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, 1919
Isadora Duncan, 1912, with her children Dierdre
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
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.”
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
her dance, which she characterized as life itself.
Scantily dressed in Grecian-inspired tunics, Isadora danced barefoot
garden parties and other small social gatherings. Her popularity grew
and soon she was touring throughout Europe and America.
Ahead of Her
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
married him, despite her vow to remain unwed and despite the fact
that he was fifteen years younger than she was. Their marriage ended
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
her two children and their nurse drowned when their car went into
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
reaching out in new directions, searching for new and exciting forms
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
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.”
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
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.”
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,
tend to dim our awareness of the originality, depth and boldness of
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,
education. She was also a champion of the struggle for women‘s
social revolution and the realization of poetry in everyday life.
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,
natural movements inspired by the classical Greek arts, folk dances,
social dances, nature and natural forces as well as an approach to
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
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
Watercolor study of
Isadora Duncan by
Sketch of Isadora Duncan
by Jose Clara, ca. 1910.
Isadora Duncan, center,
shown with her students
“Isadorables” at Isadora Duncan's
Bellevue School, ca. 1913.