Born in Auckland in 1930, the young Russell Kerr displayed an equal talent for piano and dance. He settled on dance, where his career began as a student of Auckland ballet teacher, Kathleen Whitford. In 1950, he was awarded a New Zealand Government Bursary to travel to Europe. After making his European debut with the Jose Greco Spanish Company, he danced in London with Sadler's Wells (now the Royal Ballet), with Ballet Rambert, and as a soloist with London's Festival Ballet. He made a name for himself as a dancer with deeply-informed musicality and outstanding dramatic expression.
Kerr held many key positions over the course of his career, including Director of the Nettleton-Edwards-Kerr School of Ballet (1959-61), Artistic Director of the New Zealand Ballet (1962-69), Director of the New Zealand Dance Centre (1969-77), and Director of the Southern Ballet Theatre (1978-90). His teaching and choreographic skills provide a continuing source of inspiration. He was Vice-Patron of the Auckland Dance Company, Patron of the International Ballet Academy and a Trustee of the Christchurch Dance Education Bursary Trust.
He was awarded a QEII Arts Council Fellowship in 1977, followed in 1986 by a Queen's Service Medal for Services to Ballet in New Zealand and, in 2000, he was appointed an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit.