Marjorie Tallchief, Trailblazing Native American Ballerina, Dies at 95

December 20, 2021

Marjorie Tallchief, renowned as the first American and Native American première danseuse étoile at the Paris Opéra Ballet, passed away on November 30 at her home in Delray Beach, Florida. She was 95. 

A member of the Osage Nation, Marjorie was the last surviving dancer of the “Five Moons”—Native American ballerinas from Oklahoma who rose to prominence in the dance world during the 20th century. Along with her older sister, New York City Ballet star Maria Tallchief, plus Rosella Hightower, Moscelyne Larkin and Yvonne Chouteau, the Five Moons performed with leading companies both in the U.S. and in Europe, became artistic directors and founded schools during a time when the field was heavily focused on Russian dancers. 

Born on October 19, 1926, in Denver, Tallchief spent her early childhood on the Osage reservation in Fairfax, Oklahoma, before moving with her family to Los Angeles, where she and her sister pursued ballet training. In addition to performing with the Paris Opéra Ballet from 1957 to 1962, Tallchief also appeared with Ballet Theater (now known as American Ballet Theatre), the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, Grand Ballet du Marquis de Cuevas, Harkness Ballet and Chicago Opera Ballet. Her most acclaimed roles were in Night Shadow (1950), Annabel Lee (1951), Idylle (1954), Romeo and Juliet (1955) and Giselle (1957). During her career, Tallchief performed for heads of state, including U.S. presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, and French president Charles de Gaulle.

She married dancer, choreographer and artistic director George Skibine in 1947. (Skibine also performed as a danseur étoile with the Paris Opéra Ballet in the same period as his wife.) After retiring from the stage in 1966, Tallchief went on to teach at the Dallas Civic Ballet Academy and acted as a dance director for the Dallas Ballet. She served as the director of dance at the Harid Conservatory in Boca Raton, Florida, from 1989 to 1993. 

In this black and white photo, Marjorie Tallchief does an attitude derriere in effacé with her left leg up. She arches back with her upper body and looks toward the camera, reaching her arms out and behind her. Tallchief wears a white tutu,tights and pointe shoes and a feathered headpiece with a small tiara.
Marjorie Tallchief. Courtesy OU School of Dance

In 2020, the University of Oklahoma School of Dance announced two new endowed scholarships in honor of the Tallchief sisters, the Marjorie Tallchief Endowed Scholarship and the Maria Tallchief Endowed Scholarship, honoring the legacies they each established in the world of dance and carrying that into the future. 

Tallchief is survived by her sons, Alexander and George Skibine, and her grandchildren, Alexandre, Nathalie, Adrian and Trevor Skibine. Her son Alexander says, “She was the most self-disciplined and ethical person I ever met.”