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Google Doodle celebrates Maria Tallchief, Native American prima ballerina

In celebration of Native American Heritage Month, Google has replaced its homepage logo with a Doodle video honoring Maria Tallchief, the first Native American prima ballerina.

Maria Tallchief was born on January 24, 1925, as Elizabeth Marie Tall Chief to a wealthy member of the Osage Nation and his Scottish-Irish wife. She grew up on the Osage reservation in Fairfax, Oklahoma, and was enrolled in piano and ballet lessons by her mother — who herself wished she could have had dancing lessons as a child — from age 3.

Unfortunately, these years of early lessons from various instructors proved harmful and needed to be unlearned, but Maria Tallchief persevered under the tutelage of a new instructor after her family moved to Los Angeles. Many of her teen years were spent re-learning ballet as well as other dance styles like Spanish dancing.

Her time in the spotlight then began after moving to New York City, where she took on the name “Maria Tallchief” and was able to work with the soon-to-be-famous choreographer George Balanchine. Balanchine recognized the talent in Tallchief, and she, in turn, saw the elegance of his ballets, leading to a strong working relationship between the two.

Years later, Balanchine helped create the New York City Ballet, of which Maria Tallchief was the first prima ballerina. In her time with New York City Ballet, Maria Tallchief performed in numerous ballets, and her performance as the Sugar Plum Fairy is said to have helped propel The Nutcracker to massive American popularity.

Today’s Google Doodle offers a short, yet moving video preview of some of Maria Tallchief’s most famous ballets, including The Nutcracker, Swan Lake, and The Firebird. To learn a bit more about who Tallchief was and what she believed ballet was really about, be sure to watch Google’s latest Behind the Doodle video, which features Tallchief’s daughter as well as clips from an interview with the prima ballerina herself from when she was still alive.

As for why Google chose this particular day to honor Maria Tallchief, in addition to it being Native American Heritage Month, on November 14, 2007, a statue entitled Five Moons was unveiled in Tulsa, Oklahoma, commemorating five incredible Native American ballet dancers hailing from Oklahoma. Both Maria and her sister Marjorie Tallchief are depicted as part of Five Moons.

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Avatar for Kyle Bradshaw Kyle Bradshaw

Kyle is an author and researcher for 9to5Google, with special interests in Made by Google products, Fuchsia, and Stadia.

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