• Ross Millar

10 Greatest Dancing Icons of All Time

Well.....where to start!? With so many different dance styles and so many great performers and choreographers over the years, this list has been almost impossible to compile!


To me, an icon of dance is someone who was perhaps an incredible performer, an innovator in their field, achieved great fame through dance or pioneered a particular dance style. Their are many great names not included this list, some of which it has been excruciating to leave out. However, I wanted to include dancers from many different styles, as well as from film, theater and television.


What has also been important for me in creating this list, has not just been technical proficiency, but whose dancing helped bring joy to millions around the world. Dancing is after all, something for everyone to enjoy and charisma, stage presence and passion is just as important as technique.


With this in mind and of course, coupled with my own personal opinions, here is my Top 10 Greatest Dancing Icons of All Time. As ever, please let me know your thoughts!


10. Dick Van Dyke


A bit of a wild-card at number 10, but Dick Van Dyke is more than worthy to be included in this list.


Most famous for his roles in 'Mary Poppins' (1964) and 'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang' (1968), Dick was the lead dancer in some of cinemas most famous dance sequences, such as 'Step In Time' and 'The Ol' Bamboo.' What is more remarkable, is that Dick was a untrained dancer in his early 40's, dancing alongside professionally trained dancers half his age, whilst in the throes of alcoholism. A natural dancer, blessed with fantastic rhythm and an infectious smile, Dick's dancing has brought joy and laughter to so many people all over the world.


9. Anna Pavlova


One of the most famous ballerina's of all-time, Anna Pavlova was the Principal Artist of the Imperial Russian Ballet and Ballet Russes during the late 19th/early 20th century.


With her long limbs, arched feet and weak ankles, Pavlova possessed an incredible work-ethic to overcome her physical detriments. Whilst ballerina's of the day were more compact and acrobatic, audiences were enchanted by Pavlova's daintiness and innocent look.


Most famed for her solo 'The Dying Swan,' Pavlova's greatest contribution to ballet was her tours, which helped introduce and popularise ballet to millions of people all over the world.


8. The Nicholas Brothers


Known as 2 of the greatest tap dancers to have ever lived, Fayard and Harold Nicholas were one of the greatest stars of early film.


Pre-dominantly self-trained, they were inspired by some of the great vaudeville acts of the day, such as Bill 'Bojangles' Robinson and Willie Bryant. Famed for their seemingly limitless energy and acrobatic skills, their most performance is perhaps 'Jumpin' Jive' from the 1943 film 'Stormy Weather,' in which they showcased their almost rubber-like legs to great affect. Ending the routine by leaping down each step and finishing in the split position, they astonished audiences worldwide and even the legendary Fred Astaire commented that it was the best dance sequence he had ever witnessed.


7. Bob Fosse


Known for his unique style of choreography which included turned in knees, jazz hands and use of props, Fosse helped to create the style of dancing that is still seen at theaters world-wide today.


A gifted dancer and actor himself, Fosse first came to the world's attention in films such as 'Kiss Me Kate' and 'Give a Girl a Break' (both 1953). Transitioning more towards theater work, Fosse directed and choreographed numerous works. The only person to have won an Oscar, a Tony and a Emmy in the same year (1973), Fosse gained a number of awards and accolades for his works such as 'Chicago,' 'Cabaret' and 'Pippin.'


6. Michael Flatley


Perhaps the most famous Irish dancer of all-time, Michael helped transform Irish dancing from a virtually unknown, church hall style of dance, to a world-wide phenomena during the 90's.


Becoming the first American to win the Irish Dance World Championships in 1975, Michael went on to blend a number of styles of dance together including tap, flamenco and theater, to create his own unique style of Irish dancing. Famed for his electrifying, fast feet (once holding the World Record for performing 35 taps in one second), stage presence and charisma, Michael is perhaps one of the greatest performers of all-time.


Earning his big break during the 1994 Eurovision interval act, Michael went onto create 'Riverdance' and 'Lord of the Dance,' two of the highest grossing dance shows of all time, which are still performed to audiences today.


5. Martha Graham


Known as 'The Picasso of Dance,' Graham's technique and choreography spear-headed the creation of modern dancing and is still studied by budding dancers today.


Trained in the strict ballet style of the 1920's which emphasised dance as entertainment, Graham became more interested in raising dance to a higher art-form, showcasing the full range of the human condition.


A pioneer in the creation of Contemporary dance, Graham's Technique, which is based on the opposition between contraction and release, spiraling of the torso and the use of breath, is still taught world-wide today and has helped inspire many legendary choreographers such as Merce Cunningham, Paul Taylor and Erick Hawkins.


The first dancer in history to be invited to perform at the White House, she was internationally acclaimed by dancers and non-dancers alike and was posthumously named the 'Dancer of the Century' in 1998 by Times Magazine.


4. Michael Jackson


Regarded as one of the best performers of all-time, Jackson extraordinary stage presence and energy sent audience's crazy wherever he went.


Favouring the disco-style of dancing in the 70's, Jackson gradually evolved to a street style of dancing in the 80's, which raised him to Herculean fame. With a total mastery of body control, Jackson's energetic dance style incorporated elements such as, locking and popping, spins, angular poses, fast foot-work and his signature move, the Moon-Walk.


Virtually inventing the music video, his dances to his hit-songs such as 'Billie Jean,' 'Thriller' and 'Bad,' have helped to inspire dancers and singers across the globe.


3. Rudolf Nureyev


The first and perhaps, greatest famous male ballet dancer in history, Nureyev became a superstar in the dance world during the 1960's.

A relatively late starter to dance, Nureyev only managed to join a major ballet school at the age of 17. With a tremendous drive and work-ethic towards dance, Nureyev quickly became the Principal at the prestigious Kirov Ballet, before becoming the first Russian performer to defect to the West in 1961, during the height of the Cold War tensions.


Joining the Royal Ballet in London, Nureyev struck up a legendary partnership with ballerina, Margot Fonteyn, with whom he performed many iconic dances with including, 'Giselle,' 'Romeo and Juliet' and 'Swan Lake.'


Whilst perhaps not as technically gifted as later dancer's such as Baryshnikov, Nureyev good looks and incredible charisma on the stage enthralled all who watched him perform.


2. Gene Kelly


Coming in at number two, we have the legendary star of film, Gene Kelly. Famed for his tap dancing skills, Gene's first love was actually ballet, which is evident in his graceful, yet powerful movements in many of his dance pieces.


Breaking away from the more traditional top hat and tails dancing of the 30's, Gene regularly performed in casual clothing and strongly advocated for more acceptance of males in dance. Possessing a great athleticism and an ability to make even the most demanding moves seem effortless, Gene was a silky-smooth performer who at his peak, was one of the most in demand stars during the Golden Age of Hollywood.


Perhaps best known for his solo in 'Singin in the Rain' (1952), Gene's dancing and films are still enjoyed by millions today.


1. Fred Astaire


At number one and I'm sure few could argue, we have the legendary Fred Astaire. Famed for his partnership with Ginger Rogers, Fred's legacy as one of the greatest dancers of all time is one few could argue with.


Arguably the greatest Hollywood dance star, Fred's innovations helped shape the landscape of Hollywood for decades. Usually adorned in his iconic top hat and tails, Fred's charm, elegance and grace was unparalleled. A fantastic tap dancer, a graceful modern dancer and an incredible sense of musicality, Fred could do it all. A notorious workaholic, Fred would quite regularly work on a routine for weeks at a time to attempt to completely perfect it. Despite this work, he was never fully happy with the end product, which would lead to disagreements with directors and dance partners.


Helping to inspire dancers such as Nureyev, Baryshnikov, Gregory Hines, Bob Fosse, George Balanchine and Michael Jackson, Fred is perhaps the most famous and greatest dancer to have ever lived.



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