Maria Tallchief was born in Fairfax, Oklahoma, in 1925. She studied in Los Angeles with Ernest Belcher and Bronislava Nijinska, and later at the School of American Ballet in New York. She danced with Serge Denham's Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo from 1942 to 1947. She was married to Balanchine from 1946 to 1951 and became the leading ballerina of the New York City Ballet. A muse of Balanchine, who created over 25 roles for her. She was the first truly virtuosic American ballerina. Firebird was her most important role.