About the greatest men in ballet in the USA

greatest male ballet dancers of all time

Ballet is one of the most beautiful art forms for centuries no, but when people hear the word ballet, they tend to imagine a beautiful woman in a tutu, however, there are just as many male ballet dancers who deserve the spotlight and the recognition just as much as their female counterparts. 

Despite how common dancing and ballet is, there is still an obvious mainstream culture in which a man dancing is still subject to being stereotyped. In countries where there isn’t a rich dance history, people are quick to judge and build their ideas about male dancers, or completely forget about them. 

Far too often, the females take the spotlight and the role of the male, both anchoring and elevating the performance and holding those all-important lifts deserve to be recognised and celebrated. 

Here at Zarely, we wanted to break down some of these stereotypes and celebrate the successes of some of the greatest male dancers of all time and share an insight into who these male ballet dancers are.

Rudolf Nureyev

Rudolf Nureyev, ballet dancer

If you’re asking yourself “who is the greatest male dancer of all time?” then look no further, because according to many, that would be Rudolf Nureyev. Born in the Soviet Union back in 1938, many renowned him the Lord of the Dance, being such an empowering image to male dancers both back then and still today. 

He was an astounding dancer, capturing the true meaning of performer, working at such a high calibre, much higher than any other male in his time. Nureyev took on leading roles in ballet in a time where males were mostly given minor roles, still today people believe Nureyez paved the way for future male dancers.

Mikhail Baryshnikov

male ballet dancers, Mikhail Baryshnikov

If you haven’t heard of Baryshnikov yet, then it’s time to familiarise yourself with him. Amongst male dancers, there’s one household name that always one reoccurring name that crops up when it comes to celebrating successes and aspiring to and that is Mikhail. 

Male ballet dancers in the USA will tell you that Mikhail Baryshnikov’s career is one that they are astounded by. From dancing to sold-out audiences across the world to movie careers and even a season of Sex and the City, his career has been nothing short of spectacular.

Mikhail, known as Misha, was born in Latvia to his Russian parents and began training at the age of 12. He was a part of the Kirov Ballet where he danced as a principal dancer until 1974 when he moved to Toronto.  

Not long after, he left for the US and joined the American Ballet Theatre as a principal from 1974 until 1978. It was in 1978 that he joined the New York City Ballet as a principal and danced the famous works of George Balanchine. Just a short two years later he rejoined the American Ballet Theatre as both a principal dancer and the director. 

In 2005, Misha opened the Baryshnikov Arts Center in New York City which is famous for being an inspiring place for dance, theatre, film and music. When talking about the greatest male ballet dancers of all time, it would be impossible to leave Mikhail off of the list for shaping the male ballet dancer image and for making such a spectacular career.

Benjamin Millepied

Born in Bordeaux, France in 1977, Benjamin Millepied started training at 8 years old with his mother, a former ballerina. Many might know Benjamin Millepied as Natalie Portman’s husband, however, Benjamin has had a career to have him renowned in his rights and put himself as worthy of being one of the greatest male ballet dancers.

Benjamin Millepied, male ballet dancer

Millepied lived and worked in the United States after joining the New York City Ballet in 1995, where he was a soloist in 1998 before becoming a principal in 2002. He has also created choreography for the New York City Ballet and other major companies before retiring from the NYCB in 2011. 

Benjamin Millepied is widely recognised for his works in the movie Black Swan which stars Natalie Portman, where he choreographed the dancers and starred as a dancer. Between the years of 2014-2016, Benjamin also worked as the director of dance at the Paris Opera Ballet.

Alexander Godunov

Alexander Godunov, ballet dancer

Famously known as just Godunov, Alexander Godunov was a Russian-American ballet dancer and film actor most active in the 1970s. Godunov began his ballet studies at the age of nine in Riga in 1958, where coincidentally he was in the same class as another one of the greatest male ballet dancers, Mikhail Baryshnikov. 

It was in 1971 that Godunov became a part of the Bolshoi Ballet where he rose to become a premier danseur, similar to a principal dancer today. 

Throughout his career, Godunov performed lead roles in famous works such as ‘Giselle’, ‘Swan Lake’ and ‘Don Quixote’ amongst many others. He also worked on several movies and had appearances in ‘Die Hard’ and ‘Witness’ where he appeared alongside Harrison Ford.

Ethan Stiefel

Making the top 5 on our list of famous male ballet dancers in the USA is Ethan Stiefel, a fantastic male dancer with outstanding technical ability and an astounding international career to show for it.

Ethan Stiefel, american ballet dancer

After training at several companies, he joined New York City Ballet in 1989 as a corps de ballet dancer, before leaving in 1992 for Zürich Ballet to then return to the NYCB a year later as a soloist. He then took on the role of a principal in 1995, before moving to join the American Ballet Theatre as a principal in 1997.

Roberto Bolle

Roberto Bolle ballet dancer, who is the greatest male ballet dancer of all time

Born in 1975, Roberto Bolle is an Italian dancer who began studying ballet at 7 years of age. He joined the prestigious La Scala Theatre Ballet School in Milan at just 12 years of age.

Bolle was recognized early on for his incredible talent and continues to wow audiences now as the principal dancer of the American Ballet Theatre. He has also appeared in fashion and style magazines and advertising campaigns. Bolle is thought of as one of the greatest male ballet dancers in the US right now. 

Throughout history, the men performing ballet have created and paved the way for an unforgettable legacy that carries on today. Of course, many more famous male ballet dancers have impacted the world of ballet, we have only just scratched the surface.

The future of men in ballet and its legacy lies in the hands of the children and young adults who are studying and performing right now.

So, if that’s you, a male dancer, love what you do with all you have. Break the stereotypes. Break down the stigma. Dance with so much passion as this art form is something we are privileged to have. Believe in yourself. We need men in dance. We need you. The greatest male dancer of all time could be you in the future.


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