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Marjorie Tallchief, famous Native American prima ballerina, dies

Marjorie Tallchief
Posted at 10:53 AM, Dec 06, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-06 13:52:02-05

TULSA, Okla. — Marjorie Tallchief, renowned as the first Native American “première danseuse étoile” at the Paris Opera Ballet, passed away on November 30 at her home in Florida. She was 95.

Tallchief was born on Oct. 19, 1926, and she grew up on the Osage Reservation in Fairfax, Okla.

Tallchief’s family eventually moved to Los Angeles so she and her sister, Maria, who would become one of the United States’ most famous prima ballerinas, could pursue dance training.

She first accepted the position of leading soloist in the Colonel de Basil’s Original Ballet Russe. From there, Tallchief joined the Nouveau Ballet de Monte Carlo, which was renamed the Grand Ballet Du Marquis de Cuevas in 1947.

Tallchief then became the first American and Native American to be “première danseuse étoile,” the highest rank a dancer can reach in the Paris Opera Ballet.

She regularly performed to great acclaim in ballets like Ariadne, Romeo and Juliet, and many others. Tallchief even performed for U.S. Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, and for French President Charles de Gaulle.

In 1965, Tallchief moved back to the United States to become a leading dancer with the Harkness Ballet in New York City. She then became a teacher and dance director for various ballet schools across the country. Tallchief finally retired to Delray Beach, Fl.

In 1991, she was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame. She and her sister Maria, along with five other Native American dancers, who were known as the Five Moons, were named Oklahoma Treasures at the Governor’s Arts Awards in 1997.

The Five Moons' legacy carries on today. They have been honored with sculptures in Tulsa and a mural at the Oklahoma State Capital. The University of Oklahoma's School of Dance celebrated the women's impact on ballet in 2021.

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