A native of West Virginia, as a young boy Lawrence Rhodes moved to Detroit, where he first studied dance with Violette Armand. He took his first job with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and then spent four years with the Joffrey Ballet. In 1964, he joined the Harkness Ballet as a principal dancer and later, artistic director (a position he shared with Benjamin Harkarvy, his predecessor at Juilliard). After Harkness disbanded, Rhodes served as a guest artist with Het National Ballet in Amsterdam. He then returned to the United States for two years as a dancer and artistic director of the Milwaukee Ballet. During the following six years, as a principal dancer with the Pennsylvania Ballet, he appeared in ballets by Tudor, Limón, and Balanchine. He also performed as a principal dancer with the Eliot Feld Ballet (where he often partnered acclaimed dancer Carla Fracci).
In 1981, after three years as a teacher at N.Y.U., Rhodes took over the chair of the university’s dance department. He remained there for eight years, during which he brought about valuable changes in the curriculum and repertory. In 1989, he accepted the directorship of Les Grands Ballets Canadiens in Montreal. Just as he had done with N.Y.U., and Harkness before that, Rhodes introduced significant changes to the program for Les Grands, most notably selecting ballets that would be unique to it alone.
After returning to New York in 1999, he frequently freelanced as a master instructor to many reputable companies, including American Ballet Theater, Le Ballet de l’Opéra de Lyon, Ballett Frankfurt, and Nederlands Dans Theater. It was in 2002, after the untimely death of Benjamin Harkarvy, that Rhodes was offered the position as artistic director of the Juilliard Dance Division; in 2017 he became artistic director emeritus.