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Tallchief stayed true to her Osage heritage as America’s first prima ballerina

Elizabeth Marie Tallchief was born on January 24, 1925 in Fairfax, Okla. She was the daughter of an Osage Indian father and a Scottish-Irish mother.

The family moved to Los Angeles where Maria and her younger sister, Marjorie, learned from distinguished teachers who came from prominent ballet companies.

After high school she moved to New York City and was selected as an understudy in the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo where she first met legendary choreographer George Balanchine.

In 1942, when one of the lead ballerinas suddenly stepped down and Tallchief was called to stand in, her unique performance got her noticed by critics.

As Tallchief became more popular, many suggested she change her last name so that she wouldn't be discriminated against for being Native American, but Tallchief kept her Osage name.

In 1947 she became the first American to dance with the Paris Opera Ballet and became prima ballerina of the New York City Ballet that same year, solidifying her career.

She married Balanchine who created her signature role in “Firebird.” Tallchief is also known for her roles as the Swan Queen in “Swan Lake,” the Sugar Plum Fairy in “The Nutcracker,” and countless more.

Tallchief performed at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow in 1960, making her the first American to do so.

After retiring from dancing in the late 1960’s, Tallchief and her sister, Marjorie, opened the Chicago City Ballet dance company and school.

In 1996, Tallchief received the Kennedy Center Honors and was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame.

She died on April 11, 2013 at the age of 88 in Chicago.

Maria Tallchief broke barriers for Native American women and was called by the New York Times “one of the most brilliant American ballerinas of the 20th century."

The U.S. Mint announced Maria Tallchief will be one of the five 2023 honorees of the American Women Quarters Program

Maria Tallchief- Biography.com
Maria Tallchief- National Women’s History Museum
Maria Tallchief, a Dazzling Ballerina and Muse for Balanchine, Dies at 88- New York Times

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Jeanette DeDios is from the Jicarilla Apache and Diné Nations and grew up in Albuquerque, NM. She graduated from the University of New Mexico in 2022 where she earned a bachelor’s degree in Multimedia Journalism, English and Film. She’s a former Local News Fund Fellow. Jeanette can be contacted at jeanettededios@kunm.org or via Twitter @JeanetteDeDios.
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