Native American Heritage Spotlight Maria Tallchief

This month, in celebration of Native American Heritage Month, we will be highlighting some of the many remarkable contributors to Indian country. In no way is this list comprehensive or extensive. For the next 30 days we will present a brief biography a day.

Maria Tallchief (1925-2013) was a revolutionary American ballerina who broke barriers for Native American women.

Elizabeth Marie “Betty” TallChief (Osage family name: Ki He Kah Stah Tsa; ) was a world-renowned ballerina and one of the premiere American ballerinas of all time.

Maria began ballet and piano lessons at the age of three and frequently performed before civic organizations in Osage County. By age eight she and her sister had exhausted the training resources in Oklahoma, and the family moved to Beverly Hills, California. Although her mother hoped she would be a concert pianist, Maria devoted more and more of her time to dance. At one of her performances she devoted half of her program to the piano and half to dance.

She was the first American to dance at the Paris Opera and has danced with the Paris Opera Ballet, the Ballet Russe, and the Balanchine Ballet Society, later renamed the New York City Ballet. She was considered America’s first major prima ballerina and was the first Native American to hold the rank.

Maria joined the New York City Ballet in 1948. She quickly became recognized as one of the greatest dancers in the world. When she became the prima (lead) ballerina, she was the first American dancer to achieve this title. She held that title for eighteen years, until she retired in 1966.

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