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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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de Mille, Agnes (18 September 1905–06 October 1993), dancer, choreographer, and writer, was born Agnes George de Mille in New York City, the daughter of William Churchill de Mille, a playwright, and Anna George, the daughter of American single-tax economist Henry George. De Mille was born into one of the entertainment world’s most powerful families and was determined to make her own career independent of her father and her uncle, the movie director ...

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Fuller, Loie (15 January 1862–01 January 1928), dancer and choreographer, was born Marie Louise Fuller in Fullersburg, Illinois, the daughter of Reuben Fuller, a fiddler, farmer, and tavernkeeper, and Delilah (maiden name unknown). Little is known of her education, though she claimed to have given a recitation to a “freethinking” Sunday school class at age two-and-a-half....

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Graham, Martha (11 May 1894–01 April 1991), dancer, choreographer, and teacher, was born in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, the daughter of George Greenfield Graham, a physician who specialized in mental disorders, and Jane (Jennie) Beers. Her father was of Irish descent and her mother proudly claimed to be a descendant of ...

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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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Page, Ruth (22 March 1899–07 April 1991), dancer and choreographer, was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, the daughter of Lafayette Page, a brain surgeon, and Marian Heinly, a professional pianist and founder of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. Having decided at the age of five to become a ballerina, Ruth waited until she was twelve to begin professional training. Her early instruction included ballet lessons with Andreas Pavley and Serge Oukrainsky and fancy and skirt dancing with Anna Stanton. After meeting fifteen-year-old Ruth, world-famous ballerina Anna Pavlova encouraged her mother to allow Ruth to take summer ballet classes in Chicago with Pavlova’s company. Soon afterward Ruth Page joined the Anna Pavlova company on a tour of Latin America. On her return she attended the French School for Girls, a boarding school in New York, while studying dance under ...

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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 ...