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Celebrity Biographies
Biography Isadora Duncan
By: Shanna Riley
Published: March 28, 2008

“People do not live nowadays. They get about ten percent out of life.”

So sayeth the enigmatic, rebellious, and free-spirited woman who came to be known as the “Mother of Modern Dance”, Isadora Duncan.

Isadora danced her way, scantily clad in flowing Greek-styled robes, right out of the corseted restraints of the Victorian era she was born into. She brought with her a freshness and unrestrained way of life, turning the upstanding and moralistic men and women of her time right on their heads. Before her tragic and horrific end in 1927, Isadora had danced her way across the world and on some of Europe’s most prestigious stages and for some of its most influential persons, and had three separate children by three different men, all out of wedlock. She lived her life her way and tiptoed barefoot and lightly around the whispers and raised eyebrows of a sedate and principled world.

Long before Miss Duncan danced across Europe or lived among ancient ruins in Greece, however, she was a young, poor American girl with big dreams and an artistic family. The youngest child of a fair weather father, Joseph Charles Duncan, and a pianist, strong-willed mother, Mary Dora Gray, she was born Angela Isadora Duncan on May 27, 1887. Claiming to have “been dancing in her mother’s womb”, one of Isadora’s favorite stories was how her mother, her pregnant stomach turning at every other food, could only dine on caviar and champagne – the food of the Greek goddess Aphrodite – while she her mother carried her. Isadora knew, from a very young age, that she was special and that her ability to express herself through The Dance was a message she would someday deliver to the entire world. Isadora never dreamed small.

Inspired by her forceful visions, Isadora’s family worked hard to help her achieve her goals, eventually selling everything they owned to travel together to Chicago, where in 1897 Isadora joined the touring company of theatrical producer, Augustin Daly. After touring England with Daly’s company, Isadora and her family packed up and headed to New York, and earned their meager way by performing as a group her mother on piano, Isadora dancing, and her brother, Raymond, reciting poetry and Greek history in the homes of New York’s upper class.

Eventually, the wistful, artistic family had enough money saved to embark on a ship to Europe. It was not an extravagant seafaring trip by any means; the Duncans had found passage on a cattle ship, not letting the smell of dung or baying of heifers dull their ambitions and dreams.

Near complete destitution, but utterly happy, the Duncans set foot on European soil in England in 1899 and resumed their in-home performances for the European elite.

It was in 1903, inspired by Nietzsche in Germany, that Isadora first began to formulate the idea of her dancing as a philosophy one which she would live by, share with the world, and teach to young children for the rest of her life.

Even in the more progressively-minded Europe, Isadora was a walking bit of controversy. Her loose, flowing clothes, and loose-flowing life, shocked and intrigued the upper classes of Europe, and while some praised and admired her courage, others disdained her wanton ways and non-conformity.

Still, Isadora made friends and walked in circles with some of the most influential minds of the early 20th century. It was with two such men that she had her beloved children Deirdre and Patrick.

In 1906, with theatre designer, Gordan Craig, Isadora had her first child a little moppet of a girl she named Deirdre. Though they never married (Craig was already married, as a matter of fact), the two remained lifelong, dear friends. Isadora’s second child was a son, Patrick, by Paris Singer, an heir to the consummate Singer sewing machine fortune by his father, Issac Singer. Isadora loved and doted on her children and her bright spirit was forever dimmed by their tragic drowning deaths on April 19, 1913; they perished when the car they were riding in with their nanny rolled into the Seine River. A third child was born and died shortly after a couple of years later.

A fallen angel, a dimly lit star, a dying ember, Isadora struggled on but her life nor her spirit were ever as hardy. She turned to drink to numb the pain of her terrible loss and, though she still danced, it was the heavy dance of despair and pain rather than the light, airy, carefree movements of beforeyet it was none the less beautiful and poignant.

Isadora focused her attention on her little students, opening a number of schools during and after the war. She said that, “I do not teach children, I give them joy.” Isadora felt she was giving her young students tools for life not simply the art of dance.

In 1922, Isadora married the brilliantly mad Russian poet, Sergei Yesenin, who was eighteen years her junior. The tumultuous relationship ended bitterly in 1925, and Sergei was found shot to death later that same year; speculation still abounds as to whether the virulent revolutionary was murdered or took his own life.

During her brief marriage to Sergei, Isadora returned to the United States for a tour one that ended quickly when suspicious Americans dubbed her and Sergei communist supporters. An angry Isadora bared her breasts during a concert in Boston, where she was booed because of these suspicions, exclaiming, “This is red and so am I!” The next day she, disillusioned and hurt, left her mother country and vowed to never return; a promise that she kept.

Later in life, Isadora gave up dancing giving her own age and weight gain as her reasoning and turned even more heavily to the bottle. She was soon known more for her extravagant liaisons and drinking binges than for the great, inspirational dancer and mysterious, magical young woman she had once been.

Broken in spirit and in bank Isadora spent her final years living in hotel rooms in Paris, visited and cared for by her closest friends, Gordon Craig and Mary Desti, and the young man working with her on her autobiography, My Life it was unfinished at the time of her death and published posthumously. Isadora was against writing an autobiography, but desperately needed the money.

Isadora’s vibrant, wild life met a similar end. Known for wearing long, draping clothes and scarves, it was just such a feature of dress that ended the indomitable dancer’s life. On the 14th of September, in 1927, Isadora was riding in a convertible Amilcar when the body-length, scarf hand-painted by artist Roman Chatlov she was wearing became wrapped around the rear wheel of the vehicle. Bodily ripped from the car and dragged behind it, Isadora’s fading star had completely gone out by time the driver stopped.

Isadora Duncan lived a life without limits in fact, her favorite quote was “Sans limites” and it can be said that, without a doubt, she got much more out of it than just “ten percent”.

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