Over time, Maria was promoted to an actual dancer in the company. As years went by, she worked harder and harder, earning more roles and special parts on stage. She even got to perform in tours and continued to study and learn whenever she had the downtime.
After a few years of gaining more attention for her performances from the press and other dance companies internationally, Maria started working at the New York City Ballet, where she became the “first prima ballerina” of the company in 1947 at only 22-years-old.
Maria danced in legendary roles at the NYC Ballet, like the Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker and the Swan Queen in Swan Lake. She often had to perform eight times a week and managed to wow audiences night after night.
Given her status as America’s first prima ballerina, audience members from all over the world would travel to see her perform. She held her title with the company for 13 years but performed with other companies like the Chicago Opera Ballet and Hamburg ballet when she could.
When Maria was 35 in 1960, she left the NYC Ballet to become a principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre. During her time with them, she did more touring around the world Bolshoi Theater in Moscow, Russia.
Maria decided to retire from dancing at the age of 41 in 1966. However, she moved to Chicago and did not stop working in the dance world. She used her knowledge and experience to become a ballet instructor and artistic director at the Lyric Opera Ballet.
She co-founded the Chicago City Ballet with her sister in 1981. Sadly, the studio closed years later, but she was still known for having a tremendous impact on dancers in Chicago.
Maria continued to work as an artistic advisor for the Chicago Festival Ballet until the end of her life. In 2012, she tragically broke her hip and died a few months later in 2013 due to complications from her injury. She was 88-years-old.
This iconic prima ballerina was not only astonishing for her gorgeous style as a dancer but for how she paved the way for other performers who didn’t look like everyone else. She was not only a great dancer but an advocate for Native American women and an inspiration to many.
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