Maria TallChieft is America's first Prima Ballerina.
At age 17, she moved to New York City in search of a spot with a major ballet company, and, at the urging of her superiors, took the name Maria Tallchief. She spent the next five years with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, where she met choreographer George Balanchine. When Balanchine co-founded what would become the New York City Ballet in 1946, Tallchief became the company's first star.
The combination of Balanchine's difficult choreography and Tallchief's passionate dancing revolutionized the ballet. Her 1949 role in The Firebird catapulted Tallchief to the top of the ballet world, establishing her as a prima ballerina. Her role as the Sugarplum Fairy in The Nutcracker transformed the ballet from obscure to America's most popular.