Isadora Duncan is the mother of Modern Dance, and one of the most influential women in dance history. An enemy of ballet, due to restrictive costumes, she shocked audiences dancing barefoot and barelegged in a Greek Style tunic. She believed that movement flowed from the center or core, a key technique in dance today. Isadora has been a model for me throughout my dancing career, even leading me to become a specialist in children’s dance like Isadora. I visited her school in Leningrad in 1989, an extremely personal experience.
Isadora was born in San Francisco on May 26, 1877. She died September 14, 1927, at 50 years of age when her scarf was caught in the spokes of the open car’s wheels.
Isadora was born by the sea and the rhythm of the waves became a catalyst for her first idea of movement for the dance. She believed that this wave pattern could be found in the movement of the earth, of all living creatures, and even invisibly in sound and light which has been scientifically proven. Her dancing reflected this flowing motion, the forerunner of the fluidity we see in many of today’s dance moves.
Isadora’s dance was deeply spiritual, and much more than entertainment. She was the first dancer to use her personal life story in her dances. She also used music by great composers, such as Beethoven, Brahms and Chopin which left a lasting impression on her audiences. Although she divided opinion and her association with communist Russia radical, her legacy was to raise dance to an art form equal to music, painting, sculpture and literature.
She believed in empowering women through the celebration of the strength and beauty of the female body in its natural form. Her belief that “the movement of the human body must correspond to its form and the movement of no two persons should be alike”, she encouraged people to celebrate their own uniqueness rather than imitating others.
Isadora’s greatest passion was the way dance could bring joy and self-awareness to children and that dance could teach them to understand poetry, philosophy and even mathematical equations. (This dance view I used when teaching dance at Magnet Arts School in Eugene, Oregon.) She urged them to be free, but also taught them self-control. Certainly, I believe that dance needs to be taught to more children as Isadora (and I) have hoped.
Despite Isadora Duncan’s life being tragically cut short her legacy to dance and the creative arts continues to this day.