Hans van Manen began his ballet career in 1951 as a member of Sonia Gaskell's Ballet Recital.In 1952 he joined the Nederlandse Opera Ballet, directed by Francoise Adret, where he created his first ballet, Feestgericht, in 1957. He later joined Roland Petit's company in Paris. He began to work with Nederlands Dans Theater in 1960, as dancer (until 1963), and choreographer, and from 1961 until 1971 also as artistic director. For the following two years he worked as a freelance choreographer, until his appointment, in 1973, as choreographer/regisseur to Het Nationale Ballet in Amsterdam.
In addition to American Ballet Theatre, he has staged his ballets for the Stuttgart Ballet, Bayerisches Staatsballett Munchen, Berlin Opera, Houston Ballet, the National Ballet of Canada, Pennsylvania Ballet, the Royal Ballet, the Royal Danish Ballet, the State Opera in Vienna, Tanzforum in Cologne and for Alvin Ailey.
In September 1988 Hans van Manen rejoined Nederlands Dans Theater as resident choreographer. In the meantime he has created over forty choreographies for this company.
Hans van Manen is also a photographer and his work can be admired in exhibitions all over the world.
In 1993 Hans van Manen was awarded the German Dance Prize, for his influence in the German dance-world over the past twenty years.