Isadora Duncan Personalities 

Born: 26 May 1877 
Birthplace: San Francisco, California 
Died: 14 September 1927 (automobile crash) 
Best Known As: Free-spirited modern dancer

Isadora Duncan was a pioneer of 20th-century American dance. She is often
credited with moving dance away from strict formal structures and toward more
free-flowing forms of personal expression. She wore Grecian-style gowns, often
performed barefoot, and startled audiences by employing such everyday human
movements as skipping and running. Duncan is also remembered as an early
feminist; among other things, she did not believe in marriage and bore two
children out of wedlock by two different men. She was killed in a freak 1927
accident when her scarf became tangled in the rear axle of her automobile.


The Isadora Duncan Foundation
Dedicated to keeping Duncan's memory alive; a bit hypey, but with some
biographical info
Isadora Duncan 1878-1927
Colorful, gossipy biography from the Museum of San Francisco
The Early Moderns
Analysis of the importance of Duncan and others to modern dance
Isadora Duncan
Profile from a larger site on art and culture

DunĚcan (dung'k?n), Isadora 1878-1927.

American dancer whose use of simple costumes and free movement greatly influenced
modern dance.

Britannica Concise 

(born May 26, 1877, or May 27, 1878, San Francisco, Calif., U.S. - died Sept. 14,
1927, Nice, Fr.) U.S. interpretive dancer. She rejected the conventions of
classical ballet and based her technique on natural rhythms and movement inspired
by ancient Greece, dancing barefoot in a tunic without tights. Enjoying little
success in the U.S., she moved to Europe in 1898. She toured Europe, giving
recitals to great acclaim throughout her life and earning notoriety for her
liberated unconventionality, and she founded several dance schools. She was
strangled when her long scarf became entangled in the rear wheel of the car in
which she was riding. Her emphasis on "free dance" made her a precursor of modern
dance, and she became an inspiration to many avant-garde artists.
For more information on Isadora Duncan, visit 

American History 

(1877-1927), dancer 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 health reform.

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.

Duncan's personal 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'ecole, 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.


Frederika Blair, Isadora: Portrait of the Artist as a Woman (1986); Isadora
Duncan, My Life (1927).

Lynn Garafola 
Spotlight of the Day 

From our Archives: Today's Highlights, September 14, 2005 
Famed dancer Isadora Duncan died on this date in 1927. Duncan, known for her
simple, loose-fitting costumes, was killed in an automobile accident, when her
long scarf became entangled in the car's rear axle. Born in San Francisco, Duncan
achieved greater fame in Europe for a dance style that greatly influenced modern
dance. Rebelling against traditional ballet, she often danced barefoot, using a
style of expressive movement and dancing to music that was not specifically
written to be danced to. 


Duncan, Isadora (iz'?dor'? dung'k?n) , 1878-1927, American dancer, b. San
Francisco. She had little success in the United States when she first created
dances based on Greek classical art. But in Budapest (1903), Berlin (1904), and
later in London and New York City (1908), she triumphed. An innovator, pioneer,
and liberator of expressive movement, she was inspired by the drama of ancient
Greece. She danced barefoot to music that was often not written to be danced. Her
costume, a revealing adaptation of the Greek tunic, was complemented by several
colored scarves draped from her shoulders. Through her many tours, her schools in
Berlin, Paris, Moscow, and London, and her daring and dynamic personality, she
greatly influenced the development of modern dance. She was briefly (1922-23)
married to the Russian poet Sergei Yesenin. In 1927 she gave her last concert in
Paris; she died when her scarf caught in the wheel of her car while she was
motoring at Nice.


See her autobiography (1927, repr. 1966) and The Art of The Dance, ed. by S.
Cheney (1928, repr. 1970); biographies by I. Duncan (1958), W. Terry (1964), V.
Seroff (1971), F. Blair (1987), and P. Kurth (2001).


The American dancer and teacher Isadora Duncan (1878-1927) is considered one of
the founders of modern dance.

Isadora Duncan was born Dora Angela Duncan on May 27, 1878, in San Francisco. By
the age of 6 Isadora was teaching neighborhood children to wave their arms, and
by 10 she had developed a new "system" of dance with her sister Elizabeth, based
on improvisation and interpretation. With her mother as accompanist and her
sister as partner, Isadora taught dance and performed for the San Francisco

The Duncans went to Chicago and New York to advance their dancing careers.
Disheartened by their reception in eastern drawing rooms, they departed for
London. In Europe, Duncan won recognition. She shocked, surprised, and excited
her audience and became a member of the European intellectual avantgarde,
returning triumphantly to America in 1908.

Duncan attacked the system of classical ballet, which was based on movement
through convention, and rejected popular theatrical dance for its superficiality.
She encouraged all movement that was natural, expressive, and spontaneous.
Conventional dance costumes were discarded in favor of Greek tunics and no shoes
to allow the greatest possible freedom of movement.

Experimenting with body movements, she concluded that all movements were derived
from running, skipping, jumping, and standing. Dance was the "movement of the
human body in harmony with the movements of the earth." Inspired by Greek art,
the paintings of Sandro Botticelli, Walt Whitman's poems, the instinctual
movements of children and animals, and great classical music, she did not dance
to the music as much as she danced the music. For her, the body expressed
thoughts and feelings; each dance was unique, each movement created out of the
dancer's innermost feelings. Her dances were exclusively female, celebrating the
beauty and holiness of the female body and reflecting the emergence of the "new
woman" of this period.

After World War I Duncan traveled throughout Europe. Her first school (in Berlin,
before the war) had collapsed for lack of funds. In 1921 she accepted the Soviet
government's offer to establish a school in Moscow. But financial problems
continued. Meanwhile, she married the poet Sergei Yesenin. When the couple came
to America in 1924 at the height of the "Red scare," Duncan was criticized for
her "Bolshevik" dances. Returning to Russia, her husband committed suicide.

By 1925 Duncan's life had been filled with tragedy. In 1913 her two illegitimate
children had been accidently drowned; she had had a stillbirth; and she became
disillusioned with the Soviet Union. She was famous but penniless. In 1927, while
riding in an open sports car, her scarf caught in a wheel and she was strangled.

Isadora Duncan's death was mourned by many. She left no work that could be
performed again, no school or teaching method, and few pupils, but with her new
view of movement she had revolutionized dance.

Further Reading

There is no balanced assessment of Isadora Duncan's life. The best introduction
is her own passionate and sensitive autobiography, My Life (1927). She has been
eulogized by friends - see Mary Desti, The Untold Story: The Life of Isadora
Duncan, 1921-1927 (1929) - exposed by enemies, and sometimes appreciated by
scholars. A scholarly but badly written biography is Ilya Schneider, Isadora
Duncan: The Russian Years (1969). Recent, more dispassionate accounts are Allan
Ross Macdougall, Isadora: A Revolutionary in Art and Love (1960), and Walter
Terry, Isadora Duncan: Her Life, Her Art, Her Legacy (1964). 

Fine Arts Dictionary 

A twentieth-century American dancer who won fame mainly in Europe. Her
choreography, improvisational and unfettered, rebelled against traditional ballet
and was highly influential in the formation of modern dance. 

Duncan died tragically when her long scarf became entangled in the wheel of her
moving automobile.


Note: click on a word meaning below to see its connections and related words. 

The noun Isadora Duncan has one meaning:

Meaning #1: United States dancer and pioneer of modern dance (1878-1927)
Synonym: Duncan

Quotes By 


The real American type can never be a ballet dancer. The legs are too long, the
body too supple and the spirit too free for this school of affected grace and toe

We may not all break the Ten Commandments, but we are certainly all capable of
it. Within us lurks the breaker of all laws, ready to spring out at the first
real opportunity.  

The finest inheritance you can give to a child is to allow it to make its own
way, completely on its own feet.  

It seems to me monstrous that anyone should believe that the jazz rhythm
expresses America. Jazz rhythm expresses the primitive savage.  

The only dance masters I could have were Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Walt Whitman and

So long as little children are allowed to suffer, there is no true love in this

People do not live nowadays. They get about 10% out of life.  

For more famous quotes by Isadora Duncan, visit QuotationsBook. 


Portrait photograph by Arnold Genthe.
Isadora Duncan striking a pose

Isadora Duncan (May 26, 1877 - September 14, 1927) was an American dancer.

Born Dora Angela Duncan in San Francisco, California, she is considered by many
to be the Mother of Modern Dance. Although never very popular in the United
States, she entertained throughout Europe, and moved to Paris 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 morning.

Personal life

Isadora was born in San Francisco, where she lived with her mother Dora. Her
father, Joseph Duncan, had walked out on his family early in life. This had led
her formerly Roman Catholic mother to raise Isadora as a strict atheist. She
attended school for the early years of her life, but dropped out because she
found it to be constricting to her individuality. Her family was very poor, and
so both she and her sister gave dance classes to local children to raise money.
Their mother taught piano lessons very nicely.

Both in her professional and her private life, she flouted traditional mores and
morality. She bore two children -- one by theatre designer Gordon Craig, and
another by Paris Singer, one of the many sons of sewing machine magnate Isaac
Singer. Her private life was subject to considerable scandal, especially
following the tragic and horrific drowning of her children Deirdre and Patrick in
an accident on the Seine River in 1913. The children were in the car with their
nanny for a day out, while Isadora stayed at home. The car was driving up a hill,
when suddenly the engine stalled. The chauffer got out of the car to fix the
engine, but he had forgotten to use the emergency brake, and so once he got the
car to start, it proceeded to roll down the hill, and into the river below. The
children and the nanny drowned. Following the accident, she spent several weeks
at the Viareggio seaside resort with actress Eleonora Duse. The fact that Duse
was just coming out of a lesbian relationship with rebellious young lesbian
feminist Lina Poletti fueled speculation as to the nature of Duncan and Duse's
relationship. However, there has never been definite proof that the two were
involved romantically. [1]

In her last United States tour in 1922-23, she waved a red scarf and bared her
breast on stage in Boston, proclaiming, "This is red! So am I!". She was
bisexual, which was not uncommon in early Hollywood circles. She had a lengthy
and passionate affair with poet Mercedes de Acosta, and was possibly involved
with writer Natalie Barney.

Duncan and de Acosta wrote regularly in often revealing letters of
correspondence. In one, written in 1927, Duncan wrote; (quoted by Hugo Vickers in
"Loving Garbo") ".....A slender body, hands soft and white, for the service of my
delight, two sprouting breasts round and sweet, invite my hungry mouth to eat,
from whence two nipples firm and pink, persuade my thirsty soul to drink, and
lower still a secret place where I'd fain hide my loving face....." [2]

In another letter, written to de Acosta by Duncan, she writes; "Mercedes, lead me
with your little strong hands and I will follow you - to the top of a mountain.
To the end of the world. Wherever you wish." Isadora, June 28 1926. [3]

Although the affair would eventually cool, de Acosta and Isadora Duncan remained
friends for many years afterward. De Acosta had once proclaimed that from the
moment she first saw Isadora Duncan, she looked upon her as a great genius, taken
by her completely. [4]


Montparnasse's developing 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, with its strict rules of posture and formation, 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 Theatre des Champs-Elysees 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 acted on her sympathy for the social and political experiment being
carried out in the new Soviet Union and moved to Moscow. She cut a striking
figure in the increasingly austere post-revolution capital, but her international
prominence brought welcome attention to the new regime's artistic and cultural
ferment. 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 was placed in a mental institution. Released from
hospital, he immediately committed suicide on December 28, 1925. The Russian
government's failure to follow through on extravagant promises of support for
Duncan's work, combined with the country's spartan living conditions, sent her
back to the West in 1924.

Throughout her career, Duncan disliked the commercial aspects of public
performance, regarding touring, contracts, and other practicalities as
distractions from her real mission: the creation of beauty and the education of
the young. A gifted if unconventional pedagogue, she was the founder of three
schools dedicated to inculcating her philosophy into groups of young girls (a
brief effort to include boys was unsuccessful). The first, in Grunewald, Germany,
gave rise to her most celebrated group of pupils, dubbed "the Isadorables," who
took her surname and subsequently performed both with Duncan and independently.
The second had a short-lived existence prior to World War I at a chateau outside
Paris, while the third was part of Duncan's tumultuous experiences in Moscow in
the wake of the Russian Revolution.

Duncan's teaching, and her pupils, caused her both pride and anguish. Her sister,
Elizabeth Duncan, took over the German school and adapted it to the Teutonic
philosophy of her German husband. The Isadorables were subject to ongoing
hectoring from Duncan over their willingness to perform commercially (and one,
Lisa Duncan, was permanently ostracized for performing in nightclubs); the most
notable of the group, Irma Duncan, remained in the Soviet Union after Duncan's
departure and ran the school there, again angering Duncan by allowing students to
perform too publicly and too commercially.

Later life

By the end of her life, Duncan's performing career had dwindled, and she became
as notorious for her financial woes, scandalous love life, and all-too-frequent
public drunkenness as for her contributions to the arts. She spent her final
years moving between Paris and the Mediterranean, running up debts at hotels or
spending short periods in apartments rented on her behalf by an ever-decreasing
number of friends and supporters, many of whom attempted to assist her in writing
an autobiography, in the hope that it would be sufficiently successful to support
her. In a reminiscent sketch, Zelda Fitzgerald recalled how she and Scott sat in
a Paris cafe watching a somewhat drunk Duncan. Scott Fitzgerald would speak of
how memorable it was, but what Zelda recalled was that while all eyes were
watching Duncan, Zelda was able to steal the salt and pepper shakers (shaped like
miniature taxicabs) from the table.

Duncan often wore scarves which trailed behind her, and this caused her death in
an ironic accident in Nice, France. She was killed at the age of 50 when her
scarf caught in the open-spoked wheel of her friend Benoit Falchetto's Amilcar
automobile, in which she was a passenger. As the driver sped off, the long cloth
wrapped around the vehicle's axle. 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. The tragedy gave rise to Gertrude Stein's
mordant remark that "affectations can be dangerous."

The memoir, given the title Ma Vie, that was meant to have been her financial
savior, was published posthumously. Its fervor, if not its prose or its accuracy,
won the book critical success; Dorothy Parker, reviewing the book (published in
English as My Life), called it "an enormously interesting and a profoundly moving
book. Here was a great woman: a magnificent, generous, gallant, reckless, fated
fool of a woman...She ran ahead, where there were no paths."

Her life story was made into two movies: Isadora Duncan, the Biggest Dancer in
the World (1967) directed by Ken Russell, and Isadora (with Vanessa Redgrave in
the title role), in 1968.

Isadora Duncan was cremated, and her ashes were placed in the columbarium of Pere
Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, France.

Isadora Duncan in culture

The 1968 film of her life, Isadora, starred Vanessa Redgrave in the title role.
Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events books contained the Quagmire
triplets named Isadora, Duncan, and Quigley. Isadora and Duncan are quite
unlucky, which is a reference to Isadora Duncan's ill-fated life.
In a deleted scene of James Cameron's 1997 film Titanic, the character Rose
DeWitt Bukater mentions that she wishes that she could escape her horrid life as
a wealthy, restricted young woman and become an artist, or a sculpter, or a
dancer like Isadora Duncan.
She is featured in the opening theme song to the popular 1970s show Maude.
"Isadora was the first bra burner, ain't you glad she showed up."