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George Balanchine In make-up and costume for Don Quixote, with Suzanne Farrell, 1965. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-120878).

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Balanchine, George (22 January 1904–30 April 1983), ballet choreographer, was born Georgii Melitonovich Balanchivadze in Saint Petersburg, Russia, the son of Meliton Balanchivadze, a composer, and Maria Nikolaevna Vasil’eva. Balanchine was of Georgian extraction on his father’s side; for this reason, he later insisted that his character owed more to Mediterranean culture than to Slav. He began piano lessons at the age of five, studying first with his mother, and was accepted into the ballet section of the Imperial Theater School, Saint Petersburg, in 1913. His financially straitened parents were motivated principally by the chance to secure him a free education. In addition to full board, the school offered a complete academic program as well as the finest dance instruction in the country; graduation guaranteed an income for life, first as a dancer, then as a teacher or coach, all subsidized by the tsar. As was customary for students, during his second year Balanchine performed with the Imperial Ballet troupe on the stage of the famed Maryinsky Theater; this crystallized his desire to dance. The ballet that so inspired him was ...

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Beatty, Talley (1919–29 April 1995), choreographer, dancer, and teacher, was born in Cedar Grove, Louisiana, the son of a house painter. His parents’ names are unknown. In the small town of Cedar Grove, right outside Shreveport, Beatty’s earliest dance influence was the legendary Katherine Dunham. When he was eleven years old, she invited him to “watch dances in progress,” according to historian Joe Nash, a close friend and colleague of Beatty. Dunham was in rehearsal for ...

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Judith Brin Ingber

Berk, Fred (25 January 1911–26 February 1980), dancer, was born Fritz Berger in Vienna, Austria, the son of Jacob Berger, a dairy owner, and Henrietta Blau. Berk was born into a Viennese Orthodox Jewish family to a stern father who apprenticed him at age fourteen to a goldsmith. Hunching over his metalwork led to back problems and the medical suggestion to study dance. This began a career that spanned continents and decades....

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Bolm, Adolph (25 September 1884–15 April 1951), dancer, teacher, and choreographer, was born Adol’f Rudol’fovich Bolm in Saint Petersburg, Russia, the son of Rudolf Bolm, a concertmaster and assistant conductor of the Mikhailovsky Imperial Theater Orchestra. His mother’s name is unknown. Among his four brothers, he was called “little bear” because of his ungainliness. Their home was filled with music and their father’s artist friends. By all accounts, these years formed Bolm’s love of all the arts as well as his inordinate vigor and sense of adventure....

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Christensen, Lew (06 May 1909–09 October 1984), ballet dancer, choreographer, and company director, was born Lewellyn Farr Christensen in Brigham City, Utah, the son of Christian Bjerregaard Christensen, a musician and teacher of social dances, and Mary Isabell Farr. Lew Christensen was raised in a family that emphasized developing one’s talents in music and dance. One uncle, Moses Christensen, was active in the American National Association, Masters of Dancing and served as that organization’s president in 1916–1917. Lew studied the cello under his father and began ballet training under another uncle, Lars Peter Christensen, who forwarded the talented nephew to the Italian maestro Stefano Mascagno in New York....

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Englund, Richard (09 April 1931–15 February 1991), artistic director and ballet educator, was born Richard Bernard Englund in Seattle, Washington, the son of Gustav Bernard Englund, an employee of Continental Can Co., and Frances Rachel Williams. Englund’s first encounter with dance was at Seattle’s Ballet Academy, where he was taught by former Ballet Russe dancers Marian and Illaria Obidenna Ladré. Already a teenager, he was past the optimum age for becoming a professional ballet dancer, but he persisted, eventually studying at Ivan Novikoff’s studio and in 1948 with ...

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Hawkins, Erick (23 April 1909–23 November 1994), dancer and choreographer, was born Frederick Hawkins in Trinidad, Colorado, the only son of an inventor. During his childhood he moved briefly to Pomona, California, and then to Kansas City, Missouri, where he completed his schooling in public schools. Receiving a scholarship to Harvard College from the local alumni association, he matriculated in 1926 and graduated four years later with a major in ancient Greek language and civilization....

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Erick Hawkins Performing in Martha Graham's ballet El Flagellante. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-92947).

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Horton, Lester (26 January 1906–02 November 1953), choreographer and teacher, was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, the son of Iredell Horton, a laborer, and Annie Lauders. Horton began a lifelong interest in American Indian traditions during elementary school and at eighth grade commencement was honored with a request to read his composition “The Indian in His Native Art.” While a high school student in 1922–1923 Horton saw performances of the American dance pioneers ...

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Joffrey, Robert (24 December 1928–25 March 1988), founder and artistic director of the Joffrey Ballet, was born Anver Joffrey in Seattle, Washington, the only child of Joseph (Dollha) Joffrey and Mary (Maria) Gallette, restaurant owners. He was also known as Anver Bey Abdullah Jaffa Khan. Joffrey was born with twisted feet that required him to wear casts. As a young boy he was bowlegged and severely asthmatic, and his family physician recommended that he participate in a regular exercise program. At nine he took boxing lessons. But Joffrey, who even in adulthood grew only to five feet four inches, was unsuited for the sport. He was subsequently enrolled in tap, ballroom, and theatrical dancing classes at a small studio above his parents’ restaurant. His response was instantaneous and zealous. He envisioned “choreographing a snowflake ballet down a ramp” and told his teacher, Dorothy Culper, that he intended someday to direct his own ballet company....

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Kirstein, Lincoln (04 May 1907–05 January 1996), ballet director, dance historian, and arts activist, was born Lincoln Edward Kirstein in Rochester, New York, the son of Louis E. Kirstein, a businessman, and Rose Stein Kirstein. In 1911 his family moved to Boston where his father became an executive of the upscale Filene's department stores. Kirstein grew up in a world of beautiful visual expression: finely crafted public sculpture, home furnishings, paintings, objets d'art, architecture, and clothing. He attended Boston public schools until the ninth grade, then studied briefly at Exeter, and finished high school at the Berkshire School for Boys. He studied drawing, piano, and dance. Although he never particularly excelled in academics, he demonstrated a deep desire to learn and absorb information....

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Limón, José (12 January 1908–02 December 1972), dancer and choreographer, was born José Arcadio Limón in Culiacán, Sinaloa, Mexico, the son of Florencio Limón, a musician, and Francisca Traslaviña. The family immigrated to the United States in 1915, eventually settling in Los Angeles. Limón attended the University of California for a year, but in 1928 he left school to pursue a career as a painter in New York. This proved to be an unhappy choice, when Limón realized his own painting would never match that of his idol, El Greco....

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Nikolais, Alwin (25 November 1910–08 May 1993), choreographer, designer, and composer, was born in Southington, Connecticut, the son of John Nikolais and Martha Heinrich. From an early age he studied music. During his high school years he was an organ accompanist for silent films at the Westport Movie House. In 1929 he graduated from Lewis High School in Southington....

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Ted Shawn Photograph by Arnold Genthe Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-G432-1353-F).

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Shawn, Ted (21 October 1891–09 January 1972), dancer, was born Edwin Meyers Shawn in Kansas City, Missouri, the son of Elmer Ellsworth Shawn, a newspaperman, and Mary Lee Booth, who was related to the Booth family of actors. As a youth, Shawn wanted to be both an actor and a preacher. He entered the University of Denver and studied for the Methodist ministry until, in his junior year, he contracted diphtheria. Experimental medication left his lower limbs temporarily paralyzed. To speed their recovery, he enrolled in a local ballet class. This conspicuous and courageous act shaped the eighteen-year-old Shawn’s future. Then in 1911 he saw for the first time ...

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Shook, Karel (29 August 1920–25 July 1985), ballet teacher and company director, was born in Renton, Washington, the son of Walter Shook and Ida Marie Tack. His father, an American from a Pennsylvania Dutch family, joined the British army in World War I, when he met and married Shook’s Belgian mother. He returned to the United States to work as an engineer, but the depression reduced the family’s circumstances to small-scale farming. Karel decided while still a child to be an actor, and at the age of thirteen he auditioned at the Cornish School of Allied Arts in Seattle. ...

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Skibine, George (30 January 1920–14 January 1981), ballet dancer, choreographer, and company director, was born Iurii Borisovich Skibin in Yasnaya Polyana, Russia, the son of Boris Skibin, an actor and dancer, and Vera Hobe. Two years after George’s birth, the Skibines immigrated to Paris. Boris Skibine became a member of Serge Diaghilev’s famed Ballets Russes in 1923, and young George, known as Youra, was indoctrinated into the world of ballet. He was educated at the Lycée Albert de Mun and was fascinated by science. By the age of sixteen, however, he began to study ballet, working first with his father and then with two great Russian émigrée ballerinas, Olga Preobrajenska and Lubov Egorova, and ex-Bolshoi Ballet star Alexandre Volinine....

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Waring, James (01 November 1922–02 December 1975), dancer and choreographer, was born in Alameda, California. Little is known of his early life, family background, or education. In his late teens he began studying dance in San Francisco with Raoul Pausé, who taught both ballet and a form of modern dance, and later studied with Gertrude Shurr, a proponent of the ...

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Winfield, Hemsley (20 April 1907–15 January 1934), actor and dancer, was born in Yonkers, New York, the son of Osbourne Winfield, a civil engineer, and Jeraldine (maiden name unknown but perhaps Hemsley), an actress and playwright. Educated at public schools, Winfield showed an early interest in theater, perhaps prompted by his mother’s involvement. In 1924 he received his first role in a major production, in ...