Maria Tallchief


Jack Mitchell [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

PRIDE AND GRACE. Maria Tallchief receives a Dance Magazine award on April 28, 1961. During her lifetime, Tallchief received many accolades for her precise, graceful, and highly musical dancing. “Above all, I wanted to be appreciated as a prima ballerina who happened to be a Native American, never as someone who was an American Indian ballerina,” Tallchief once wrote.

Born in Fairfax, Okla. on Jan. 24, 1925, Maria Tallchief was America’s first major prima (lead) ballerina, making her a pioneer in a ballet world dominated by European and Russians.
Once Tallchief achieved this title, she held it for 18 years.
Tallchief danced with the Paris Opera Ballet, the Ballet Russe, and the Balanchine Ballet Society (now New York City Ballet). Dancing with the Balanchine Ballet Society, Tallchief met and had a short-lived marriage with choreographer George Balanchine.
Furthermore, Tallchief was born on the Osage Native American reserve. As the daughter of a tribe member, Tallchief took pride in her heritage; she is considered a trailblazer for Native American women.
During her career, Tallchief gained popularity quickly in the U.S. and abroad. After retiring, Tallchief became the Lyric Opera Ballet’s artistic director and later founded the Chicago City Ballet, holding the same position there.
In 1996, she became one of five artists who received Kennedy Center Honors for their contributions to American art. That year also saw her induction into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.
In 1999, the U.S. government presented Tallchief with the National Medal of Arts.
Tallchief passed away on April 11, 2013. She was 88 years old at the time.