Oklahoma Higher Education Campus E-Clips sponsored by the Communicators Council

June 2014

OSU-OKC Adjunct Presents Family History at Diversity Forum: The Story of Maria Tallchief

Prima Ballerina Maria Tallchief.

Pictured is an undated photo of Maria Tallchief, the first Native American prima ballerina.

OSU-Oklahoma City adjunct writing instructor Russ Tallchief was recently asked to present at the University of Arizona’s 20th anniversary “A Day of Diversity” forum where he spoke about his great aunt, Maria Tallchief, who was the first Native American prima ballerina.

As a writer and researcher, Russ Tallchief, of the Osage Tribe, was contracted to write a book about Maria’s life. He has spent the last several years visiting her in Chicago gathering information, but more importantly, establishing an even closer family tie than ever until her death a little over a year ago.

“A Day of Diversity” forum was something Russ had wanted to do for quite some time. He felt Maria’s story was more than just unique to the Osage Tribe.

“My aunt was really an ambassador for all Native American people in the United States,” said Russ. “It was more, I think, a tribute since it was the 20th anniversary to someone who was emblematic in our history, not only for Native American history, but also just American people in general.”

Maria’s dancing career began in the 1940s and lasted until the 1960s. Originally from Fairfax, Okla., Maria left to perform with the Ballet Russes and traveled the world. “She was different, physically, than other dancers,” said Russ.

“Because she was half American Indian, half Scots-Irish, she had strong native physicality that made her stand out in terms of the way she looked, but also in the way she moved. It was really unique.” Her career eventually led her to George Balanchine, one of the 20th century’s most famous ballet choreographers, whom she was married to for a short time.

Russ has been a writing instructor at OSU-OKC since 2012 and is also the Art Galleries editor for Native Peoples magazine. Russ said his immediate next goal is to finish the book he started about Maria. He said he often finds OSU-OKC students to be an inspiration. “The students I have in my classes are so devoted,” he said. “They are here sometimes against great odds. Some of them are really stories in and of themselves.”

Russ said he approaches his classroom with the attitude of working together. “A lot of times the students are parents… juggling work, kids, school. They know from day one that I’m on their team and I want them to succeed. I will do everything I can to help them succeed,” he said.

The “A Day of Diversity” forum was a collaboration of the Family Center of Conciliation Courts in Tucson, Ariz., the University of Arizona American Indian Studies program and the Superior Court Training and Education Division.

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