Isadora Duncan - Personal life, Career, Later life, Isadora Duncan
Dancer, born in San Francisco, California, USA. Her parents were divorced
shortly after her birth and she was raised by her poor but romantic mother, who
filled her children with the sounds of music and notions of unconventionality.
Isadora showed an early talent for dance, and by age ten left school to teach
dancing. She soon began to dance in public, and in 1896 went with her mother to
New York City where she joined Augustin Daly's theatre company as a dancer and
Disliking traditional dances, in 1898 she began to perform her own
free-style of dancing. She made her debut in London (1900), where she became
interested in recreating what she perceived as the ancient Greek dances, and by
1902 was performing her own dances on the Continent to great acclaim. She began
a dance school in Berlin, tried to start a ?Temple to the Dance? in Greece
(1903?4), had a child by Gordon Craig, the British stage designer, and performed
in Russia (1905?8). Wherever she went she gave lecture-demonstrations of what
she called ?the dance of the future? based on her improvised movements intended
to unite music, poetry, and nature, and usually performed barefoot in revealing
Greek tunics and with flowing scarves. Her American tour (1908) was not
successful, but she went back to Europe and more acclaim. She also had another
child, this one by Paris Singer, heir to the sewing-machine fortune. Tragically
both her children drowned while in a car that accidentally rolled into the Seine
(1913) and her life became even more erratic, though she showed a new profundity
in her dances.
In the following years she travelled in the USA, South America, San
Francisco, Athens (Greece), dancing and teaching with mixed success, and tried
to start a school in Moscow (1921?2). In 1922 she married the much younger
Russian poet, Sergei Essenin, but he was mentally unstable and drank his way
through her money. Her US tour of 1923 led to charges of her being a Bolshevik,
and they fled back to Russia with no money. Essenin deserted her the next year
and committed suicide in 1925. Her school for young dancers had been taken over
by others and she was penniless, so she went to France, where she gave one
legendary final performance in Paris and wrote her autobiography, My Life
She died in Nice, France, as dramatically as she had lived, when her long
scarf caught in the spokes of a car wheel, breaking her neck. Although her
influence on dance and the arts is debated, to some in her day and since she
represents one of life' greatest free spirits.
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.
Isadora was born in San Francisco , where she lived with her mother Mary.
Her father, Joseph Duncan, had walked out on his family early in life.
Both in her professional and her private life, she flouted traditional
mores and morality. The children were in the car with their nanny for a day out,
while Isadora stayed at home. 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.
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!
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....."
In another letter, written to de Acosta by Duncan, she writes;
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.
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.
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. The following
year he left Duncan and returned to Moscow where he soon suffered a mental
breakdown and was placed in a mental institution. 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
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. 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
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.
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
Duncan often wore scarves which trailed behind her, and this caused her
death in a freak accident in Nice, France. Duncan was yanked violently from the
car and dragged for several yards before the driver realized what had happened.
The memoir, given the title Ma Vie, that was meant to have been her
financial savior, was published posthumously.
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.
Citing this material
Please include a link to this page if you have found this material
useful for research or writing a related article. Content on this website is
from high-quality, licensed material originally published in print form. You can
always be sure you're reading unbiased, factual, and accurate