The Most Famous Dance Choreographers of the Past and Present

From Ballet to Modern Dance and Hip-Hop to Jazz

If you have ever watched a ballet or other dance performance, you have witnessed the work of a dance choreographer. Choreographers are the directors of dance. Unlike a conductor, they are usually behind the scenes planning the steps to music and for the visual delight of the audience.

Dance choreographers create original dances and develop new interpretations of existing dances. The works of choreographers highlight the extent of their love of and devotion to their particular styles of dance. The following list highlights some of the best dance choreographers of the past and present.

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George Balanchine (1904-1983)

Dance choreographer George Ballentine with ballerina
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Regarded as the foremost contemporary choreographer in the world of ballet, George Balanchine served as the artistic director and primary choreographer of the New York City Ballet.

He founded the School of American Ballet. He is famous for his signature neoclassical style.

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Paul Taylor (1930-2018)

An American choreographer of the 20th century, Paul Taylor was considered by many to be the greatest living choreographer (until his death in 2018).

He led the Paul Taylor Dance Company started in 1954. He was among the last living members that pioneered American modern dance.

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Bob Fosse (1927-1987)

Choreographer Bob Fosse
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One of the most influential men in jazz dance history, Bob Fosse created a unique dance style that is practiced in dance studios throughout the world.

He won eight Tony Awards for choreography, more than anyone else, as well as one for direction. He was nominated for four Academy Awards, winning for his direction of "Cabaret."​​

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Alvin Ailey (1931-1989)

Alvin Ailey was an African-American dancer and choreographer. He is remembered by many as a modern dance genius. He founded the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in New York City in 1​958.

His spiritual and gospel background, along with his desire to enlighten and entertain, formed the backbone of his unique choreography. He is credited with revolutionizing African-American participation in 20th-century concert dance.

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Katherine Dunham (1909-2006)

Choreographer Katherine Dunham
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Katherine Dunham's dance company helped pave the way for future famous dance theaters. Often referred to as the "matriarch and queen mother of Black dance," she helped to establish Black dance as an art form in America.

Dunham was an innovator in African-American modern dance as well as a leader in the field of dance anthropology, also known as ethnochoreology. She also developed the Dunham technique in dance.

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Agnes de Mille (1905-1993)

Agnes de Mille was an American dancer and choreographer. She contributed her amazing choreography to both 20th-century ballet and Broadway musical theater.

Agnes De Mille was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame in 1973. De Mille's many other awards include the Tony Award for Best Choreography for "Brigadoon" in 1947.

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Shane Sparks (1969-present)

Choreographer Shane Sparks
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Hip-hop choreographer Shane Sparks is best known for his role as a judge and choreographer on the reality television dance competitions "So You Think You Can Dance" and "America's Best Dance Crew."

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Martha Graham (1894-1991)

Through her choreography, Martha Graham pushed the art of dance to new limits. She founded the Martha Graham Dance Company, the oldest, most celebrated modern dance company in the world. Her style, the Graham technique, reshaped American dance and is still taught worldwide.

Graham has been sometimes termed the "Picasso of Dance" in that her importance and influence to modern dance can be considered equivalent to what Pablo Picasso was to modern visual arts. Her impact has been also compared to the influence of Stravinsky on music and Frank Lloyd Wright on architecture.

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Twyla Tharp (1941-present)

Twyla Tharp
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Twyla Tharp is an American dancer and choreographer. She is most known for developing a contemporary dance style that combines ballet and modern dance techniques.

Her work often uses classical music, jazz, and contemporary pop music.​ In 1966, she formed her own company Twyla Tharp Dance.

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Merce Cunningham (1919-2009)

Merce Cunningham was a famous dancer and choreographer. He is well known for his innovative techniques in the realm of modern dance for more than 50 years.

He collaborated with artists from other disciplines. Works that he produced with these artists had a profound impact on avant-garde art beyond the world of dance.