Over the weekend The Guardian put out a list of the 10 best dancers of all time. Yes, it overlooks modern dance pioneers like Isadora Duncan, Martha Graham, Alvin Ailey, Katherine Dunham, and Merce Cunningham; contemporary heroes like Mark Morris, Bill T. Jones, and Twyla Tharp, as well as names famous outside of the world of dance, like Mikhail Baryshnikov, Gregory Hines, and Ginger Rogers. But it goes without saying that anytime you try to pull together something this epic, there are going to be glaring omissions. (That, and we can’t hate on any list that includes Josephine Baker.) So instead of nitpicking their choices, we’ve decided to pull some clips that demonstrate why each of their selections earned their spots. Enjoy!
1. Vaslav Nijinsky Why they picked him: “As the star of Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, his intense characterizations in new-wave ballets like Scheherazade, Carnaval, and Petrouchka won him a huge European following.”
Apologies, we couldn’t find a video of him performing.
2. Josephine Baker Why they picked her: “In her most famous number, the Danse Sauvage, she sent up prevailing notions of race with a fabulously provocative shimmy in nothing but a skirt of bananas.”
3. Fred Astaire Why they picked him: “He’d glide across the screen with that nonchalant half-smile, in an effortless hailstorm of tap, and make it look so easy you were sure you could do it yourself.”
4. Michael Clark Why they picked him: “His career has been well documented: the transgressive choreography with its punk styling, the descent into heroin addiction and the long climb back. All of which serves to distract from Michael Clark’s superlative gifts as a performer — most evident in the years when he was dancing other people’s work.”
5. Yuri Soloviev Why they picked him: “The finest of the post-war generation of Leningrad male dancers, ‘Cosmonaut Yuri’ combined a phenomenal jump with supreme clarity and refinement of technique. ”
6. Gelsey Kirkland Why they picked her: “Few ballerinas have battled as many demons as the elfin Gelsey Kirkland… But she could produce performances of translucent intensity.”
7. Nadezhda Pavlova Why they picked her: She entered the International Moscow Ballet Competition as an unknown 16-year-old ballet student. “Pavlova’s performance (happily, caught on film), was so joyous, so intoxicating in its perfection, that the judges gave her the rarely awarded Grand Prix.”
8. Carlos Acosta Why they picked him: “Acosta doesn’t brag, he lets his dancing do the talking, but he has probably attracted more newcomers to the ballet than any male dancer since Nureyev.”
9. Altynai Asylmuratova Why they picked her: “As Odette in Swan Lake or Nikiya in La Bayadère, her pearlescent beauty was matched by a bewitching expressiveness. She used her arms, in particular, to mesmerizing effect, drawing you into her tragic, lunar realm.”
10. Alina Cojocaru Why they picked her: “Tiny, imperious, and every perfectly proportioned inch the temperamental ballerina, Cojocaru is a performer of heart-stopping loveliness.”