Osage Ballerina Marie Tallchief Walks On at 88, ICTMN Staff.
O’siyo. We pay our respects to Elizabeth Marie Tallchief a member of the Osage Nation. Tallchief was the first person of American Indian descent to hold the title of “prima ballerina” in the world of dance. She is best known for her lead role in George Balanchine’s famous ballet The Firebird. Maria Tallchief walked on April 11, 2013.
“Osage ballerina Maria Tallchief broke ground for Native American ballet dancers and was not only one of George Balanchine’s wives, but an inspiration to him… Maria was born Elizabeth Marie Tall Chief on January 24, 1925 in Fairfax, Oklahoma and grew up on the Osage reservation [when she was 8 her family moved to Los Angeles, California]. When Maria was 12 she became a student at Bronislava Nijinska’s school in Beverly Hills…It was Nijinska who made Tallchief realize she wanted to be a dancer…She married famed choreographer George Balanchine in 1946 and joined the New York City Ballet in 1948, dancing to her husband’s choreography.Her marriage to Balanchine was short-lived —they divorced in 1951 but continued working together. One of her most famous roles was of the Sugar Plum Fairy in his 1954 production of The Nutcracker.
She originated roles as lead dancer in Balanchine’s ballet The Firebird in 1949 and Swan Lake in 1951… She didn’t achieve all her success without struggles growing up though. She speaks of dealing with stereotypes and being made fun of…Some of the students made fun of my last name, pretending they didn’t understand if it was Tall or Chief. A few made war whoops whenever they saw me, and asked why I didn’t wear feathers or if my father took scalps.
After a while, they became accustomed to me, but the experience was painful. Eventually, I turned the spelling of my last name into one word. Everything in school was in strict alphabetical order and I wanted to avoid confusion.”
Maria made a positive impact in the dance world, and has inspired many young Native Americans to study dance.
“A ballerina takes steps given to her and makes them her own. Each individual brings something different to the same role. As an American, I believe in great individualism. That’s the way I was brought up.” ~Maria Tallchief~ (January 24, 1925 – April 11, 2013)-Osage Nation-
We at Talking-Feather offer our prayers and positive energy to Maria and to her family.
There are many legends about how the Indians learned about the Talking Feather”. Here is one of them…
Long years ago, when gods walked this earth and the land beyond, Kanati and Asgaya Gigagei, were together enjoying the warm summer day. It was a day when the crickets chirrupted in the waving, green grass,when they noticed a figure moving towards them.
As the figure approached closer Kanati said “Look, that woman is crying, what could be the matter?” “I can not imagine why anyone would cry on such a glorious day.” Replied Asgaya Gigagei. “Let’s ask her.”
As the woman drew nearer, they could see her buckskin was decorated with beautiful designs and colors. She carried a bundle filled with leaves, sage, and colorful stones and feathers. They knew immediately this woman was a holy being.
Kanati asked her “Holy mother, why are you crying so?” The woman looked up in wonder, because she had been walking with her head down. “I’m crying because the men of my village are fighting constantly! Each thinks his ideas for leading the tribe is the best!” Kanati and Asgaya Gigagei glanced at one another, in perplexity. “Why, if there are so many good ideas for leading your tribe, why are the men fighting? And why aren’t you and the other members happy!” The poor woman shook her head sadly and replied, “Yes, you are right, the men do have very good ideas, but every man wants to speak his own ideas, and not listen to anyone else. They all shout and scream at one another so loudly, that it frightens the children who run and hide behind their mothers. The women are sad because their husbands come to the house upset and angry. Furthermore, the tribe is suffering, because no one can seem to make a decision.” Just then a beautiful Eagle was soaring overhead, Kanati called out “Brother Eagle, may I have one of your feathers, there are poor humans in desperate need!”
Bother Eagle replied “Yes” and shook himself until a single iridescent, large feather fell to the ground. “Many thanks and Blessings on you” said Kanati. Kanati made secret signs and prayers over the Feather. Asgaya Gigagei helped him with the blessings. Kanati then said to the woman “This is the sacred Talking Father, it holds great power for the one who holds it. Go back to your people, hold this feather up in the air, all who see it will fall silent, and listen to what you have to say. Tell all who listen that from now on, who ever holds this feather, all present within the Circle Council must listen to his words. The feather must then be passed on to the next speaker.”
The woman thanked Kanati and Asgaya Gigagei and hurried back to her village where there was total chaos!. Everyone was talking at once, children were crying, men were screaming at each other. As soon as she held the feather over her head, all became quiet! No one could utter a sound! the holy woman proceeded to give the directions given to her by the gods. She then passed the feather to the first man. He called the Talking Circle together, and each man had his say as he held the feather. From that time on that tribe flourished because they now had direction, and each person could hear and understand what their peers said. The people worked together, to build a great nation. Along the way, they shared the wonders of the Talking Feather with other tribes they met. “And that my friends is the true story of how the Talking Feather came to be!”