Baby ballerinas is a term invented by the English writer and dance critic Arnold Haskell to describe three young dancers of the Ballets Russes de Monte-Carlo in the early 1930s: Irina Baronova (1919–2008), Tamara Toumanova (1919–1996), and Tatiana Riabouchinska (1917–2000).
Children of the Russian exile community in Paris, established after the revolution of 1917, the three girls were discovered by George Balanchine in 1931 in the studios of two former ballerinas of the Russian Imperial Ballet. Baronova and Toumanova were pupils of Olga Preobrajenska; Riabouchinska was a protégée of Mathilde Kschessinska. Impressed by their remarkable talent, and cognizant that each of them had had some performing experience, Balanchine chose them to dance in a new company that was then being formed by René Blum and Colonel Wassily de Basil and of which he was to be chief choreographer, Les Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo. During their first season with the company, in the spring of 1932, Baronova and Toumanova were 12 years old, and Riabouchinska was 14. All three were cast in important roles in ballets in the company repertory. Toumanova had particular success, creating roles in four new ballets by Balanchine—Cotillon, La Concurrence, Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, and Suite des Danses—but Baronova and Riabouchinska won applause and acclaim as well. The extreme youth and technical perfection of these "baby ballerinas" won them fame not only in Monte Carlo, France, and England but in other countries around the world.
The term "baby ballerinas" has also been used to refer to other ballet ingenues. In 2019, Dance Magazine used the term to describe teenagers Maria Khoreva, Daria Ionova, and Anastasia Nuykina, who were picked to star in Balanchine's Apollo at the Mariinsky Theatre despite still being students at the Vaganova Academy.
- Arnold Haskell, Balletomania: The Story of an Obsession (London: Gollancz, 1934 / New York: Simon & Schuster, 1934). Reprinted by Pierides Press in 2008.
- Kathrine Sorley Walker, "Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo," in International Encyclopedia of Dance, edited by Selma Jeanne Cohen and others (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), vol. 1, p. 308.
- Tamara Finch, "The First Baby Ballerinas," Dancing Times (London), August 1985, pp. 952-954.
- Walter Terry, "Baby Ballerinas: Baronova, Toumanova, and Riabouchinska Captured the Public's Fancy during the Heyday of the Ballets Russes," Ballet News (New York), January 1982, pp. 16-18, 27.
- Cappelle, Laura (8 April 2019). "The Insta-Ballerina: How Mariinsky Newcomer Maria Khoreva Shot to Stardom". Dance Magazine. Retrieved 13 June 2021.