Bausch began dancing from a young age. In 1955 she entered the Folkwangschule in Essen, then directed by Germany's most influential choreographer Kurt Jooss, one of the founders of German Expressionist dance.
After graduation, she won a scholarship to continue her studies at the Juilliard School in New York City in 1960, where her teachers included Anthony Tudor, José Limón, and Paul Taylor. In New York she performed with the Paul Sanasardo and Donya Feuer Dance Company, the New American Ballet and became a member of the Metropolitan Opera Ballet Company.
In 1962, Bausch joined Jooss' new Folkwang Ballett Company as a soloist and assisted Jooss on many of the pieces, before choreographing her first piece in 1968, and in 1969 succeeded Jooss as artistic director. In 1972, Bausch started as artistic director of the then Wuppertal Opera Ballet, which was later renamed as the Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch. The company has a large repertoire of original pieces, and regularly tours throughout the world.
Male-female interaction is a theme found throughout her work, which has been an inspiration for—and reached a wider audience through—the movie Talk to Her, directed by Pedro Almodóvar. Her pieces are constructed of short units of dialogue and action, often of a surreal nature. Repetition is an important structuring device. Her large multi-media productions often involve elaborate sets and eclectic music. In Masurca Fogo half of the stage is taken up by a giant, rocky hill, and the score includes everything from Portuguese music to K. D. Lang.