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Maria “had never worked harder. But she had also never been happier,” –She Persisted: Maria Tallchief
She Persisted: Maria Tallchief
by Christine Day
AR Test, Diverse Characters, Strong Female
Maria “Betty” Tallchief was one of the most famous American ballerinas who trailblazed onto the international ballet scene, but her rise to prima ballerina did not come easy. As another installment in the She Persisted series, Maria’s story follows her from her early years through her rise to international stardom.
Maria Tallchief was raised as part of the Osage Nation in Oklahoma and moved to California as a child. Her mother signed Maria up for ballet, and she loved it. Although she faced adversity because of her mixed heritage, she persisted because she loved the sport. Desiring to be a professional ballerina, Maria worked hard and moved to New York City to pursue her dreams.
To help her stand out in the ballet world, “Betty” was encouraged to change her name. While she changed her first name to Maria, she adamantly refused to change her last name from Tallchief, as she was proud of her Osage heritage. Because of Maria’s hard work, she became one of the most famous American ballerinas, and she became the first American to dance with the Paris Opera Ballet and work with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, the famed Russian ballet company. Most famously, she performed the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker.
Among her other notable achievements as a ballerina, her signature role Firebird helped launch her fame, and she became the first American to perform at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow. Even in retirement, Maria continued to dedicate her time to ballet, moving to Chicago and opening her own ballet studio. She also continued her work in fighting for Native American rights in the United States, proudly speaking of her Osage heritage. Many organizations in Oklahoma to this day have dance studios and awards in her honor, including the University of Oklahoma’s Maria Tallchief Endowed Scholarship, which provides financial assistance to college-level dance students.
Young readers will find Maria Tallchief’s story engaging even if they don’t understand the magnitude of her fame and the scope of her impact on the ballet world. To help keep readers engaged, the book has short chapters and black-and-white illustrations that appear every three to five pages. Maria’s perseverance shines throughout the book and will appeal to a wide audience.
Readers who enjoyed Dancing in the Wings by Debbie Allen and other biographies will enjoy Maria’s story because both books show that dreams can come true. She Persisted: Maria Tallchief
ends with a list of ways that readers can be like Maria and highlights the importance of working hard to achieve your dreams. She Persisted: Maria Tallchief will appeal to readers interested in dance; however, it is also a worthwhile book for all young girls to read because it encourages chasing your dreams through dedication and passion, even in the face of adversity. For more inspirational dance-inspired stories twirl to the library and check out Parker Shines On by Parker Curry & Jessica Curry and Tallulah’s Ice Skates by Marilyn Singer.
- To help readers understand Maria’s upbringing, the book gives a brief overview of the Osage Nation. The narrator describes, “In the 1800s, the Osages and other Native Nations suffered in the area known as Indian Territory, which got smaller and smaller until it made up only most of what is now the state of Oklahoma . . . many Osage children were sent to boarding schools, and Osage elders could only share their histories and traditions in secret.”
Drugs and Alcohol
- Maria developed arthritis later in her life, and she treated it with “herbs and Tylenol.”
- Maria was often bullied by classmates for being Osage. Classmates made “war whoops” whenever they saw her. They asked her why she didn’t wear feathers in her hair. In addition, they made racist, hurtful comments about her father. They made fun of her last name, pretending to be confused by whether it was Tall or Chief.
- Maria is part of the Osage nation in Oklahoma, and they have their own religious beliefs and practices. The book notes that her parents “took the family to powwows held in remote corners of the Osage reservation. If they had been caught, they could have gotten in trouble. At the time, Native American ceremonies and gatherings were illegal. (And they would remain illegal until Congress passed the American Indian Religious Freedom Act in 1978, when Betty was fifty-three years old!)”