Naharin began his training as a dancer with the Batsheva Dance Company. He came to New York one year later at the invitation of Martha Graham to join her company, as well as to make use of a scholarship to the School of American Ballet. After a year with the Martha Graham Dance Company, he continued his studies at The Juilliard School of Music as well as with Maggie Black and David Howard. He then joined the Maurice Béjart Company in Brussels for one season and made his choreographic debut in 1980 in the Kazuko Hirabayashi studio in New York.
From 1980 to 1990 he performed and worked in New York, where he lived with his wife; the dancer Mari Kajiwara who died of cancer in 2001. In 1990 he was appointed Artistic Director of the Batsheva Dance Company.