Maria Tallchief died a few days ago. She was a truly beautiful dancer – just look at her hands alone in this video.
She had few equals.
Forgive me for striking a somewhat sour note at her death. I was first introduced to the name Maria Tallchief in elementary school as a “great Native American.” What bullshit. That’s like introducing Duke Ellington as a “great African American.” The impulse to celebrate these artists is admirable, but they can’t be pigeonholed. As Duke says,
Let’s see. My people. Now, which of my people? I mean, you know I’m in several groups, you know, I’m in…let’s see. I’m in the group of the piano players; I’m in the group of the listeners; I’m in the group of people who have general appreciation of music; I’m in the group of those who aspire to be dilettantes; I’m in the group of those who attempt to produce something fit for the plateau; I’m in the group of what? … Now, oh yeah- those who appreciate Beaujolais. Well, and then of course…..I’ve had a strong influence by the music of the people. That’s the better word- the people, rather than my people, because the people are my people.
We should know about Maria Tallchief and Duke Ellington not because they represent minorities, but because they represent us. They are us – at our very best.