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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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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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Agnes de Mille In Three Virgins and a Devil. Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1941. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-121315).

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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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Loie Fuller. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-90931).

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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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Martha Graham With Bertram Ross. Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1961. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-116601).

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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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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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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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Littlefield, Catherine (16 September 1905–19 November 1951), choreographer and artistic director, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the daughter of James E. Littlefield, a newsreel pioneer, and Caroline Doebele. At the age of three she began study in her mother’s newly opened ballet school. Despite limited formal training, Littlefield’s mother was a prolific choreographer. In 1919 she was engaged to stage the production numbers for a musical called ...

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Mansfield, Portia (19 November 1887–29 January 1979), dance educator, choreographer, and camp director, was born Portia Mansfield Swett in Chicago, Illinois, the daughter of Edward R. Swett, a hotelkeeper, and Myra Mansfield. She received her early schooling in Winter Park, Florida, where the family moved in 1899, and, after another move, in New York City at Miss Morgan’s School for Girls (1903–1906). As a child, she danced for her own pleasure and, occasionally, for hotel guests. Entering Smith College in 1906, she majored in philosophy and psychology but also was exposed to the Delsarte System of Expression and gravitated toward the physical education department. She was instrumental in organizing a dancing class at Smith. Classmates remembered her clouds of red hair, her lissomeness and grace, and her vivacity....

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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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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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Ruth Page Photograph by Arnold Genthe, 1923. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-G401-T-4194).