Monday, March 12, 2007

The Mother of Modern Dance


Isadora Duncan (1877-1927) was born in San Francisco, the daughter of Dora and Joseph Duncan, one of four children in a poor family. Her father walked out early, and her mother, an accomplished piano player, gave piano lessons to raise money, and also introduced Isadora to the great composers who were to influence her particular dance style. She rejected what she viewed as the too-rigid style of ballet for more natural choreography. When Isadora was in her teens, her family moved to Europe, where her genius for dance was recognized and encouraged. She danced barefoot in Grecian-styled robes at small gatherings and garden parties. Based in Paris, Duncan eventually had a large enough following to open three schools of dance. The best known set of pupils were in the Grunewald, Germany school, and were dubbed "the Isadorables." These young ladies used her surname and performed both with Duncan and independently. Isadora Duncan became so famous that she inspired many artists and authors.

Her goals in life were the creation of beauty and the education of the young, and she disliked the commerical side to performing, with all the touring and contracts. Duncan was known as a free spirit, and led a very unconventional life, considering the mores of her day. For instance, she considered most of women's fashions to be too constricting and uncomfortable, and also vowed that she'd never get married. Unfortunately, there was as much tragedy as beauty in her life.

It's impossible to discuss her life and work, without mentioning the terrible events that occurred in her life.

In 1922, despite her earlier vow, she met and married the Russian poet Sergei Yesenin, who was seventeen years younger than she and spoke no foreign languages. Isadora spoke English, French, and possibly four words of Russian. That's the unconventional part. The tragic part was that Yesenin had a horrible drinking problem, caused problems everywhere, and wound up in a mental institution. When he was discharged, he promptly ended his own life.

Duncan had two children -- one by theatre designer Gordon Craig, and another by Paris Singer, son of the sewing machine magnate. Both of her children were drowned, along with their nanny, in a tragic and unusual accident. After that, her life was constantly a public scandal. Duncan was also a bisexual, and her relationship with poet Mercedes de Acosta was another well known item.

Isadora Duncan's death was yet another unusual tragedy. Always wearing long, flowing scarves, she was killed in September of 1927 when one such beautiful, hand-painted scarf got caught on a car's open spoke and she was dragged and strangled to her death.

Of course, this is only a skeletal rendition of her intriguing life--for a more complete biography, I'd recommend the Isadora Duncan Dance Foundation site, which also stands as evidence of Duncan's legacy.

"To dance is to live. What I want is a school of life.”
--Isadora Duncan

8 comments:

actonbell said...

Just a bit of trivia that doesn't really belong on this post:
Duncan's death gave rise to Gertrude Stein's remark that "affectations can be dangerous."

Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events features triplets named Isadora, Duncan, and Quigley. Isadora and Duncan are particularly unlucky.

Jamie Dawn said...

You weren't kidding when you said she had some tragedies in her life. How terrible!
After the drowning death of both her children, I'm sure her life was thrown so out of whack that it never seemed right again. I can't imagine it.
What an unusual death she had. I shall from this day forward make sure any scarf I wear is not flying about as to get tangled in anything.
Isadorables is a cute name for her dancers.
Thanks for sharing this interesting info.

OldHorsetailSnake said...

Ah poo. I liked the story of the first female runner in the Boston Marathon a lot better. At least she didn't get strangled.

Minka said...

wow...bad luck sure followed her around. Inspiring and tragic...somehow that often seems to belong together.
I didnæt know about her, that would have made and interesting Thursday trivia :)

Tom & Icy said...

You wrote this very well and it is nice to be reminded about people we hear of but seldom go into depth about. It really puzzled me how someone could form a relationship with someone they cannot communicate with. And the fact that he was mentally ill and an alcoholic gives the impression she felt sorry for him as we would a little lost puppy.
In a way, not to be rude, it makes us wonder why you chose this particular person as a topic. Perhaps you are interested in reading about the lives of famous women in general, or maybe you love the art of dancing. Thank you for taking the time to share your interests with us.

Tom & Icy said...

Oh, I am sorrow. I realize now that it is Woman's History month. I understand now.

Logophile said...

Poetry Personified
I recall hearing a conversation a long time ago about how one's eccentricities are excusable in direct proportion to one's brilliance.
Which explains why I am mostly very well behaved.

Doug said...

She lived quite a life. I guess it isn't surprising when free-thinkers have unusual things happen to them.

With all of her epic living, creating and suffering "Isidorables" just sounds wrong.

And, Minka, I'll get to work on that limerick.