Although there were visits by European dancers in the 19th century, ballet in Brazil did not become professionally active until 1927 when the former Pavlova dancer, Maria Oleneva, was invited to train a corps de ballet for the Teatro Municipal de Rio de Janeiro. Drawing her dancers from Brazil's ballet schools, Oleneva's troupe performed initially in opera and drama productions but after a few years was able to give complete ballet programmes. In 1934 the newly remodelled Teatro Municipal was reopened and a ballet season organized that included Lifar and three of his dancers, working with Oleneva's troupe. Five years later the company, the Municipal Ballet of Rio de Janeiro, gave its first official season, directed by guest choreographer Vaslav Veltchek. Veltchek returned to Rio in 1943 to mount a new all-Brazilian dance season, after which Yuco Lindenberg joined the company as choreographer and temporary director. In 1945, Lindenberg was succeeded by Schwezoff and the company performed another major season featuring Brazilian-born ballerinas Edith Pudelko, Rosanova, Tamara Capeller, and Vilma Lemos Cunha. However during the years of Lindenberg's directorship in the late 1940s, the company barely survived and it was at a low artistic and financial ebb when Tatiana Leskova, a former ballerina with the Original Ballet Russe, was hired as ballet mistress, choreographer, and dancer in 1950. Under her direction the classics were staged and guest choreographers like Massine, Dollar, and H. Lander were brought in to work with the company. Leskova was succeeded by several short-term directors including Veltchek and Dalal Achcar, although the latter returned for a second term in 1987. A constant influence on the Municipal Ballet company was Achcar who, during her several years as director of the Foundation of the Municipal Theatre (1983–6 and 1991–4) oversaw a rise in technical standards and an expansion of the repertory. During this period the company was built up to its present size of 100 dancers and acquired new works from Skibine and Araiz. The company continues to suffer from a rapid turnover of directors, including Jean-Yves Lameau (1995–9), Gustravo Mollajoli (1999–2002), Richard Cragun (2003–5) and Sergio Marshall (appointed 2006) but it continues to stage a wide repertory of classics, along with 20th-century works like Cranko's Onegin and new ballets by Brazilian choreographers such as Nebrada, Ivo, and Achcar.
Achcar's own influence on the Brazilian ballet scene dates back to 1960 when she co-founded the Ballet Association of Rio de Janeiro, and its associate company, with the mission of raising standards of ballet teaching and performance. She introduced the RAD syllabus into Brazil and established a professional teachers' course, while for her own short-lived but highly influential company she invited many of the world's leading dancers to guest, including Fonteyn and Nureyev. She also organized seasons by visiting companies such as Paris Opera and the Royal Ballet.
A third company, the Ballet of the Fourth Centennial, was founded in São Paulo in 1953 under the direction of Milloss, and presented its first season of Brazilian ballets in Rio in 1954. Although it survived only a few years, its influence on the dance scene was significant due to its emphasis on Brazilian designers, composers, and themes.