Dance as we know it wouldn’t exist without having talented and skilled dancers paving the way. From innovating new moves to perfecting existing ones, the most famous dancers of all time have revolutionized the industry as a whole.

K2 Dance Studios is here to pay tribute to some of the most influential dancers from the past century. Find out who makes the cut, and try out hip-hop, ballet, contemporary, acro, or other classes at our Corona dance studio!

Ballet — Anna Pavlova and Mikhail Baryshnikov

When Anna Pavlova first tried becoming a dancer in 1890 in Russia, she was rejected. The school thought she looked weak, because she was very small and petite. Little did they know that Pavlova would become the picture of ballet — to the pointe of completely changing how ballerinas were expected to look.

She was the first ballerina to tour around the world, and audiences were equally awestruck and taken aback by how different her style was. In fact, many attribute Pavlova for being the reason ballet became popular in the U.S. Pavlova became so popular that she ended up setting a new standard for how ballet should be performed, as well as how a dancer should look.

Nearly a century later, ballet is just now starting to become more body positive — ever since Pavlova hit the stage, it was essentially a requirement to be as waif-like and thin as possible. Pretty ironic considering she was turned away from dance at one point, all because of her body!

And as if those weren’t enough accomplishments, Pavlova is also credited with creating the modern pointe shoe. Her life was all about dance in its purest and (at the time) most novel form.

Mikhail Baryshnikov

For another Russian ballet wonder, enter Mikhail Baryshnikov. By all standards, Baryshnikov had a pretty tough upbringing. He grew up during the Cold War in Soviet Latvia with his very strict and militaristic father. When Baryshnikov was 12, his mother committed suicide.

It makes sense that in these circumstances, one would turn to dance and pour everything they had into this form of expression. Baryshnikov eventually defected to Canada, feeling confident that he would have more success outside of the USSR (clearly, he was right). Dancing with the New York City Ballet and the American Ballet Theatre, he became wildly successful and well-known. Baryshnikov grew into acting roles, and probably most importantly, helped break down the stigma that many male dancers face.

Modern Dance — Martha Graham

It’s widely recognized that without Martha Graham, there would be no such thing as modern dance. Born in 1894, Graham’s parents were very religious, and didn’t exactly encourage dancing. She didn’t even see her first dance performance until she was 17!

Graham was highly intrigued about being able to strip down ballet to movements that reflected on the human experience. As such, modern dance was born. Graham is the dancer who invented the contraction and release method, and it’s no surprise that she went on to lead some famous dance companies, such as Israel’s Batsheva Dance Company — which she led from its inception.

Pop — Michael Jackson and Paula Abdul

Can we even talk about dance if we don’t mention Michael Jackson? The King of Pop didn’t get his name for no reason. With his signature popping and moonwalk, the ‘80s were defined by Jackson’s revolutionary techniques. Many of these moves later evolved into hip-hop (which also was culminated by break dancing, but that’s another blog for another time), and are still used today.

Paula Abdul

She might be known from younger generations as one of the original judges on “American Idol,” but Paula Abdul is one of the most famous choreographers of all time. Her connections with the Jackson family are quite intertwined — she choreographed the Jacksons tour, along with several of Janet Jackson’s famous hits. In the era of MTV and music videos, Abdul pioneered dance for the entire decade.

If there’s one thing that all these dancers have in common, it’s that they insisted on innovation, even when they faced rejection. They pursued dance as an art form and as a place of self-expression, and they didn’t let the naysayers get them down.

Each of these dancers also worked tirelessly to pursue their goals as dancers. Dance as it is today wouldn’t exist without their extreme dedication and perseverance, which is a great reminder for everyone — whether taking lessons at a dance studio or not.

If you feel inspired by the dance pioneers of previous generations, now is a great time to sign up for lessons at K2 Dance Studios! Dance is one of the greatest sources of joy and passion (and yes, some will say embarrassment, but we’d say otherwise!) and it doesn’t take long to see why so many fall in love with it. Sign up with our dance studio today.