by Unknown Photographer
- Occupation: Ballerina
- Born: January 24, 1925 in Fairfax, Oklahoma
- Best known for: First Native American to become a prima ballerina
Maria Tallchief was born in Fairfax, Oklahoma
on the Osage Indian Reservation in 1925. Her mother, Ruth Porter, was a Scots-Irish woman who loved music and dance. Her father, Alexander Tallchief, was an Osage Indian who had become wealthy from oil discovered on the Osage land.
Growing up Maria enjoyed playing outdoors with her sister Marjorie. She also loved music and dancing. She played the piano and practiced dance with the local dance instructor. Sometimes her mother would let Maria and her sister listen to the music and watch the dancers from the Osage tribe as they celebrated their culture in secret.
Moving to Los Angeles
When Maria turned eight years old her family moved to Los Angeles, California. She was amazed when she first saw the Pacific Ocean. Right away she began taking dance lessons at Mr. Belcher's School of Ballet.
Maria's days were very busy. She would get up early each morning and practice the piano for an hour before school. Then she would practice another hour of piano after school and attend ballet lessons. It sounds like a lot of work, but Maria loved it.
Choosing to Dance
At the age of twelve her father told Maria that she had to choose dance or piano. She could not do both. It was a tough decision. She chose dance. She also began training at a new ballet school. Her new teacher was the famous Russian ballerina Madame Nijinska.
Madame Nijinska taught Maria for the next five years. Maria learned how to dance with power, grace, and emotion. She learned that perfection was not enough, but that she also had to feel and dance with the music.
Maria's dream was to join the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. When she was seventeen she moved to New York to pursue her dream. Soon she was a member of the famous Russian ballet company. She was such a good dancer that she became a featured soloist.
Maria traveled the world and danced in many of the most famous ballet houses in Europe. In 1947 she became the first prima ballerina of the New York City Ballet.
Maria retired from dancing in 1965. She founded the Chicago City Ballet with her sister in 1981.
Maria is considered by many to be one of the greatest dancers in the world. She won many honors throughout her career. Here is a list of a few of them:
- She was given the name Wa-Xthe-Thomba by the Osage people meaning "Woman of Two Worlds."
- She was awarded the Kennedy Center Honors in 1996 for her lifetime contributions to American culture.
- There is a statue of her and four other Native American ballerinas in Tulsa, Oklahoma called the Five Moons.
- She was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 1999.
Interesting Facts about Maria Tallchief
For more Native American History:
- Although she is known by the name Maria Tallchief, her family called her Betty Marie.
- Her sister Marjarie Tallchief also became a famous ballerina and was the first Native American to become the "premiere danseuse etoile", or the prima ballerina, in the Paris Opera Ballet.
- She married choreographer George Balanchine in 1946.
- She was famous for her role as the Sugarplum Fairy in The Nutcracker and for the lead role in the ballet Firebird.
- She appears in the 2005 award winning documentary Ballet Russes about the dancers of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo.