Vaslav Nijinsky was born in Kiev, Russia, while his parents, dancers Eleonora Bereda and Foma Nijinsky were on tour. He entered the Imperial School in St. Petersburg in 1898, and upon graduation in 1907 became a soloist with the Maryinsky Theatre.
He met Sergei Diaghilev, and Nijinsky went to Paris with him and danced the leading roles in Le Pavillion d'Armida and Les Sylphides with Anna Pavlova in 1909. The next year he danced the golden slave in Scheherazade.
He continued to dance with the Diaghilev's Ballets Russes after 1909, although Anna Pavlova left because Diaghilev favored his male dancers.
Although Vaslav danced with many great ballerinas he was most associated with Tamara Karsavina, with whom he danced in 1911 in one of the most famous ballets of the time, Le Spectre de la Rose.
Nijinsky’s choreography broke away from his classical training. His ballets were controversial, his Jeux made headlines in the morning press, and Le Sacre du Printemps had the audiences shouting obscenities in the theater and on the streets of Paris.
In 1913 the Ballets Russes toured South America, and because of his fear of ocean voyages Diaghilev did not accompany them. Without his mentor's supervision Nijinsky fell in love with Romola de Pulszky, a Hungarian dancer. They were married in Buenos Aires: when the company returned to Europe, Diaghilev, in a jealous rage, fired them both.
During World War I, Nijinsky, a Russian citizen, was interned in Hungary. Diaghilev succeeded in getting him out for a North American tour in 1916, during which he choreographed and danced the leading role in Till Eulenspiegel. Signs of his dementia praecox were becoming apparent to members of the company. He became afraid of other dancers and that a trap door would be left open. Nijinsky spent may years in and out of mental hospitals.
In 1947 the family moved to London, where he was cared for by his loving wife, Romola, until his death in 1950. He is buried in Paris at the Sacre Coeur Cemetery.