Tanaquil Le Clercq (October 2, 1929, Paris, France – December 31, 2000, New York, New York) was a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet. Her dancing career ended abruptly when she was stricken with polio in Copenhagen during the company's European tour in 1956. Eventually regaining most of the use of her arms and torso, she remained paralyzed from the waist down for the rest of her life.
Le Clercq was the daughter of Jacques Le Clercq, a French intellectual, and his American wife, Edith (née Whittemore). Tanaquil studied ballet with Mikhail Mordkin before auditioning for the School of American Ballet in 1941, at which time she won a scholarship there.
When she was fifteen years old, George Balanchine asked her to perform with him in a dance he choreographed for a polio charity benefit. In an eerie portent of things to come, he played a character named Polio, and Le Clercq was his victim who became paralyzed and fell to the floor. Then, children tossed dimes at her character, prompting her to get up and dance again.
Years later, after being stricken with polio in real life, she reemerged as a dance teacher and, as one student recalled, "used her hands and arms as legs and feet."
Le Clercq's life and career are profiled in the 2013 documentary film Afternoon of a Faun: Tanaquil Le Clercq.
Le Clercq died of pneumonia in New York City at the age of 71.
- Le Clercq, Tanaquil (1964). Mourka: The Autobiography of a Cat. New York: Stein and Day. ASIN B0007EM4RG.
- Le Clercq, Tanaquil (1966). The Ballet Cook Book. New York: Stein and Day. ASIN B0006BOKE0.
- "Le Clercq contracts polio in Copenhagen". Time. 14 February 1969. ISSN 0040-781X.
- "Profile of Tanaquil Le Clercq". Ballet Encyclopedia. Retrieved 14 April 2014.
- Holden, Stephen (April 2014). "Afternoon of a Faun: Tanaquil Le Clercq (2013)". The New York Times.
- Kisselgoff, Anna (1 January 2001). "Tanaquil Le Clercq, 71, Ballerina Who Dazzled Dance World". The New York Times.
- Shell, Marc (2005). Polio and its aftermath: the paralysis of culture. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-01315-8.
- Brubach, Holly; Lassalle, Nancy; Bourscheidt, Randall; Martins, Peter (2004). Tanaquil Le Clercq 1929-2000. New York: Eakins Press Foundation.