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The dancer of the future will be one whose body and soul have grown so harmoniously together that the natural language of that soul will have become the movement of the human body. The dancer will not belong to any nation but to all humanity.
Isadora Duncan

Isadora Duncan, 1919


Isadora Duncan, 1912, with her children Dierdre and Patrick.


Isadora Duncan was inspired by the classical Greek scultures and works of antiquity. The above three examples illustrate how both her costumes and movement were infused with natural freedom.


The fashions of her era, as shown in these examples, were restrictive and uncomfortable. Isadora Duncan rebelled against these limiting clothes.


About Isadora Duncan
by Lori Belilove
Isadora Duncan, born in San Francisco in 1877, changed more than the dance. She began teaching at the age of five, when she gathered all the little girls in the neighbor- hood and taught them to sway their arms to express the movement of the ocean waves. From this childhood experience, Isadora went on to direct several dance schools throughout her career. She said, “To dance is to live. What I want is a school of life.”

Isadora‘s dreams took her to Chicago and New York, but she met with limited success. She then decided to travel to Europe with her family on a cattle-boat in search of artisic fulfillment. Money was scarce and they faced starvation, but Isadora would endure any hardship for her dance, which she characterized as life itself.
Scantily dressed in Grecian-inspired tunics, Isadora danced barefoot at garden parties and other small social gatherings. Her popularity grew and soon she was touring throughout Europe and America.

Ahead of Her Time
Isadora was an emancipated woman, ahead of her time. Her first long- term lover was the famous set designer Edward Gordon Craig. He was her lifelong friend and the father of her daughter Dierdre. The father of her second child, Patrick, was the millionaire Paris Singer who, for a while, financed the school she had always dreamed of. The government of Russia also gave Isadora a school. She was inspired by the Bolshevik Revolution and created one of her most famous dances, The Marche Slav, for the Russian people. There Isadora met the poet Sergei Esenin and married him, despite her vow to remain unwed and despite the fact that he was fifteen years younger than she was. Their marriage ended tragic- ally two years later when Esenin left Isadora and, soon after, committed suicide. It was not the first tragedy in Isadora's life. Many years earlier, her two children and their nurse drowned when their car went into the Seine.

The Muse – Her Influence on the Arts
Isadora Duncan's genius inspired other modern dancers of her time to create their own individual styles; the far-reaching influence of Isadora's dance, however, was not limited to the stage. All the arts were reaching out in new directions, searching for new and exciting forms of expression and inspiration — they found Isadora Duncan.
While painters and artists of all media worked with furious strokes to catch Isadora‘s essence through the movement of her dance, photographers sought to capture her image on film. Max Eastman said, “It was never easy to coax Isadora Duncan into a photographer's studio. Like a wild and wise animal, she fled from those who sought to capture the essence of her — which was motion — by making her stand still.”

Isadora Duncan died as dramatically as she had lived, when her long trailing scarf was entangled in the spokes of a wheel of a new Bugatti sports car. In an instant, she was strangled, nearly decapitated by the tightening of the scarf wrapped around her neck.
Despite her untimely death, on September 14, 1927, her legacy continues to inspire new dancers. Drawings, paintings, and photographs attest to her influence on modern art. She inspired Emile-Antoine Bourdelle‘s design of the bas-relief, The Dance, (above right) on the façade of the Theatre des Champs-Elysees. “All my muses in the theatre are movements seized during Isadora's flight; she was my principal source,” Bourdelle said. It is fitting that Bourdelle saw Isadora as the model for a muse. Since the time of the Greeks, whom Isadora emulated, the nine muses have symbolized artistic expression. Very early in Isadora‘s career, sculptor Laredo Taft, one of Isadora‘s earliest admirers, described her as, “Poetry personified. She is not the Tenth Muse but all Nine Muses in one— and painting and sculpture as well.”

The Visionary
Dancer, adventurer, revolutionary and ardent defender of the poetic spirit, Isadora Duncan has been one of the most enduring influences on contemporary culture. Ironically, the very magnitude of her achievements as an artist, as well as the sheer excitement and tragedy of her life, have tend to dim our awareness of the originality, depth and boldness of her thought.
Isadora was a thinker as well as poet, gifted with a lively poetic imagin- ation, a radical defiance of ”things as they are,” and the ability to express her ideas with verve and humor. To best understand Isadora, she was a theorist of dance and a critic of modern society, culture, and education. She was also a champion of the struggle for women‘s rights, social revolution and the realization of poetry in everyday life.

Virtually single-handedly, Isadora restored dance to a high place among the arts. Breaking with convention, Isadora traced the art of dance back to its roots as a sacred art. She developed within this idea, free and natural movements inspired by the classical Greek arts, folk dances, social dances, nature and natural forces as well as an approach to the new American athleticism which included skipping, running, jumping, leaping and tossing.

With free-flowing costumes, bare feet and loose hair, Duncan restored dancing to a new vitality using the solar plexus and the torso as the generating force for all movements to follow. Her celebrated simplicity was oceanic in depth — and Isadora is credited with inventing what later came to be known as Modern Dance.

Students of the Duncan School dancing in the woods, 1922.

Duncan students, 1908.


Bronze sculpture of Isadora Duncan by Emile-Antoine Bourdelle, ca. 1913.


Watercolor study of Isadora Duncan by Abraham Walkowitz, ca. 1908.


Sketch of Isadora Duncan by Jose Clara, ca. 1910.


Isadora Duncan, center, shown with her students in 1908.


“Isadorables” at Isadora Duncan's Bellevue School, ca. 1913.

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