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The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture

Rosella Hightower
(2012.201.B1258.0323, Oklahoma Publishing Company Photography Collection, OHS).


Ballerina, teacher, and dance director of Choctaw descent, Rosella Hightower was born in Durwood, Oklahoma, on January 30, 1920, the only child of Charles Edgar and Eula May Flanning Hightower. When Hightower was five years old, her father obtained a job with the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railway and moved the family to Kansas City, Kansas. At thirteen she began training with Dorthy Perkins, a local teacher. She later studied in New York with Michel Fokine, Anatole Vilzak, and Alexandra Fedorova.

In 1938 Hightower began her professional career. She has since performed with several companies, including Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo (1938–41), Ballet Theatre (1941–45), Original Ballet Russe (1945–47), Grand Ballet du Marquis de Cuevas (1947–53 and 1957–62), and American Ballet Theatre (1955–57). In 1962 she founded the Center for Classical Dance, a school in Cannes, France, modeled after her own ideas of multidisciplinary training. She was appointed director of the Marseilles Opera Ballet (Marseilles, France, 1969–72), and then of Ballet de Nancy (France, 1975–78). In 1981 she became the first American director of the Ballet of Paris Opera.

Hightower was married briefly to ballet dancer Mischa Resnikov in 1938. She later married French designer and artist Jean Robier in Paris, France, in 1952. Their only child, Dominique Robier, was born on February 18, 1955, in Kansas City. In 2001 Hightower transferred the directorship of her school to Moniques Loudieres, a former student and principal dancer. She was made Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur, France's premier honor, in 1975. She was also depicted in November 1991 in the mural Flight of Spirit, by Mike Larsen, which depicts Oklahoma's five Indian ballerinas. The mural is on display in the Great Rotunda of the Oklahoma State Capitol. During Rosella Hightower's career she performed throughout the world and is generally considered an aristocrat of ballet dancing. She died on November 4, 2008, in Cannes, France.

Candy Franklin Short

Learn More

Martha Bremser, ed., International Dictionary of Ballet, Vol. 1 (Detroit, Mich.: St. James Press, 1993).

Nicole Flender, "The Rosella Hightower School has been training professional dancers for over 40 years on the French Rivera," Dance Spirit (January 2003).

Lili Cockerille Livingston, American Indian Ballerinas (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997).


The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Candy Franklin Short, “Hightower, Rosella,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry?entry=HI003.

Published January 15, 2010

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