Tanaquil LeClercq (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.
She 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 15 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 LeClercq 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."
She was the author of two books:
Le Clercq, Tanaquil. 1966. The Ballet Cook Book. 424 pages.
Le Clercq, Tanaquil. 1964. Mourka; the autobiography of a cat. New York: Stein and Day.
- "Notices". TIME. February 14, 1969. Retrieved 2007-06-04.[dead link]
- Marc Shell (2005). Polio and its aftermath: the paralysis of culture. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-01315-8.
- Brubach, Holly, Nancy Lassalle, Randall Bourscheidt, and Peter Martins. (2004). Tanaquil Le Clercq1929-2000. New York: Eakins Press Foundation.