Tanaquil Le Clercq

Tanaquil Le Clercq

American dancer, leading performer at the New York City Ballet
Date of Birth: 02.10.1929
Country: USA

Content:
  1. Tanakil LeClercq: A Life in Dance and Resilience
  2. Rising Talent in Ballet
  3. A Remarkable Career
  4. Love, Illness, and Resilience

Tanakil LeClercq: A Life in Dance and Resilience

Tanakil LeClercq was an American dancer and leading performer in the New York City Ballet. Her dance career, which had reached its peak, was unexpectedly cut short when she contracted polio and was paralyzed from the waist down. Born on October 2, 1929, in Paris, Tanakil was the daughter of French intellectual Jacques Le Clercq and his American wife Edith Whittemore Le Clercq. She was named after Tanakil, the ruler of the Etruscans, and was affectionately called Tani by her close friends and family. When she was three years old, her family moved to the United States.

Tanaquil Le Clercq

Rising Talent in Ballet

Tanakil began taking ballet lessons from Mikhail Mordkin, a Russian dancer and ballet master who had worked with Sergei Diaghilev. In 1941, her undeniable talent caught the attention of professionals, and she was offered a scholarship to study at the School of American Ballet (SAB), one of the most prestigious ballet schools in the world. At fifteen years old, George Balanchine, one of the greatest choreographers of the 20th century, invited Tanakil to dance with him in a charity performance for polio patients. Balanchine danced the role of Polio, while Tanakil portrayed his paralyzed victim. Children would throw dimes at LeClercq, and she would rise and continue dancing.

Tanaquil Le Clercq

A Remarkable Career

By the age of seventeen, Tanakil was already dancing leading roles in the Ballet Society, which later became the New York City Ballet under Balanchine's direction. Balanchine personally guided her training from a young age and nurtured her into a dancer who perfectly embodied his choreography. In her first year with the company, Balanchine entrusted her with a solo role in his renowned ballet "The Four Temperaments." When Tanakil turned twenty-one, he created the lyrical ballet "La Valse" specifically for her. Besides Balanchine, esteemed choreographers Jerome Robbins and Merce Cunningham created thirty-two roles specifically for Tanakil. Her physical attributes, including elongated body lines and incredible flexibility, combined with precise and strong technique, formed the foundation of her talent.

Tanaquil Le Clercq

Love, Illness, and Resilience

On Christmas day of 1952, Balanchine proposed to Tanakil, and on the first day of the new year, they were married. Despite their twenty-five-year age difference, they had a loving and productive partnership. However, tragedy struck in 1956 when the New York City Ballet was touring in Europe. In Copenhagen, Tanakil fell ill and was hospitalized, only to discover that she had contracted polio, permanently robbing her of the ability to dance and walk. While recovering in a Danish medical center specializing in polio treatment, she received visits from the Queen of Denmark. Upon her return to the United States, Balanchine took a year-long sabbatical to care for her himself.

Tanaquil Le Clercq

In 1969, at the age of sixty-five, Balanchine divorced Tanakil after sixteen years of marriage, citing irreconcilable differences – in other words, he had fallen in love with someone else. They had no children together. Despite the divorce, LeClercq remained friends with Balanchine and visited him daily during his final years when he was seriously ill. Over time, LeClercq adjusted to her condition and filled her life with other endeavors. In 1964, she published her book "Mourka: The Autobiography of a Cat," followed by "The Ballet Cook Book" three years later. From the 1970s onwards, LeClercq dedicated herself to teaching and worked at the Dance Theatre of Harlem. Students remember her using her hands as if they were her legs – such was her persuasive power. She also had a passion for photography and enjoyed creating intricate crossword puzzles.

Tanakil LeClercq, the captivating ballerina of the 1940s and 1950s, passed away on December 31, 2000, at the age of seventy-one, from pneumonia in New York City. Despite the challenges she faced, she left an indelible mark on the world of dance and inspired countless individuals with her resilience and passion for life.

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