Maria Tallchief (January 24, 1925) is a now-retired American ballerina.
From 1942 to 1947 she danced with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, but she is best known for her time with the New York City Ballet from 1947 to 1965.
She was born Betty Marie Tall Chief in Fairfax, Oklahoma on January 24, 1925, to an Osage Nation father and a Scotch-Irish mother.
Of her childhood she wrote, "I was a good student and fit in at Sacred Heart (Catholic school). But in many ways, I was a typical Indian girl â€” shy, docile, introverted. I loved being outdoors and spent most of my time wandering around my big front yard, where there was an old swing and a garden. I'd also ramble around the grounds of our summer cottage hunting for arrowheads in the grass. Finding one made me shiver with excitement. Mostly, I longed to be in the pasture, running around where the horses were..."
She enjoyed music and dancing; her desire to pursue a career in the arts constituted a considerably challenging dream for a Native American child in those days. She studied ballet with Bronislava Nijinska for five years. Madame Nijinska's philosophy of discipline made sense to Tallchief. "When you sleep, sleep like ballerina. Even on street waiting for bus, stand like ballerina." Betty Marie continued to work hard and mastered technical skills well beyond her years. She premiered, nervously, at the Hollywood Bowl.
A refined professional, Maria Tallchief, as she called herself, left Los Angeles at the age of 17 and auditioned in New York City. She joined the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and quickly rose to the status of featured soloist.
Choreographer George Balanchine wrote several of his most famous works for her; the two were married from 1946 until their divorce in 1952. They had no children. She was the first prima ballerina of the New York City Ballet from 1947 to 1960, where Balanchine was the principal choreographer. Her performance of Balanchine's The Firebird in 1949 and their earlier collaboration at the Paris Opera elevated Maria Tallchief onto the world stage. She also originated the role of the Sugarplum Fairy in Balanchine's version of The Nutcracker.
Much of the world had never seen anything like Maria Tallchief. Admired by millions, she became America's preeminent dancer. In 1953, President Dwight Eisenhower declared her Woman of the Year.
When the Governor of Oklahoma honored her that same year for her international achievements and her proud Native American identity, Maria Tallchief was named Wa-Xthe-Thomba (Woman of Two Worlds).
She continued to dance with the American Ballet Theatre through 1965, when her retirement saddened the artistic world. With her sister Marjorie, she founded the Chicago City Ballet in 1981 and served as its artistic director through 1987.