"Imagine then a dancer who, after long study, prayer and inspiration, has attained such a degree of understanding that his body is simply the luminous manifestation of his soul; whose body dances in accordance with a music heard inwardly, in an expression of something out of another, profounder world. This is the truly creative dancer."
Although she is probably most well known for her dramatic death, Isadora Duncan was an extremely influential dancer in the 1920s. During this time ballet was all acrobatics and gymnastics, and there was no grace to the dance as there is today. Isadora, however, didn’t follow the rules. She styled her dance after the ancient Greeks, using her whole body to dance passionately and with grace, and is often called the “mother of modern dance” because of her new, interpretive style. Isadora also created a number of schools to bring to children education along with what she valued most: art, culture, movement, and spirituality.
Isadora was born in San Francisco, California, in 1878, the youngest of four children. Her family was very poor, and her father left them shortly after her birth. She grew up hearing how terrible her father was, and at twelve years old she vowed never to marry because of what she saw as a child.
Although difficult, Isadora’s life was also filled with art, poetry, and music. Her father was a poet and her mother was a pianist and music teacher. She was dancing as soon as she could walk, and she read constantly. In her reading she discovered ancient Greece, and she was inspired by its art. She was impressed by how natural it was, and the way it wasn’t restrained by any rules appealed to her rebellious nature. It became her dream to imitate this in dance.
Her career in dancing and teaching began very young, when, at around fourteen, she started teaching smaller children in her neighborhood how to dance to earn some extra money for her family. Later in her teens, she decided she wanted to move East and become a dancer, so her family packed everything up and moved to Chicago with barely enough money for the trip. She got a few jobs dancing, and she was praised for her interesting style, but most people wanted nothing to do with it. It wasn’t the “right” way to dance. She was, however, discovered by one producer, who gave her a few roles in some of his plays, particularly A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Chicago wasn’t working, though. Her family still had almost no money, and she wanted to show the world her dance, so they moved once again, this time to New York.
New York was more of a success for Isadora. She found fame for a short time in the city, but she was quickly forgotten. She decided to move again, to London. At first she performed in private “salons” in London and Paris, but then she was discovered by Mrs. Patrick Campbell, a popular English actress. Mrs. Campbell, impressed with Isadora’s dancing, helped Isadora make it in London, and London became the first place Isadora was ever really accepted. She moved from the private salons to the great stages, and she was acclaimed throughout Europe.
Of course, she had always dreamed of dancing in Greece, the place that had inspired her to dance in the first pace, and now that she wasn’t in need of money, she went . In Greece, she built a huge dancing stage on a hill outside of Athens and taught local children to dance. She stayed there for one year.
Although Isadora was against marriage, she did have two children by two different men. Her first child was of Gordon Craig, another artist. Craig treated Isadora very badly, and they constantly fought, but her rebellious and wild nature made this exciting relationship perfect for her. After her relationship with Craig ended, she had another child by Paris Singer, of the Singer sewing machine company, who she called “my millionaire”. He, unlike Craig, would do anything for her. This was too dull for her, though, and she openly had affairs with other men while she was with Singer.
In between her two children, Isadora started opening schools to teach children in the context of culture and art. Often, she would provide for all of their needs out of her own pocket. She considered it her mission to pass on this natural way of dancing, and living. Isadora taught her children interpretive dances to classical pieces, her dream to have them dance to Beethoven’s 9th Symphony.
Unfortunately, in 1913, her two children, who had become her whole life besides teaching dance, drowned in the Seine River when the car they were in with their governess started up and rolled into the river. She was devastated and stopped teaching and dancing for a period.
Eventually she went on with her life, though, and started teaching again. After her children’s deaths, she adopted a few of her pupils, who were nicknamed “the Isadorables” when later she performed with them.
In 1927, after making such a difference to the world of dance, and showing the world that it could be more than acrobatics, Isadora Duncan died in a freak accident. She was going out with one of her recent lovers in a sports car, wearing one the stylish long scarves she always wore. As he began to drive, she threw back her scarf saying, quite appropriately, “Adieu, mes amis, je vais à la gloire,” and her long scarf got caught in the wheel of the car, choking her and crushing her skull under the wheel.
Even though at first she wasn't accepted, Isadora Duncan had made her mark on the world of dance. At one time her dance was thought of as crude and unacceptable, but now even the president, Theodore Roosevelt, loved her. As he put it,"Isadora Duncan seems to me as innocent as a child dancing through the garden in the morning sunshine and picking the beautiful flowers of her fantasy."