Suzanne Farrell, born Roberta Sue Ficker near Cincinnati, Ohio, began ballet training at age eight. In 1960, she won a scholarship to the School of American Ballet, the school for New York City Ballet founded by George Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein. She joined the company in the corps de ballet in 1961, taking Suzanne Farrell as her stage name. By 1965, she was a principal dancer. She served as Balanchine's muse and he created numerous leading roles for her over a period of four years. Following her marriage to fellow dancer Paul Mejia and a falling out with Balanchine, the couple left NYCB and moved to Brussels to dance with the Ballet of the 20th Century.
In 1975, Farrell returned to the USA and to NYCB and resumed her creative collaboration with Balanchine. She retired from ballet in 1989 after hip surgery due to arthritis. Since then, she has taught at many ballet schools and in 2000, founded her own company, the Suzanne Farrell Ballet. Her autobiography, Holding on to the Air, was published in 1990.