Ballet Dance Identifications

Do you ever feel lost in dance conversations?

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Here are some quick-and-simple Ballet Dance IDs of people in the dance world who made a difference.


Marie Taglioni (1804-1884)


Photo: Andre Adolphe Disderi—Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The first ballerina to rise on pointe (which she first did in soft-toe ballet slippers)! She was known as the "Christian ballerina," and she was popular during the "cult of the ballerina," or the Romantic Ballet period. Her performance in La Sylphide garnered her a devoted following. Her greatest rival was Fanny Elssler. She was taught by her father, Filippo Taglioni, and danced for Paris Opéra. Known for: grace and supernatural, ethereal character dancing.

Fanny Elssler (1810-1884)


Photo: The Dance Collection, New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundation

Elssler was the fiery-exotic ballerina, who rose to fame at the same time as Taglioni who represented the pure-spiritual ballerina. She is known for theatrical character dancing. She also danced with Paris Opéra, but broke her contract with them in order to tour America, which brought her even more fame and good money at the time.

Marius Petipa (1818-1910)


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"The Father of Classical Ballet." A French dancer, he began his training under his father. As a child, he didn't like dance much. Eventually his technical training and his classical ballet works placed Russia as the power in Classical ballet training and performance. Petipa (who was the Premier Ballet Master for Imperial Theatre beginning in 1869) had a formula for presenting ballets which showed off technique while telling a story. His name is on 60+ full-evening ballets (including The Sleeping Beauty, Coppelia and Swan Lake). He put dancers in diagonal or parallel lines using the stage to its full potential. He is also known for making pas de deux a special treat in ballets (a trademark of ballet classics). By 1903, his classicism was considered "old fashioned," and he was forced to retire after not-so-great results for his ballet, The Magic Mirror. Petipa is considered one of the greatest choreographers of all time. "Petipa elevated the Russian ballet to international fame and laid the cornerstone for 20th Century ballet. His classicism integrated the purity of the French school with Italian virtuosity," wrote American Ballet Theatre. Note: It was Marius Petipa's idea to turn The Nutcracker story into a ballet. When he became ill, Lev Ivanov brought it to stage, based on Petipa's notes.

Serge Diaghilev (1872-1929)


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The mastermind behind Les Ballet Russes, Diaghilev was a fantastic organizer, fundraiser and collaborator. He brought one-act ballets to mass audiences in multiple countries. He brought artists from various backgrounds to work on his ballets. For example, Leon Bakst, Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse helped him create beautiful set designs, while Igor Stravinsky, Sergei Prokofiev, Maurice Ravel, Claude Debussy and Erik Satie created new scores for dancers to perform to. He also found and nurtured many choreographers who began with Diaghilev's Ballet Russes before transitioning into solo careers, which also helped form dance as we know it today. For example, Vaslav Nijinsky, Bronislava Nijinsky, Mikhail Fokine, Leonide Massine and George Balanchine all worked with Diaghilev before becoming their "own names" in dance. He brought male dancing back to the stage in a new way, and provided opportunity for Russia to showcase their technical superiority in dance on stage. He did not dance. He was the producer/collaborator/arts fanatic/businessman.

Anna Pavlova (1881-1931)


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Anna Pavlova, Russian ballerina, is known as the "most celebrated ballerina of all time." She studied with the Imperial School of Ballet at the Mariinsky Theatre, and graduated in 1899 with top-notch classical training. Serge Diaghilev brought Anna Pavlova to Paris and London on a tour with Ballet Russes, which gave her a taste of stardom and independence. She eventually left Ballet Russes and left performing with Imperial Theatre in 1913 to start independent tours. She brought ballet to a vast audience with these tours, including the American audience which little to no exposure with classical ballet, and many children wanted to take ballet after seeing or hearing about Anna Pavlova. Known for: The Dying Swan, choreographed for her by Mikhail Fokine in 1905.

Mikhail Fokine (1880-1942)


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Russian dancer who influenced 20th-century Classical Ballet choreography. He studied with the Imperial Ballet School (today known as Vaganova Ballet Academy) and made his premiere on stage on his 18th birthday.  He was the chief choreographer for Diaghilev's Ballet Russes from 1909-1914, creating ballets The Fire Bird and Petrushka. He also studied music and painting. Inspired by modern dancer, Isadora Duncan, he approached ballet with a fresh view, merging classical ideas with "free dance" ideas. He choreographed The Dying Swan for Anna Pavlova, and eventually left Ballet Russes when Diaghilev promoted Vaslav Nijinsky to the chief choreographer position. He moved to New York City to work on ballets with American Ballet Theatre. He had the reputation among dancers of being "extremely irritable" with "no control of his temper," but he helped shape ballet bringing together classic ideas with mime and dramatic expression.

Vaslav Nijinsky (1890-1950)


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Nijinsky was born while his parents, celebrated dancers, were on tour. Russian-born dancer, he studied first under his father and mother's touring company, and then with the Imperial School of Ballet at age 8. He became known for spectacular leaps and moved into a soloist position with Mariinsky Theatre in 1907. He was also a guest performer with Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. He was tremendously successful and well-known. He joined Diaghilev's Ballet Russes in 1909 and danced under the direction of Mikhail Fokine, until Diaghilev promoted Nijinsky, who had a huge following, to choreographer. His choreography was often times shocking to audiences due to the material and the dancing, which looked nothing like classical ballet. At age 29, he had something people called a "nervous breakdown" (diagnosed as schizophrenia), and retired from stage.

Enrico Cecchetti (1850-1928)

Photo: Cecchetti teaching Pavlova in Paris

An Italian dancer, choreographer and founder of the Cecchetti method. Cecchetti danced with the Imperial Ballet in St. Petersburg, Russia. He originated the roles of the Bluebird and Carabosse in Petipa's The Sleeping Beauty. Later, he taught classes throughout Europe, where dancers begged for him to open his classes to them. When Diaghilev wanted his ballet company, Ballet Russes, to tour, the dancers didn't want to leave Cecchetti's training. Diaghilev solved the problem by hiring Cecchetti to come on tour where he helped maintain the technique superiority in the dancers. He later settled in London. The Cecchetti method has students follow strict routines and daily exercises focused on working the muscles needed to execute proper and technically challenging positions and movement.

August Bournonville (1805-1879)

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A Danish dancer and choreographer, he trained under Frenchman Jean Georges Noverre. He is known for starting a unique style of ballet, known as the Bournonville School. He is known for ignoring the excessive mentality of choreography, seen in the Romantic era of ballet. He is known for giving equal attention to male and female dancers during a time when choreography focused on showcasing the ballerina. While other ballets portrayed emotions, Bournonville focused on quick feet, jumps, and fluid phrases.

Ballet has a vibrant history, and these are only a few of the big movers! But know that when you're watching ballet on stage, you are peeking back into history, and catching a glimpse of the hard work that has been passed down through generations of dancers and choreographers.



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