Tamara Karsavina was born in St Petersburg in 1885. She studied with the Imperial Ballet School for Cecchetti, Gerdt and Johansson, and also with the Caterina Beretta in Milan. She graduated into the Mariinsky Theatre in 1902 as a soloist and was promoted to ballerina in 1909. She stayed with the Mariinsky until 1918, while she was also a leading ballerina of Diaghilev's Ballets Russes from its beginning in 1909 until 1922. Between 1909 and 1914 (paired with Nijinsky until 1913) she created many famous roles like in Fokine's Les Sylphides (first version 1908), Cleopatre (1909), Carnaval (1910), Firebird (1910), Le Spectre de la Rose (1911), Narcisse (1911), Petrushka (1911), Le Dieu bleu (1912), Thamar (1912), Papillon (1912), Daphnis et Chloe (1912) and Le Coq d'or (1914), Nijinsky's Jeux (1913), Massine's Le Tricorne (1919) and Pulcinella (1920).
Married a British diplomat in 1917 and moved to London. She became a major influence in British ballet as vice-president of the Royal Academy of Dancing, and as advisor to the Royal Ballet stagings of Diaghilev ballets as well as The Nutcracker, Giseele and La Fille mal gardée. She also coached Margot Fonteyn in The Firebird and Giselle. Her autobiography Theatre Street was published in 1930.