Duncan (May 27, 1878 - September 14, 1927) was an American dancer.
Born Dora Angela
Duncanon in San Francisco, California, she is considered the Mother
of Modern Dance. Although never very popular in the United States, she
entertained throughout Europe, and moved to Paris, France in 1900. There,
she lived at the apartment hotel at no. 9, rue Delambre in Montparnasse
in the midst of the growing artistic community gathered there. She told
friends that in the summer she used to dance in the nearby Luxembourg
Garden, the most popular park in Paris, when it opened at five in the
Both in her professional
and her private life, she flouted traditional mores and morality. One
of her lovers was the theatre designer, Gordon Craig; another was Paris
Singer, one of the many sons of Isaac Singer the sewing machine magnate;
she bore a child by each of them. Her private life was subject to considerable
scandal, especially following the tragic drowning of her children in
an accident on the Seine River in 1913. In her last United States tour
in 1922-23, she waved a red scarf and bared her breast on stage in Boston,
proclaiming, "This red! So am I!".
Bohemian environment did not suit her, and in 1909, she moved to two
large apartments at 5 Rue Danton where she lived on the ground floor
and used the first floor for her dance school. She danced her own style
of dance and believed that ballet was "ugly and against nature
and gained a wide following that allowed her to set up a school to teach.
She became so famous that she inspired artists and authors to create
sculpture, jewelry, poetry, novels,photographs, watercolors, prints
and paintings. When the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées
was built in 1913, her face was carved in the bas-relief by sculptor
Antoine Bourdelle and painted in the murals by Maurice Denis.
In 1922 she married
the Russian poet, Sergei Yesenin who was 17 years her junior. Yesenin
accompanied her on a tour of Europe but his frequent drunken rages,
resulting in the repeated destruction of furniture and the smashing
of the doors and windows of their hotel rooms, brought a great deal
of negative publicity. The following year he left Duncan and returned
to Moscow where he soon suffered a mental breakdown and had to be institutionalized.
Released from hospital, he immediately committed suicide on December
Duncan often wore
scarves which trailed behind her, and this caused her death in a freak
accident in Nice, France. She was killed when her scarf caught in the
wheel of her friend Ivan Falchetto's Bugatti automobile, in which she
was a passenger. As the driver sped off, the long cloth wrapped around
the vehicle's axle. Ms. Duncan was yanked violently from the car and
dragged for several yards before the driver realized what had happened.
She died almost instantly from a broken neck.
She wrote an autobiography,
Ma Vie, and her life story was made into a movie, Isadora, in 1968.
Isadora Duncan was
cremated, and her ashes were placed in the columbarium of Père
Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, France.
NAME: Isadora Duncan,
born Dora Angela Duncan
DATE OF BIRTH: May 27, 1878
PLACE OF BIRTH: San Francisco, California
DATE OF DEATH: September 14, 1927
PLACE OF DEATH: Nice, France. She died when her scarf accidentally became
tangled in the wheels of a Bugatti sports car, resulting in a broken
Isadora was the second daughter and the youngest of four children to
parents Joseph Charles and Dora Gray Duncan. Her father was a poet and
her mother was a pianist and music teacher. When Isadora's parents married,
her father was divorced with four children and 30 years her senior.
He supported his family through running a lottery, publishing three
newspapers, owning a private art gallery, directing an auction business
and owning a bank. When the bank fell into financial ruin, he abandoned
Isadora's family, moved to Los Angeles where he divorced and remarried
Isadora did not
believe in marriage but did have love affairs with stage designer Gordon
Graig and millionaire (Paris) Eugene Singer and had a child by each.
Her children, Deirdre and Patrick were tragically and accidentally drowned
in 1913 while with their English governess. Later in her life she married
Russian poet, Sergei Esenin in 1922 but separated shortly after.
EDUCATION: As a
child, she learned unconventionally to "listen to the music with
your soul." Her mother instilled in Isadora a love for dance, theater,
Shakespeare and reading. At the young age of 6 years old, she danced
for money and taught other children to dance. Dancing lessons took precedence
over formal education; however, she read and was inspired by the works
of Walt Whitman and Nietzsche.
Isadora is known as the mother of "modern dance," founding
the "New System" of interpretive dance, blending together
poetry, music and the rhythms of nature. She did not believe in the
formality of conventional ballet and gave birth to a more free form
of dance, dancing barefoot and in simple Greek apparel. Her fans recognized
her for her passionate dancing and she ultimately proved to be the most
famous dancer of her time.
In 1895 Isadora and her family moved east to pursue her professional
dancing career. She opened In New York as a fairy with August Daly's
company in A Midsummer Night's Dream. She was also funded by wealthy
New Yorkers to give private appearances. In 1898 she expanded her dancing
career by traveling to London on a cattle boat with her mother, her
sister Elizabeth and brother, Raymond. Her first professional European
performance was at the Lyceum theater in London on February 22, 1900.
She turned down substantial dancing offers to join Loie Fuller's touring
company and toured Budapest, Vienna, Munich and Berlin. She studied
for one year in Greece where she purchased Kopanos Hill outside of Athens
to construct an elaborate dancing stage. Her performances were based
on interpretations of classical music including Strauss' Blue Danube,
Chopin's Funeral March, Tchaikovsky's Symphonie Pathetique and Wagnerian
Later in her life she opened a dancing school in Moscow where the Russian
government promised to provide her with room and board and a schoolroom.
However, after the school was built the government did not support her.
To support herself, she returned to the stage unsuccessfully in America
and then toured Europe once more. She died in Europe.
writings included The Dance, in 1909; My Life, her autobiography in
1927; various periodical articles on dancing; and The Art of the Dance
a memorial volume published in 1928.
Born in 1878 in
San Francisco, Isadora Duncan grew up in a childhood filled with imagination
and art. Her mother introduced her four children (Isadora was youngest)
to classical music, as well as Shakespeare, poetry, literature and art.
Isadora spent many hours playing and dancing upon the beach, and even
taught dance classes to younger children as a way to earn a little extra
money for the struggling family.
In her teenage years,
Isadora traveled to Chicago and New York with some of her family members,
working and performing in various productions such as Mme. Pygmalion,
Midsummer's Night Dream or vaudeville shows with limited success.
It was not until she reached London, however, that Isadora began to
find acceptance for her dancing. She performed in private "salons"
for ladies of social standing and their guests in London and Paris.
Gradually her popularity grew, and she began performing on great stages
Throughout her career,
Isadora had a driving vision for the education of young children, grounding
their learning in art, culture, movement and spirituality as well as
as traditional academic lessons. She began her first school in Grunewald,
Germany in 1904, selecting children from the poorer classes and providing
completely for all their physical and materials need from her own pocket.
The financial drain
of her schools (schools were also established in Russia and Paris at
various points in her life) forced Isadora to tour and perform considerably,
leaving her sister Elizabeth in charge of the schools and pupils.
Though not a believer
in what she saw as the chains of marriage, Isadora did have two children,
Deidre and Patrick, with two of her lovers, Gordon Craig and Paris Singer.
Tragically the two children drowned with their governess in the Seine
river in 1913.
The following years
were difficult for Isadora, and she stopped dancing for a time. Finally,
however, she found a renewed artistic energy when she returned to her
schools and her "foster" children, the school pupils. She
even adopted six of those children, the "Isadorables" as they
were billed by the press later when they began to perform with Isadora.
life was cut short in 1927 in a car accident along the Riveria. However,
Isadora's spirit lives on through the tremendous influence she had,
not only in dance, but on all art forms, in society and on cultural
and choreographer. Born in San Francisco, Duncan grew up in a freethinking
family headed by her mother, a follower of Robert Ingersoll. From the
city's thriving Bohemia, Duncan absorbed the cult of nature, Hellenism,
and belief in the semidivinity of the body that became tenets of her
artistic credo. Other lasting influences were Delsartism, a system of
movement that linked gestural expression with mental states, and the
"new gymnastics," which stressed flexibility, coordination,
and balance and was aligned with the feminist movements for dress and
After a brief stint
in the commercial theater, Duncan embarked on a career as a solo concert
artist, first in New York and then in Europe, where she arrived in 1900
and spent the better part of her life. In London and Paris, she created
her first important dances, idylls rooted in Grecian themes and performed
to composers like Mendelssohn, Gluck, and Chopin. She quickly found
an audience among artists and intellectuals who appreciated her striking
originality--her daring use of concert music, her open expression of
physicality (enhanced by bare feet and body-revealing tunics), her creation
of an idiom that owed nothing to the technique and tradition of ballet.
Although she occasionally
choreographed for groups, her greatest works were solos she created
for herself. Duncan was a charismatic performer, exceptionally musical
and with a gift for coaxing emotion from pure movement and gesture.
Her vocabulary was simple, but she had a magnificent sense of space
and an intuitive understanding of its psychological organization. She
knew the value of stillness and made a virtue of weight. Abandoning
corsets, she discovered the "crater of motor power" in her
articulate and liberated torso.
life was as unconventional as her dancing. A believer in free love,
she had numerous liaisons and bore her two children, by Gordon Craig
and Paris Singer, out of wedlock. She spent money like water, running
up bills others usually paid. Her politics, always radical, took a socialist
turn during World War I when she discovered the poverty of New York's
Lower East Side. In 1921, at the invitation of Anatoly Lunacharsky,
the Soviet commissar of enlightenment, she went to Moscow, where she
established a school and married the poet Sergei Essenin. Duncan's last
American tour, in 1922-1923, was filled with scandal; in Boston, baring
her breast and waving a red scarf, she cried, "This is red! So
am I!" In 1927, it was a scarf, caught in the moving wheel of a
flashy Bugatti, that broke her neck. Her lively, if not always accurate
autobiography, Ma Vie, was published posthumously.
Although her art
died with her, Duncan's influence on contemporaries was enormous. In
Europe, especially, she set off a wave of "interpretative"
dancers who flooded theaters, salons, and concert halls up to the 1930s.
Ironically, in view of her loathing for the danse d'école, elements
of her style were absorbed into the period's "new ballet."
Regarded as a founding mother of American modern dance, she left to
future generations a legacy of daring and unconventionality--art as
an act of heroic self-creation.
Duncan was born in 1877 in San Francisco, California. As a child she
studied ballet, Delsarte technique and burlesque forms like skirt dancing.
She began her professional career in Chicago in 1896, where she met
the theatrical producer Augustin Daly. Soon after, Duncan joined his
his touring company, appearing in roles ranging from one of the fairies
in a "Mid-summer Night's Dream" to one of the quartet girls
in "The Giesha." Duncan traveled to England with the Daly
company in 1897. During this time she also danced as a solo performer
at a number of society functions in and around London.
Returning to New
York City in 1898, Duncan left the Daly company and began performing
her solo dances at the homes of wealthy patrons. Calling their program
"The Dance and Philosophy," Isadora and her older sister Elizabeth
offered society women an afternoon of dance pieces set to Strauss waltzes
and Omar Khayyam's "The Rubbaiyat." Influenced by the Americanized
Delsarte movement, these "afternoons" received little serious
notice from the press. Duncan became discouraged by the lack of enthusiasm,
and, with her mother andsiblings, set sail for London in 1899.
In the years between
1899 and 1907, Duncan lived and worked in the great cities of Europe.
In London in 1900 she met a group of artists and critics --led by the
painter Charles Halle and the music critic John Fuller-Maitland -- who
introduced her to Greek statue art, Italian Renaissance paintings and
symphonic music. During this perioed, Fuller-Maitland convinced her
to stop dancing to recitations and to begin using the music of Chopin
and Beethoven for her inspiration.
In Germany Duncan
was introduced to the philosopy of Frederick Nietzsche, and soon after
began formulating her own philosophy of dance. In 1903 she delivered
a speech in Berlin called "The Dance of the Future." In it
she argued that the dance of the future would be similar to the dance
of the ancient Greeks, natural and free. Duncan accused the ballet of
"deforming the beautiful woman's body" and called for its
abolition. She ended her speech by stating that "the dance of the
future will have to become again a high religious art as it was with
the Greeks. For art which is not religious is not art, is mere merchandise."
It was during this period that Duncan began clarifying her theory of
natural dance, identifying the source of the body's natural movement
in the solar plexus.
Between 1904 and
1907, Duncan lived and worked in Greece, Germany, Russia and Scandanavia.
During this period she worked with many famous artists, including the
scenic designer Gordon Craig and the Russian theatre director Constantin
Stanislavsky. In 1904, Duncan established her first school of dance
in Grunewald, a suburb outside of Berlin. There, she began to develop
her theories of dance education and to assemble her famous dance group,
later known as the Isadorables.
to the United States in 1908 to begin a series of tours throughout the
country. At first, her performances were poorly received by music critics,
who felt that the dancer had no right to "interpret" symphonic
music. The music critic from The New York Times, for example, wrote
that there was "much question of the necessity or the possibility
of a physical 'interpretation' of the symphony upon the stage...it seems
like laying violent hands on a great masterpiece that had better be
left alone." (1908). But the audiences grew more and more enthusiastic,
and when Duncan returned to Europe in 1909, she was famous throughout
the world. In the following years, Duncan created and maintained schools
in France, Germany and Russia. She continued to sponsor young dancers
and to give her solo performances. She returned to the United States
several times, touring the country, but she never lived there again.
In 1927, Duncan was killed in an automobile accident in Paris.
1. Duncan was
the first American dancer to develop and label a concept of natural
breathing, which she identified with the ebb and flow of ocean waves.
2. Duncan was the first American dancer to define movement based on
natural and spiritual laws rather than on formal considerations of
3. Duncan was the first American dancer to rigorously compare dance
to the other arts, defending it as a primary art form worthy of "high
4. Duncan was the first American dancer to develop a philosophy of
5. Duncan was the first American dancer to deemphasize scenery and
costumes in favor of a simple stage setting and simple costumes. By
doing this, Duncan suggested that watching a dancer dance was enough.