He made his name as a leading American dancer with the Harkness Ballet, the Joffrey Ballet and American Ballet Theatre. The ‘Bad Lad of Ballet’ tag arose because of a combination of film star looks and a fiery and rebellious streak, lending him a James Dean air.
Not having ideal lines for classical ballet, he preferred contemporary ballet and modern dance.
In a 1986 review, Anna Kisselgoff wrote in the New York Times that, “Mr. Wayne has a great deal of cheeky charm,” noting that, “Somehow you forgive him for the kind of gestures, remarks and choices that might be downright coy or embarrassing from somebody else.” She was reviewing a programme featuring his own company, Dancers.
Originally Dennis Wayne’s Dancers, it was a company he formed in 1975 with financial support from his friends and ballet lovers Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman. Wayne was still under contract at the time with ABT, and the company was not pleased with the fact that he was involving several other of their dancers in the project, and it was put on hold. A year later, he left ABT and Dennis Wayne’s Dancers took off.
The company members came from several troupes, including Wayne’s former employers Joffrey Ballet and American Ballet Theatre.
Four years later, projects were put on hold after Wayne was involved in a serious car accident while the company was on tour in Europe. He was told he would never dance again having suffered injuries to his back and hip. He turned to choreography, and the company, now known simply as Dancers, toured internationally, and eventually, in 1986, Wayne returned to dance again.
The company disbanded in 1989, but by that time it had performed in 167 cities, in 64 countries on 4 continents.
During his career, Wayne choreographed 62 ballets, 8 operas, 4 rock videos, 6 films, 9 musicals and 32 television shows.