04.12.132:09 PM ET

Maria Tallchief, Native American Ballerina, Has Died

Native American ballerina was wife and muse to the legendary George Balanchine.

The first Native American prima ballerina has passed away at age 88, leaving behind a legend and a league of mourners. Born Elizabeth Marie Tall Chief, she shortened her name on the advice of Agnes de Mille. While dancing with the Ballet Russe, she met George Balanchine, and became his muse and wife for six years. (“Balanchine always married dancers,” Tallchief said. “I don't think he married people.”) She danced with the New York City Ballet for many years, originating such roles as the sugar plum fairy in Balanchine’s Nutcracker. Three decades after hanging up her tutu, she received the Kennedy Center Honors, in 1996. In retirement she noted the toll that a life in pointe shoes takes on the body, but agreed with her druggist when he asked, “It was worth it, wasn’t it?”