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New Scholarships Honoring Osage Ballerinas Aim to Help Diversify the World of Dance

New Scholarships Honoring Osage Ballerinas Aim to Help Diversify the World of Dance

Historic file photo of Maria and Marjorie Tallchief

On June 26, 2020, the University of Oklahoma School of Dance announced two endowed scholarship opportunities for full-time dance majors. The Maria Tallchief Scholarship and the Marjorie Tallchief Scholarship were named in honor of the two sisters and members of the Osage Nation, whose Oklahoma upbringing during the 20th century would lead both of them to prestigious dancer careers and artistic legacies that have influenced the art of dance across the world.

The scholarships will be awarded annually and were designed to provide an opportunity to students who demonstrate financial need, come from a socioeconomical disadvantaged background, and/or are from an American Indian background.

OU School of Dance Director Michael Bearden said he was struck by the stories of the American Indian dancers from Oklahoma upon his arriving at OU in 2017 and decided it was only right to establish scholarships in their names.

“The intention behind these scholarships is that at a university level we can show our support and value dancers from all different backgrounds – not just those who had economic resources growing up,” Bearden said. “Dance is not cheap to participate in, and while we may not be able to fix all problems, we can place value on bringing dancers into our program from diverse backgrounds.”

Maria and Marjorie Tallchief are two of the five prominent American Indian dancers born in Oklahoma and known as the Five Moons. The other three dancers included Rosella Hightower, Moscelyne Larkin, and Yvonne Chouteau, the last of whom founded OU’s School of Dance along with her husband Miguel Terekhov, in 1963. Marjorie Tallchief is the last living member of the Five Moons.

Historic file photo of Marjorie Tallchief

Marjorie Tallchief

Historic file photo of Maria Tallchief

Maria Tallchief

“All five of these women came from tribal, cultural backgrounds in Oklahoma and had phenomenal careers in the world of dance,” Bearden said. “These scholarships are a great starting place for our school to hopefully help those who come from backgrounds that may have historically excluded them from high-level ballet and modern dance.”

Leslie Castillo, a freshman double major in modern dance performance and psychology, came to OU from Laredo, Texas, and said part of the reason she was drawn to OU was its acceptance of a student from a community with minimal opportunities for dance training.

“I started dancing pretty late as there weren’t a lot of resources for classical and technical training in my hometown,” Castillo said. “It was a struggle to get to the level of dancing I’m at now, but I felt appreciated and supported by the faculty at OU. Words can’t express how grateful I am for all of it.”

Castillo said the launch of these scholarships is especially important to her because dance wasn’t necessarily appreciated, nor was it fully accepted in her Hispanic culture. She said her hopes for the Tallchief Scholarships are to honor diverse dancers from the past while also paving a way for diversity within the world of dance moving forward.

“I know these scholarships will empower people to be proud of who they are and where they come from,” Castillo said. “It’s not only certain people from certain backgrounds who can achieve these dreams; it’s anyone.”

Kira Robinson, a freshman majoring in ballet performance with a pre-med minor, also pointed to the lack of diversity in the world of ballet and said that the creation of scholarships centered around diversity will open doors for people coming from minority backgrounds to pursue a career in dance.

“When I was looking at OU, I was specifically impressed with how progressive they were in regard to diversity,” Robinson said. “I think scholarships like these will definitely bring more people in and will continue to develop an inclusive and welcoming environment for people to pursue their dreams of dancing. They will help to bring the change that is much needed.”

Dancing at a collegiate level presents many benefits to preparing for a career in dance moving forward, but Robinson noted that having the opportunity to train in an inclusive environment, such as OU’s School of Dance, is also preparing her as an individual for life beyond college.

“You’re really able to mature as a dancer but also as a person,” Robinson said. “It’s really great what they’re doing here at OU, and on top of personal growth, I’m also receiving an education, so all of these things really contribute to growing as an individual.”

In a time where diversity and change are at the forefront of our lives, Bearden said he hopes the development of the Tallchief Scholarships will help under-represented students feel supported and act as a catalyst for ongoing change not only in the world of dance but in their everyday lives.

“Scholarships like these are in our DNA,” Bearden said. “Long-term, I hope they show the intentionality and the authenticity of our desire at OU, which is to be a more diverse and inclusive school. It’s a slow process, but like anything, if you keep making intentional actions, you will see change.”

For more information or to contribute to these scholarships, please contact David Barocio, the director of advancement for the Weitzenhoffer Family College of Fine Arts, at (405) 325-7376 or  

By Madysson Morris

Article Published:  Wednesday, April 7, 2021