(May 26, 1877 – September 14, 1927) "modern dance", founding the "New System" of interpretive dance, blending together poetry, music and the rhythms of nature.
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. After his bank failed he was put on trial four times and eventually moved to Los Angeles. Dora Gray Duncan divorced her husband, supporting her family by teaching music. Her husband later returned and provided a home for his ex-wife and their children.
"I am the spiritual daughter of Walt Whitman," Isadora Duncan had declared, and indeed "Song of Myself" could stand as a motto for her entire life. Her version of RW Emerson's ideal of the spirit of self-reliance that believes only in itself and refused all limits.
She constantly studied the sources of movement and refined her own liberating approach to dance, which she claimed to have discovered in the waves breaking on California shores, in the art of ancient Greece, in the ideas of Whitman, Nietzsche and Wagner. Wherever she went, she proclaimed her aesthetic, both from the stage and in writing. Her costumes were scant, but she was shrouded in her lofty ideas: "Art which is not religious is not art, is mere merchandise."
She created a primitivist style of improvisational dance to counter the rigid styles of the time. She was inspired by the classics, especially Greek myth. She rejected traditional ballet steps to stress improvisation, emotion, and the human form. Isadora believed that classical 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.
Throughout her career, Duncan did not like 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.
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.
Duncan's fondness for flowing scarves which trailed behind her was the cause of her death in a freak automobile accident in Nice, France, on the night of September 14, 1927, at the age of 50
“Isadora Duncan is one of the greatest women I have ever known … Sometimes I think she IS the greatest woman I have ever known.”
"All who have escaped in any degree fromthe rigidity and prissiness of our
once national religion of negation owe a debt to Isadora Duncan's dancing. She
rode the wave of revolt against Puritanism; she rode it, and with her fame and
Dionysian raptures drove it on. She was -- perhaps it is simplest to say -- the
crest of the wave, an event not only in art but in the history of life."
"The soul becomes drunk with this endless succession of beautiful lines and
"Where her work was concerned she had integrity and patience, knowing no
compromise with what she felt to be the truth about beauty. In her personal life
she had charm and a naive wit. Of tact and self-control she had very little, nor
did she wish to have. She was the complete and willing tool of her impulses."
Ina Coolbrith possessed a rare talent. She not only created beauty, but
shehad the gift, as well, of inspiring the creative instinct in others. Isadora
was an eager pupil. Her reading carried her back to the classical culture of
ancient Greece, and the natural, unaffected, spontaneous Grecian art became her
Samuel Dickenson @ sfmuseum.org
"The most famous woman of the first quarter of the 20th century may have been
Mary Pickford, but the most influential, and the most notorious, was Isadora
Duncan. She was the progenitor and soul of a new art form, modern dance. She was
the prototype of the uninhibited young American whose freshness and originality
charmed jaded old Europe.
New York Times, 2001