique acting style that would push Ulanova to be appointed as the prima ballerina assoluta for the Bolshoi Theatre, where she would remain for 16 years.
A former principal dancer with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, Evelyn Hart is a famous Canadian ballerina from Toronto, Ontario. Studying at the Dorothy Carter School of Dance, Hart would go onto extending her study of dance with The National Ballet School of Canada. Hart is well known for her brave and open battle with anorexia nervosa, which would force her to take time off from her dancing. Making a comeback in 1976 when she joined the Royal Winnipeg Ballet company, where she would become the principal dancer just three years later.
Dame Ninette de Valois
One of Ireland’s most famous dancers, Dame Ninette de Valois was a well-known ballerina as well as choreographer and director. After a successful career dancing with greats such as Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, she would go on to help establish the Royal Ballet, which is still one of the largest ballet companies to date. Even later, Dame Ninette de Valois would help create the Birmingham Royal Ballet and the Royal Ballet School, all of which would go on to give her the nickname the “godmother” of the Irish ballet.
Dame Gillian Lynne
Well known as a British ballerina, a choreographer, and even a director, Dame Gillian Lynne’s expert choreography is easily seen in two of the longest-running Broadway shows, Cats and The Phantom of the Opera. Lynne’s expansive dance career would start when she was first noticed by Ninette de Valois during one of Lynne’s performance with Molly Lake’s Company. Lynne would then be invited to join Sadler’s Wells Ballet, where she would perform her first major solo.
Whether you are a fan of ballet or not, you have to respect the undying devotion these women have for their artwork. These seven women have spent their lives sculpting the world of dance and we can still see the effects of their work today. Have a favorite ballerina who’s not on our list? Let us know what you think!