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The Most Famous

DANCERS from United States

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This page contains a list of the greatest American Dancers. The pantheon dataset contains 76 Dancers, 15 of which were born in United States. This makes United States the birth place of the 2nd most number of Dancers.

Top 10

The following people are considered by Pantheon to be the top 10 most legendary American Dancers of all time. This list of famous American Dancers is sorted by HPI (Historical Popularity Index), a metric that aggregates information on a biography’s online popularity. Visit the rankings page to view the entire list of American Dancers.

Photo of Isadora Duncan

1. Isadora Duncan (1877 - 1927)

With an HPI of 74.00, Isadora Duncan is the most famous American Dancer.  Her biography has been translated into 79 different languages on wikipedia.

Angela Isadora Duncan (May 26, 1877 or May 27, 1878 – September 14, 1927) was an American dancer and choreographer, who was a pioneer of modern contemporary dance, who performed to great acclaim throughout Europe and the US. Born and raised in California, she lived and danced in Western Europe, the US and the Soviet Union from the age of 22 until her death at age 50 when her scarf became entangled in the wheel and axle of the car in which she was travelling in Nice, France.

Photo of Josephine Baker

2. Josephine Baker (1906 - 1975)

With an HPI of 73.19, Josephine Baker is the 2nd most famous American Dancer.  Her biography has been translated into 67 different languages.

Freda Josephine Baker (née McDonald; June 3, 1906 – April 12, 1975), naturalised as Joséphine Baker, was an American-born French dancer, singer and actress. Her career was centered primarily in Europe, mostly in her adopted France. She was the first black woman to star in a major motion picture, the 1927 silent film Siren of the Tropics, directed by Mario Nalpas and Henri Étiévant.During her early career, Baker was among the most celebrated performers to headline the revues of the Folies Bergère in Paris. Her performance in the revue Un vent de folie in 1927 caused a sensation in the city. Her costume, consisting of only a short skirt of artificial bananas and a beaded necklace, became an iconic image and a symbol both of the Jazz Age and the Roaring Twenties. Baker was celebrated by artists and intellectuals of the era, who variously dubbed her the "Black Venus", the "Black Pearl", the "Bronze Venus", and the "Creole Goddess". Born in St. Louis, Missouri, she renounced her U.S. citizenship and became a French national after her marriage to French industrialist Jean Lion in 1937. She raised her children in France. She aided the French Resistance during World War II. After the war, she was awarded the Resistance Medal by the French Committee of National Liberation, the Croix de Guerre by the French military, and was named a Chevalier of the Légion d'honneur by General Charles de Gaulle. Baker sang: "I have two loves, my country and Paris."Baker refused to perform for segregated audiences in the United States and is noted for her contributions to the civil rights movement. In 1968, she was offered unofficial leadership in the movement in the United States by Coretta Scott King, following Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination. After thinking it over, Baker declined the offer out of concern for the welfare of her children.On November 30, 2021, she was inducted into the Panthéon in Paris, the first black woman to receive one of the highest honors in France. As her resting place remains in Monaco Cemetery, a cenotaph was installed in vault 13 of the crypt in the Panthéon.

Photo of Martha Graham

3. Martha Graham (1894 - 1991)

With an HPI of 64.97, Martha Graham is the 3rd most famous American Dancer.  Her biography has been translated into 47 different languages.

Martha Graham (May 11, 1894 – April 1, 1991) was an American modern dancer and choreographer. Her style, the Graham technique, reshaped American dance and is still taught worldwide.Graham danced and taught for over seventy years. She was the first dancer to perform at the White House, travel abroad as a cultural ambassador, and receive the highest civilian award of the US: the Presidential Medal of Freedom with Distinction. In her lifetime she received honors ranging from the Key to the City of Paris to Japan's Imperial Order of the Precious Crown. She said, in the 1994 documentary The Dancer Revealed: "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." Founded in 1926 (the same year as Graham's professional dance company), the Martha Graham School is the oldest school of dance in the United States. First located in a small studio within Carnegie Hall, the school currently has two different studios in New York City.

Photo of Merce Cunningham

4. Merce Cunningham (1919 - 2009)

With an HPI of 56.87, Merce Cunningham is the 4th most famous American Dancer.  His biography has been translated into 26 different languages.

Mercier Philip "Merce" Cunningham (April 16, 1919 – July 26, 2009) was an American dancer and choreographer who was at the forefront of American modern dance for more than 50 years. He frequently collaborated with artists of other disciplines, including musicians John Cage, David Tudor, Brian Eno, and graphic artists Robert Rauschenberg, Bruce Nauman, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Frank Stella, and Jasper Johns; and fashion designer Rei Kawakubo. Works that he produced with these artists had a profound impact on avant-garde art beyond the world of dance. As a choreographer, teacher, and leader of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, Cunningham had a profound influence on modern dance. Many dancers who trained with Cunningham formed their own companies. They include Paul Taylor, Remy Charlip, Viola Farber, Charles Moulton, Karole Armitage, Deborah Hay, Robert Kovich, Foofwa d'Imobilité, Kimberly Bartosik, Flo Ankah, Jan Van Dyke, Jonah Bokaer, and Alice Reyes. In 2009, the Cunningham Dance Foundation announced the Legacy Plan, a plan for the continuation of Cunningham's work and the celebration and preservation of his artistic legacy.Cunningham earned some of the highest honours bestowed in the arts, including the National Medal of Arts and the MacArthur Fellowship. He also received Japan's Praemium Imperiale and a British Laurence Olivier Award, and was named Officier of the Légion d'honneur in France. Cunningham's life and artistic vision have been the subject of numerous books, films, and exhibitions, and his works have been presented by groups including the Paris Opéra Ballet, New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, White Oak Dance Project, and London's Rambert Dance Company.

Photo of William Forsythe

5. William Forsythe (1949 - )

With an HPI of 51.33, William Forsythe is the 5th most famous American Dancer.  His biography has been translated into 15 different languages.

William Forsythe (born December 30, 1949) is an American dancer and choreographer resident in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. He is known for his work with the Ballet Frankfurt (1984–2004) and The Forsythe Company (2005–2015). Recognized for the integration of ballet and visual arts, which displayed both abstraction and forceful theatricality, his vision of choreography as an organizational practice has inspired him to produce numerous installations, films, and web-based knowledge creation, incorporating the spoken word and experimental music.

Photo of Alvin Ailey

6. Alvin Ailey (1931 - 1989)

With an HPI of 48.35, Alvin Ailey is the 6th most famous American Dancer.  His biography has been translated into 36 different languages.

Alvin Ailey Jr. (January 5, 1931 – December 1, 1989) was an American dancer, director, choreographer, and activist who founded the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (AAADT). He created AAADT and its affiliated Alvin Ailey American Dance Center (later Ailey School) as havens for nurturing Black artists and expressing the universality of the African-American experience through dance. A gay man, his work fused theater, modern dance, ballet, and jazz with Black vernacular, creating hope-fueled choreography that continues to spread global awareness of Black life in America. Ailey's choreographic masterpiece Revelations is recognized as one of the most popular and most performed ballets in the world.On July 15, 2008, the United States Congress passed a resolution designating AAADT a "vital American cultural ambassador to the World." That same year, in recognition of AAADT's 50th anniversary, then Mayor Michael Bloomberg declared December 4 "Alvin Ailey Day" in New York City, while then-Governor David Paterson honored the organization on behalf of New York State.

Photo of Maria Tallchief

7. Maria Tallchief (1925 - 2013)

With an HPI of 47.93, Maria Tallchief is the 7th most famous American Dancer.  Her biography has been translated into 29 different languages.

Elizabeth Marie Tallchief (Osage family name: Ki He Kah Stah Tsa, Osage script: 𐒼𐓣𐓸𐓟𐓤𐓘𐓸𐓮𐓰𐓘𐓸𐓲𐓘; January 24, 1925 – April 11, 2013) was an American ballerina. She was considered America's first major prima ballerina. She was the first Native American (Osage Nation) to hold the rank, and is said to have revolutionized ballet.Almost from birth, Tallchief was involved in dance, starting formal lessons at age three. When she was eight, her family relocated from her birth home of Fairfax, Oklahoma, to Los Angeles, California. The purpose of the move was to advance the careers of Maria and her younger sister, Marjorie. Both sisters became dance professionals and leading figures. At age 17, she moved to New York City in search of a spot with a major ballet company, and, at the urging of others, took the name Maria Tallchief. She spent the next five years with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, where she met choreographer George Balanchine. When Balanchine co-founded what would become the New York City Ballet in 1946, Tallchief became the company's first star.The combination of Balanchine's difficult choreography and Tallchief's passionate dancing revolutionized the ballet. Her 1949 role in The Firebird catapulted Tallchief to the top of the ballet world, establishing her as a prima ballerina. Her role as the Sugarplum Fairy in The Nutcracker transformed the ballet from obscure to America's most popular. She traveled the world, becoming the first American to perform in Moscow's Bolshoi Theater. She made regular appearances on American TV before she retired in 1966. After retiring from dance, Tallchief was active in promoting ballet in Chicago. She served as director of ballet for the Lyric Opera of Chicago for most of the 1970s and debuted the Chicago City Ballet in 1981.Tallchief was honored by the people of Oklahoma with multiple statues and an honorific day. She was inducted in the National Women's Hall of Fame and received a National Medal of Arts. In 1996, Tallchief received a Kennedy Center Honor for lifetime achievements. Her life has been the subject of multiple documentaries and biographies.

Photo of Adam Darius

8. Adam Darius (1930 - 2017)

With an HPI of 47.41, Adam Darius is the 8th most famous American Dancer.  His biography has been translated into 19 different languages.

Adam Darius (10 May 1930 – 3 December 2017) was a Turkish origin American dancer, mime artist, writer and choreographer. As a performer, he appeared in over 86 countries across six continents. As a writer, he published 19 books and wrote 22 plays. In a program devoted to his career, the BBC World Service described him as "one of the most exceptional talents of the 20th century".

Photo of Katherine Dunham

9. Katherine Dunham (1909 - 2006)

With an HPI of 44.63, Katherine Dunham is the 9th most famous American Dancer.  Her biography has been translated into 23 different languages.

Katherine Mary Dunham (June 22, 1909 – May 21, 2006) was an American dancer, choreographer, anthropologist, and social activist. Dunham had one of the most successful dance careers of the 20th century, and directed her own dance company for many years. She has been called the "matriarch and queen mother of black dance."While a student at the University of Chicago, Dunham also performed as a dancer, ran a dance school, and earned an early bachelor's degree in anthropology. Receiving a post graduate academic fellowship, she went to the Caribbean to study the African diaspora, ethnography and local dance. She returned to graduate school and submitted a master's thesis to the anthropology faculty. She did not complete the other requirements for that degree, however, as she realized that her professional calling was performance and choreography. At the height of her career in the 1940s and 1950s, Dunham was renowned throughout Europe and Latin America and was widely popular in the United States. The Washington Post called her "dancer Katherine the Great." For almost 30 years she maintained the Katherine Dunham Dance Company, the only self-supported American black dance troupe at that time. Over her long career, she choreographed more than ninety individual dances. Dunham was an innovator in African-American modern dance as well as a leader in the field of dance anthropology, or ethnochoreology. She also developed the Dunham Technique, a method of movement to support her dance works.

Photo of Frankie Manning

10. Frankie Manning (1914 - 2009)

With an HPI of 43.55, Frankie Manning is the 10th most famous American Dancer.  His biography has been translated into 19 different languages.

Frank Manning (May 26, 1914 – April 27, 2009) was an American dancer, instructor, and choreographer. Manning is considered one of the founders of Lindy Hop, an energetic form of the jazz dance style known as swing.

Pantheon has 15 people classified as dancers born between 1877 and 1984. Of these 15, 5 (33.33%) of them are still alive today. The most famous living dancers include William Forsythe, Twyla Tharp, and Rozonda Thomas. The most famous deceased dancers include Isadora Duncan, Josephine Baker, and Martha Graham. As of April 2022, 3 new dancers have been added to Pantheon including William Forsythe, Agnes de Mille, and Misty Copeland.

Living Dancers

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Deceased Dancers

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Newly Added Dancers (2022)

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Which Dancers were alive at the same time? This visualization shows the lifespans of the 10 most globally memorable Dancers since 1700.