Isadora Duncan was a dance pioneer who bewitched audiences during her lifetime and trained young girls in her methods and methodology so that, after her passing, they could teach generations who danced after her. She was a rebel who loved hard, experienced great tragedy as well as great success and, to paraphrase the words of Paul Anka famously sung by Frank Sinatra, she did it her way.
Angela Isadora Duncan was born in San Francisco, California on May 26, 1877. She was the last of four children of Joseph and Mary Dora Duncan. Her parent’s divorce after a financial and personal scandal before little Isadora was even out of diapers had a lasting impact on the entire family.
Mama Dora creatively raised her four children with a lot of love, few rules, and a heavy dose of artistic encouragement. Isadora dropped out of school when she was about 10 and educated herself through her public library. (Loud cheers for libraries!) She was taught social dances, and began her own dance school by 12 teaching not only those waltzes but also her own, self-created style of movement. From a very young age she fought against the unnatural movements of traditional ballet…and she never stopped.
That doesn’t mean she didn’t study ballet, she just hated studying ballet. Using her style of dance, and with her family by her side all pursuing their own interests, Isadora landed on one stage, then another…Chicago to New York; London to Paris and it was on a stage in Budapest, Hungry, dancing to Strauss’ Blue Danube Waltz that she became a star.
During her career she earned fortunes, and spent them mostly on her own dance schools she designed to teach youth about dance, of course, but to study art and literature, too. Isadora’s dances were first inspired by nature, then by art, Greek mythology, politics, and personal tragedy when her two young children died in a horrific car accident.
Isadora loved…a lot of people, danced on a lot of stages, won and lost the hearts of audiences and governments but she did it all on her own terms putting her art above everything else. Isadore died in her own tragic car accident on September 14, 1927, in Nice, France. She was 50 years old.
In her very first class of students at her school in Germany, six girls bonded to become The Isadorables. These girls performed and taught Isadora’s choreography and, with her teaching methods, spread Isadora’s dances far into the future. There are still generations of Isadora Duncan dancers teaching and performing today.
Time Travel with The History Chicks
For the mother lode of Isadora intel, visit The Isadora Duncan Archive and get your clicking finger ready because it will lead you to dance down some rabbit holes! There is also a lot of information (and dance classes if you’re in the San Diego, California area!) at IsadoraNow.
Podcast that looks at Isadora’s dance technique and philosophy from the lens of a dance historian: Dance Like Everyone’s Watching, episode 24 and 25
Here is the first of a three-part video series that looks at Isadora’s entire life through her choreography. It’s narrated by a 5th generation Duncan dancer and if you watch it for nothing else, watch it to see Isadora’s dances come to life and out of all the still photos we have of her.
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Break music: Awakening by Keri Newdingate; End music: Dreaming and Dancing by Tom Bolton
Both used with permission from iLicenseMusic