Maria Tallchief, First Native-American Prima Ballerina
In the 1940s, Elizabeth Marie Tallchief became America's first major prima ballerina as well as the first Native American to ever assume that role.
She was born Jan. 24, 1925, in Fairfax, OK, and grew up on the Osage tribal reservation. Her mother put her in ballet classes at the age of 3 and shortly thereafter moved the family to Los Angeles so that her daughters could pursue professional careers in Hollywood. At the time, many American dancers were choosing to adopt Russian stage names to grant them further pedigree, but Tallchief, proud of her heritage, refused to do so.
Tallchief went on to achieve fame with the New York City Ballet, performing for audiences around the world and playing muse to choreographer George Balanchine (her eventual husband). She originated such famous roles as the title role in Stravinsky’s Firebird, the swan queen in Balanchine's Swan Lake, the sugar plum fairy in the The Nutcracker, Eurydice in Orpheus, and principal roles in Sylvia Pas de Deux, Allegro Brillante, Pas de Dix, and Scotch Symphony. She received a Kennedy Center Honor in 1996 and was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame prior to passing away at the age of 88 in 2013.