Around 1955, Rainer met a painter named Al Held at a jazz place called the Celler. A year later, at age twenty-two, she followed Held to New York. A close friend of hers introduced her to Edith Stephen's dance classes, where Rainer would have attended her first adult dance class.
When twenty-seven, Rainer asked Reverend Al Carmines if her and her friends, Steve Paxton and Ruth Emerson, could perform at the Judson Memorial Church. She eventually formed her own company after the Judson performances ended.
Rainer's early dances were focused on sounds and movements. Later on, her dances became a mixture of classical steps and everyday pedestrian movement.
Rainer's first choreographed piece was in 1961 and it was called Three Satie Spoons, and it was a solo performed by her herself. Her performance made squeaking noises throughout the piece. She also said things like “The grass is greener when the sun is yellow”.
Rainer had a different chose in style. She had a fascination and with mixing dancers with non-dancers thus creating her 1963 performance, We shall run, with non dancers dressed in street clothes running around the stage creating floor patterns.
Rainer's choreography hit a turning point in 1964 by turning to game structures to create movement. She aimed to remove drama from her pieces. Her piece in 1966, Trio A was a short dance often remembered as a "task-oriented" dance because of the lack of repetition, thus to make dance more easy to see.
Rainer started filmmaking around 1972 and 1975. She focused on the feminist tone of her films, describing the distinctive nature of how the body was being viewed by the camera. Her movies addressed social and political issues.
A list of her movies includes :
Lives of Performers (1972)
Film About a Woman Who (1974),
Kristina Talking Pictures (1976)
The Man Who Envied Women (1985)
MURDER and murder (1996).
She even go as far as creating a movie of a lesbian romance story, that reflects on urban life and breast cancer. (Murder and murder), which featured herself.
Some of the topics she goes on to talk about are menopause, sexual dissatisfaction, separation, love triangles, and different personas.
Rainer practiced Feminism, and considered herself a "political lesbian". A political lesbian is a supporter of political lesbianism and supports the theory that sexual orientation is a feminist and political choice.
In 1990, Rainer was awarded with a MacArthur Fellows Program award for her contributions to dance and she received a reward in 2015 called the Foundation for Contemporary Arts's Merce Cunningham Award.
Rainer started to teach in the Whitney Independent Program ever since 1974. She also been emeritus professor at the University of California, Irvine since 2005.