#TBT: "Baby Ballerina" Tamara Toumanova

May 26, 2021

Tamara Toumanova graced her first of several Dance Magazine covers for the May 1936 issue, when the publication was still called The American Dancer. Though only 17 at the time, she was already a seasoned soloist. She gave her first performance as a very young child mere months after starting ballet lessons in Paris, when Anna Pavlova selected her to dance for a benefit concert.

At 12, Toumanova was spotted by George Balanchine when he came to observe her class and, at his urging, she was hired to dance lead roles for the debut season of Colonel de Basil and René Blum’s Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, becoming one of the troupe’s famed “baby ballerinas.” Dubbed “the black pearl of the Russian ballet,” she quickly became an international star, enjoying a globe-trotting career that also saw her perform on Broadway and appear in a number of Hollywood films (including Invitation to the Dance, directed by Gene Kelly, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes and Alfred Hitchcock’s Torn Curtain).

In the March 1966 issue of Dance Magazine, she said, “One cannot take away the glamor that is ballet’s natural heritage. Elegance and clarity, sparkle and illusion—these are a part of ballet. In certain ways, the ballet is like a crystal chandelier. Through its beautiful forms may shine many exquisite and eloquent qualities.” She passed away in 1996, at age 77.