Victoria Koenig, artistic director of the Los Angeles Chamber Ballet, credits Riabouchinska with teaching her to have faith in herself: "I arrived at Tania's very down, but she just lights up when she moves. In her tennis shoes, she has that spark. She imbues you with the idea that you can do it, and that's been very important."
Koenig's first professional experience was in the Ballet Society of Los Angeles, one of three companies that Riabouchinska has launched and closed, sometimes with her late husband, David Lichine, since moving to Beverly Hills in 1943. A fourth company that is an offshoot of Riabouchinska's last company, Southern California Ballet, is just getting started under the direction of Helena Ross.
"She's sort of entrusted me to re-create her company, offering me her storage of costumes so we can do Lichine's ballets and keep some of the Ballets Russes repertory active," said Ross, 18, who still studies with Riabouchinska and is one of the Long Beach Ballet's most breathtaking guest performers.
Ross directs the Southern California Ballet of the Sun, an unusual mix of inner-city street gang members, serious ballet students and professionals. They made their debut in June with an excerpt of "The Sleeping Beauty."
"I stick with Tania because her studio is less of a commercial studio. It's where you can be yourself," Ross said.
In the studio, Riabouchinska sat with her sneakered feet crossed in a shaft of fading sunlight.
She explained how she recently ran her "mother's class" through a Michael Jackson-inspired routine. "That gave my students a surprise. But the point is, it keeps me alive. Dancing keeps me from having to walk with a stick. I know that if I spent my days in my garden with my eight cats, two dogs and three wonderful grandchildren, I'd be with a stick now.
"You see, the trouble is, I am still a baby ballerina." And the blonde halo trembled with mirth.