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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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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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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 ...