During the 19th century there was only sporadic dance activity in the country's theatres, most based in Buenos Aires. In the 1830s a small company of dancers performed at the Teatro Coliseo and there were visits from Spanish dancers but it was not until the Teatro Colón opened in 1857 that classical European ballet was first performed, with Jean Rousset's company dancing Giselle and presenting other productions based on the works of Montplaisir and Perrot. Thierry's company appeared in 1860 and 1861, dancing versions of Romantic ballets such as La Sylphide and Esmeralda. Between 1861 and 1873 dances performed in programmes given by the Bouffes Parisiens were popular and in 1868 Josephine Lecerf had a personal success in Robert le diable. Buenos Aires' first ballet school was opened in 1879 by Giovanni Pratesi and in the same year a popular production of Manzotti's Excelsior was staged (a cigarette was named after the ballet and sold with pictures of the ballerinas). The first Argentinian production of Coppélia was danced in 1903.
In 1908 the new Teatro Colón was built, housing a small company of dancers and many more foreign artists began to appear. Preobrajenska came in 1912 (dancing in Dukas's opera Ariane et Barbe-bleue), Diaghilev's Ballets Russes came in 1913 and 1917, and Pavlova and Duncan in 1916. In 1925 the company at Teatro Colón was reorganized under the direction of Bolm. His soloists included R. Page and A. Ludmila and for the first time many Argentinian dancers were included in the company. During the following decades many guest choreographers were invited to mount their works in the company which became known as the Ballet Estable del Teatro Colón. These included Nijinska (during the 1920s and 1930s), Fokine (1931), Lifar (1934), and Balanchine (1942). In 1943 the Colón was the wartime base of de Basil's Original Ballet Russe. After the war the stream of guest choreographers continued with Lichine (1947), Massine (at various times between 1948 and 1953, also 1955), and Gsovsky, Tudor, Rosen, and Charrat during the 1950s. J. Carter staged several ballets including his own versions of Coppélia, Swan Lake, and Sleeping Beauty, and in 1971 Nureyev staged and danced in his own Nutcracker, partnering the Colón's principal ballerina Olga Ferri. In 1968 the company made its European debut at the International Dance Festival in Paris, but in 1971 it suffered the loss of nine principal dancers in an aircrash. Since then its directors have included Antonio Truyol, Ferri, Enrique Lommi, Bruno d'Astoli, Raquel Rosito, Ricardo Bustamente (appointed 1998), and Araiz (appointed 2005). It continues to perform a varied repertory of classics and 20th-century works. The Colón's associated school, the Instituto Superior de Arte del Teatro Colón has produced many international star dancers, most recently Bocca, Guerra, Nuñez; and Herrera, who frequently return to guest with the company.
The first modern dance company in Argentina was founded in 1943 by a student of Wigman, Miriam Winslow. This ran for only four years, however, and the next phase of activity was not until 1968 when the Balletto Contemporaneo de Ciudad de Buenos Aires, was founded at the Teatro San Martín under the direction of Araiz. In 1998 Araiz was succeeded by Maurice Wainrot and Kive Staiff. During the 1970s some independent modern dance groups (e.g. Nucleodanza) were established, but political conditions were not favourable to artistic experiment, and it was not until the restoration of democracy in 1983 that the rate of new activity significantly increased, with the formation of groups including Brenda Angiel Aerial Dance Company, Tedancari, and Grupo Krapp. Argentinian companies which have gained the highest international profile, however, are those specializing in tango.