Remembering Ballerina Rosella Hightower

Ballerina Rosella Hightower died last week at the age of 88. She was of Choctaw Indian ancestry, one of several famous Native American ballerinas from her home state of Oklahoma.

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JACKI LYDEN, host:

We take a moment now to remember the late Rosella Hightower, a dancer of Choctaw descent who became one of the world's prima ballerinas. When she was born in Oklahoma in January of 1920, the former territory had only been a state for 13 years. As a child, Hightower studied ballet in Kansas City. As a teenager, she danced with the original Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. She spent most of the rest of her life in Europe, a tall, dramatic, breathtaking principal dancer in many works.

In 1967, she returned to the United States to appear with three other acclaimed Native American ballerinas in Tulsa. One of them was the legendary Maria Tallchief. They premiered the work "Four Moons" to celebrate 50 years of Oklahoma statehood. Newsweek wrote, "Four such illustrious moon maidens were more than enough to transform the vision of ancient tribal glory."

When Hightower stopped performing at the age of 57, she became the first American ever to direct the Paris Opera Ballet. Hightower will be remembered not only by ballet fans, but also by the many students who studied with her in Cannes. Old footage of her performing her own choreography, "The Merry Wives of Windsor," shows a quirky, elegant dancer with a sense of fun. Rosella Hightower was 88 years old. She died this past week in Cannes.

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