This Prima Ballerina Broke Down Ethnic Barriers in the Dance World
Who: Maria Tallchief, America’s first major prima ballerina and the first Native American to achieve the status of prima ballerina; January 24, 1925–April 11, 2013
Why She Dazzles: Russian and European dancers dominated the stage but Maria broke down ethnic barriers in the dance world when she became one of the most famous ballerinas.
Why You Need to Know Her Today: BITD, the New York City Ballet was not a place to see or be seen by glamorous people (à la this decade: Sarah Jessica Parker). The company began in 1948, interesting few New Yorkers. When Maria joined her performances made the company flourish, and she drew the crowds in every time she danced. The New York City Ballet remains one of the preeminent ballet companies in the world.
What She Would Say Today—Because She Said It Then: "From your first plié you are learning to become an artist. In every sense of the word you are poetry in motion."
What the Ladies Rocked Then: While cocktail rings and costume jewelry were all the rage in Hollywood in the late 1940s, the only costume that Maria needed was for her dance performances. Bright colors in an array of precious stones were popular, like rubies and sapphires, because thankfully the war was over and patriotic motifs were abundant.
How You Can Rock It Now: Maria rocked the “diamond look” so that the audience could see her earrings sparkle while she danced. Ballerinas usually wear small, delicate earrings, but a brilliant dancer like Maria deserves the most brilliant gem that glitters.
Where She May Like to Instagram: Oklahoma. Although she spent only eight years in her hometown of Fairfax, Oklahoma, she learned the traditions of the Osage tribe. The state of Oklahoma later honored Maria for her international achievements as a prima ballerina and the Osage Nation bestowed her the name Wa-Xthe-Thomba, meaning “Woman of Two Worlds.” Today her statue appears alongside four other Native American ballerinas from Oklahoma in front of the Tulsa Historical Society.
Shop the Sparkle: Diamond Dancer
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