Irlan Santos da Silva grew up in Rio de Janiero's most violent favela, the Complexo do Alemão, where his family still lives. He first discovered dance at the age of 12 when his cousin invited him to join a dance class and the teachers were quick to notice his talent; he won a scholarship to the Centro De Danca Rio and has never looked back. The elite world of classical ballet is in stark contrast with his upbringing and Irlan often says he is caught between the two opposing worlds, that of the favela and of ballet.
n 2004, he won first place and the "Revelation Dancer" prize at the Concelio Brasileiro de Dança. In 2005 he won first place at the Youth America Grand Prix finale in New York City, representing Brazil. In January of that same year he joined the company El Passo de Dança in Rio, directed by Dalal Achcar and Mariza Estrella. He won first place and the "Best Dancer" award at the XXIV Joinville Festival of Dance in Brazil in 2006. He was a winner at the 2008 Prix de Lausanne in Switzerland as well as the best contemporary dancer at the Youth America Grand Prix in New York City. Irlan joined ABT II, the junion company of American Ballet Theatre in September 2008.