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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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Dollar, William (20 April 1907–28 February 1986), dancer, choreographer, and teacher, was born in East St. Louis, Illinois, the son of Edward Dollar, a Hungarian grocer, and Catherine Hoffman. Because his mother was opposed to dance he did not inform her when, in his senior year of high school, he began taking classes in “acrobatic adages” with a local teacher, a Miss Clark, who did not charge him. There he was seen by Bob Alton, who immediately billed him and his partner into the vaudeville shows that were given between films at the Missouri Theatre. Alton’s wife then sent Dollar to New York to see Mikhail Mordkin, the Russian dancer and teacher, who got him a scholarship at the Murray Anderson school, where Mordkin taught. In 1930 Dollar went with the Mordkin company to Philadelphia, where that same year ...

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Ito, Michio (13 April 1892–06 November 1961), choreographer, performer, and teacher, was born in Tokyo, the son of Tamekichi Ito, an architect, friend of Frank Lloyd Wright, and the first Japanese to graduate from the University of California, and Kimiye Iijima, the daughter of a zoologist. As a youth in Japan Michio had a close association with Noh, the traditional, stylized lyric drama of Japan, and also received training in the popular theatrical form, kabuki. In 1911 he traveled to Paris and Berlin where he saw ...

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Piro, Frank (02 March 1921–07 February 1989), dance instructor, was born in New York City, the son of Patsy Ralph Piro, a tailor, and Teresa Salimbene. A self-described “skinny, ugly kid who needed to be a good dancer in order to get dates,” Piro began learning to dance as a teenager at the Green Robins, a social club in East Harlem. He had dropped out of school after completing the eighth grade in order to work at construction jobs and in a plastics factory to help support his family. He soon began winning cash prizes in dance contests at Harlem’s Savoy Ballroom, the country’s premier swing dance hall. At age seventeen Piro was accepted into the Savoy 400s, an elite group of jitterbug dancers, and he received the group’s ring that entitled him to enter the ballroom at a discounted price....

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Weidman, Charles Edward, Jr. (22 July 1901–15 July 1975), dancer, choreographer, and teacher, was born in Lincoln, Nebraska, the son of Charles Edward Weidman, a fire chief, and Vesta Hoffman, a Midwest roller skating champion. During the building of the Panama Canal, Weidman’s father served as head of the fire departments in the canal zone, so Weidman spent some of his youth in Panama. As a teenager he studied dance in Lincoln with Eleanor Frampton, performing in state pageants and in the chorus of local opera productions. Interested in ancient civilizations, archaeology, and history, he was enthralled by the Egyptian, Grecian, and East Indian dances performed by the Denishawn company on a visit to Lincoln in 1916. He determined then that dancing with this company was what he wanted to do....