Maria Tallchief (Elizabeth Tall Chief) is a trailblazer in the dance world. She was the first indigenous woman in America to become a prima ballerina and was one of the first world renowned prima ballerina from America. She was a part of the Osage Nation and passed away in 2013 at the age of 88. She began ballet at age 3, the beginning of a long and prosperous career. She was an exceptionally bright student and skipped two grades before her family moved from Fairfax to LA, at which point she was put back to her original grade level, but was part of an advanced program.
Maria studied multiple forms of dance; ballet, tap, Spanish dancing and acrobatics, in addition to piano. When she was 12 she began her studies with the Polish dancer/choreographer Bronislava Nijinska.
Growing up she had her last name as Tall Chief, but when she became a professional dancer she combined it into Tallchief. She became the first prima ballerina of the New York City Ballet, a position which she held for 13 years. If you have ever seen and enjoyed the Nutcracker Ballet, you have Maria to thank for it, since her work with the ballet helped make it hugely popular. She is also the first American dancer to perform at the Bolshoi Theatre.
She retired as a dancer in 1965, but remained an active part of the dance world. Maria performed all around the world and eventually settled back in Chicago where she founded the Chicago City Ballet, though that sadly only lasted for 6 years.
She received multiple awards, was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame and helped to break down barriers for many women in the dance world. She is part of a notable group called the Five Moons, which were 5 Native American ballerinas from Oklahoma, all of which became very prominent.
People who dance professionally have a level o f dedication I almost can’t imagine. The time, the pain and the sacrifice you go through to become the best in the demanding world of dance is just staggering.
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