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November 30th, 2020: Famous Fridays Blog Post - Maria Tallchief

Born January 24, 1925, Maria Tallchief was the daughter of a father who was a member of the Osage tribe and a mother who was of Scottish-Irish descent. Tallchief is considered America's first major prima ballerina. She enjoyed a long career on stage, and after retiring from ballet, she continued to make TV appearances and became a champion for ballet. She received a National Medal of the Arts and a Kennedy Center Honor for her lifetime achievements.

“Onstage, Maria looks as regal and exotic as a Russian princess; offstage, she is as American as wampum and apple pie.”

Her image, both literal and social, is another aspect of her life that was compelling. It was her front page of Newsweek that crowned her, “the finest American-born ballerina the twentieth century had ever produced…”. The use of a literal crown in both articles, Newsweek and Time, the image of the “Native American Princess”. This brings back to depictions of the idealized Native woman, the peace bringer such as Pocahontas, a role model of femininity, and what was called civilization, integration, or assimilation. The trope Tallchief embodies is more complicated than merely playing the civilized Indian in her achievement of being the first-ever American Prima Ballerina, that she was a creator of western culture rather than an “assimilated Princess”.


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