Isadora Duncan was a famous dancer who brought a new kind of dance to the world. She danced out the feelings from deep in her heart. Unlike other dancers in the late nineteenth century, Isadora Duncan danced with flowing motion. She was not a ballerina, and did not like to watch ballet dancers, with their stiff bodies and unnatural pointe shoes. At first she was not liked, but as time went on, Isadora Duncan became a dance revolutionist people all over the world will never forget.
Angela Isadora Duncan was born, one of four, on May 26,1877 in San Francisco, California. Her mother, Dora Duncan, was a piano teacher, and her father, Joseph Duncan was a banker, journalist, and poet. Her parents were both well educated, charming, and an altogether happy couple. However, their marriage fell apart soon after Isadora’s birth.
After the divorce, Dora was left with little money to support her four children; Augastin, Raymond, Elizabeth, and Isadora. She gave her music lessons, but still was not bringing in enough money to keep living in the same house. The family began moving from one apartment to another, learning to leave each one a day before the bills came around.
Isadora started school at the age of five. In the late nineteenth century, students were expected to sit still during school, memorizing and reciting their lessons. To Isadora this was “irritating and meaningless.” She hated school. She said later in her autobiography that her real education came on the nights when Isadora and her siblings would dance to her mother’s music and learn about what they were interested in — literature and music.
Isadora was told as a child that she would have to learn to depend on herself to get what she needed in life. So as Isadora grew older, she began to understand her family’s financial condition and was eager to help. She and her sister Elizabeth began baby-sitting to help the family. To keep their charges busy, they taught them how to dance. The dance lessons were mostly just telling them to wave their arms in the air, but it kept them busy and raised money for the family.
In those days, when dancing was first popular, “nice” women wore clothing from chin to toe, not showing any skin. However, new kinds of dance were surfacing that allowed the “nicest” women to take of their corsets and not have to pretend to have a perfect figure. More and more women began dancing, inspiring Isadora to help her family by working as a dance instructor. She knew how to dance from all the practice she got from dancing at home to their mother’s piano music, but she had not yet taken any dancing lessons. Her mother saved up enough money for her to participate in a small dance school, but Isadora disliked her teacher. He made her dance in pointe shoes, which Isadora found painful, ugly, and unnatural.In ballet, everything has a specific step or a traditional pose. Ballerinas dance with stiff bodies, without freedom of movement. This went against the way Isadora liked to dance. She quit her schooling after three lessons. Although her own dance lessons had not gone well, she quit her academic schooling, and started her business. Her neighbors had noticed her gracefulness and began sending their children to be her students. Pretty soon, word got around and Isadora was teaching some of the wealthy girls of San Francisco. Her classes eventually grew so large that Isadora found that her own dance lessons had indeed been unnecessary.
One day, when Isadora was sixteen, her father came back to their apartment with good news.He felt badly about leaving his family with practically nothing, when he had plenty of money to himself. He bought the family a giant mansion with a tennis court, dancing rooms, a barn and a windmill. Then he left, never to be seen by his family again. Elizabeth and Isadora started a dance school and Raymond and Augastin made the barn into a theater. To the Duncan children this must have been a dream. They began to perform together for small audiences in the barn, and eventually started a tour of Northern California. The reviews were a mixed bag, and soon their fortune failed. However, during that time Isadora learned to be independent. She believed she could go on performing without her family. She had a dream of leaving San Francisco to tour the country with an acting group. But her first audition was not good. She was told that her work was no good for a theater; that it was much more fitting for a church. But Isadora would not be let down. She made up her mind to go to Chicago with her mother, and Dora Duncan agreed. They would leave for Chicago in mid-1895, leaving the rest of the family behind.
They arrived in Chicago with little more than a trunk. Without any income, Dora Duncan and her daughter were soon left homeless. Disappointed that she was again poor, Isadora went out looking for a job. Eventually, she found work. The manager of a Masonic Temple Roof Garden decided to hire her on the condition she would make her dancing livelier. Although he made Isadora wear a “frilly” dress, she took the job. She made $50 her first week, but then refused to sign a long – term contract. She auditioned for many theater groups in Chicago, but got the same reaction she had on her first audition. Her fortune changed, however, when Augastin Daly’s theater group came to town. She auditioned for him, and he accepted her art, giving her a small part in a pantomime he would present in New York that fall. In October of that year she went to New York City, excited about finally being able to share her art with a real paying audience. However, when she arrived and took the part, she was again disappointed. Pantomime did not allow speaking, and as far as she was concerned, was neither acting nor dancing, and therefore was not part of the dream she had hoped for in New York. She stayed with the group for a year, traveling to England where they performed in London.When they returned to New York, Isadora quit dancing for the theater group.
While traveling with the group, she had begun to take interest in the music of Ethelbert Woodridge Nevin. One day, while Isadora was choreographing, Nevin, who was working in a nearby studio, heard his music being played and came bursting into the room. He watched how beautiful Isadora’s dances were, and decided to play concerts with her. They played their concerts at Carnegie Hall, and after getting excellent reviews, began receiving invitations to play at the homes of many wealthy families. But the income from all this was very low, and was barely enough to support Isadora and her mother. Isadora began to think she could do better than New York. She dreamed of England, but did not have nearly enough money to go there. Using her creativity and cleverness, she remembered the wealthy families she had given concerts for, and went to them for money. Eventually she got enough money, and again her mother agreed to go with her, on the condition that they bring along her siblings, Elizabeth and Raymond.
They arrived in England with virtually no money. After living in poor areas of London for a few weeks, Isadora saw an article in a newspaper about a wealthy woman entertaining in her home. Isadora was looking for work, and visited the woman. The woman decided to have her perform for a group of her friends. She was a big hit, and following this performance, Isadora received many invitations to perform at the social events of other wealthy women of the area. On one occasion Isadora performed at the home of one of the members of Parliament. Many people came to this event, including people of royalty such as the Price of Whales and people interested in art such as the artist Charles Hall. Isadora wore a few yards of curtain veiling and found that the people who watched her surprisingly did not comment on her attire. The ordinary people who watched her made comments like “How pretty” and “Thank you very much,” while artists who watched her described her as beautiful and fluent. Isadora was disappointed by the reaction of those who did not find her an emotional dancer, but was proud to have finally found fans.
Though Isadora was finally doing well, Elizabeth and Raymond Duncan found nothing but boredom. Elizabeth went back to the United States in hopes she could find something to do. Raymond set out for Paris, with his mother and Isadora soon to follow.When they arrived in Paris, Isadora was immediately invited to perform, once again, in the homes of wealthy families. It was at these performances that Isadora made friendships with singer Mary Desti and painter Eugne Carrire.Her new friends gave her a feeling that she could be carefree, and because of this, she began to look further into the techniques of dance. She enjoyed doing dance exercises that encouraged freedom of movement, and did not like sudden starts and stops. In her dancing, she showed the audience her emotions, such as fear or love. This is the way modern dance is approached. The modern dancer expresses his or her feelings in their movements.Isadora Duncan was the first to ever show that kind of grace in dancing. She said in her autobiography, “I am not a dancer. I am here to make you listen to the music.” And indeed, that is what she did. Not only did she show her own emotions, but she also acted out in dance steps the story and feelings of the music.
After living in Paris for 3 months, Isadora’s brother Augastine Duncan and his wife and children came to Paris. He encouraged his family to come to Athens, Greece with him, and they excitedly agreed. When the family arrived in Greece, they thought for a long while that they would stay there forever, studying about the Greeks and dancing in the Greek temples. But, unfortunately, because they had no income, they were soon left homeless.
The Duncan family decided to go to Berlin, Germany where many performances were being held showing different talents and arts. They figured with the many talents their family had alone, at least one of them would find work.When they arrived, Isadora was the one who got the job they had hoped for.She began holding weekly receptions at her home, and finally started gaining some income. For the first time in her whole life, Isadora Duncan was happy, but still wanted more. She wanted to once again take up the profession of a dance instructor, starting her own dance school. At the end of 1904 Isadora bought a house in Grnewald, Germany, and with the help of her mother and her sister, she transformed the small villa into a dancing school. Isadora did not want rich students, for they had other opportunities to be exposed to art. She wanted to teach poor children, to give them something new that they might otherwise not have. She was able to clothe, house, feed, and educate her students free of charge, by only having a group of twenty students at a time. When one left, a new child came in to replace her.There were only six students who stayed at the Grnewald school for the entire time it was running. Later these six students were named the “Isadorables.”
It was at the same time Isadora started her school that she met Edward Gordon Craig, the son of actress Ellen Terry. They had a lot in common, and they fell in love immediately.After about three months of heart-felt love and teaching, Isadora found she was pregnant. Her first-born child was born on September 26, 1905. She and Craig named their baby Deirdre.
As eager as Isadora was to get back to her dancing, she stayed at home with Deirdre for a few weeks until she realized that her bank account was getting low. With the expenses of the baby, the school, and an empty schedule ahead, things did not look good for Duncan. She thought quickly, and decided to take her “Isadorables” on a dance tour, hoping to receive government funding for her school. However, it did not go well, and when Isadora returned home from the tour she found that Craig had left her.
Looking for reassurance after her recent loss of Craig, she left her family behind and traveled to the United States for the first time in the nine years. Indeed, it was in New York City that she found reassurance. It was there that President Theodore Roosevelt praised her and pronounced her as “world-renowned for her courage and beauty.” It was there that she also met Paris Singer, the wealthy son of a member of the British Parliament. She made a strong friendship with him, which led up to the birth of Isadora’s second child. Isadora’s son was born on May 1, 1910. She and Singer named their son Patrick. She went to Paris with her children in 1913. It was not soon after they arrived that the biggest tragedy of Isadora’s life took place.
One day while Isadora was choreographing, Paris Singer came bursting into her studio with horrible news. Her children had died in a terrible car accident that had ended in the Seine River. The children had drowned trapped in their limousine. This was a tragedy Isadora Duncan would not overcome very easily. Her children had been her number one priority from the day each was born. Now they were gone, and to her, there seemed nothing left to live for.
After months of sorrow and pain over the loss of Deirdre and Patrick, Isadora finally was able to get a hold of herself. After losing her children, she had begun to care about starving and sick children around the world. Her first destination when she was ready to move on with her life was Albania, where she mothered and performed for starving children. She stayed there for a year, until she felt obliged to return once again to her “Isadorables”. Singer’s wealth was able to buy Isadora a larger school of dance in Bellevue.Isadora went, with her “Isadorables” to the new school in Bellevue, and remained there through yet another pregnancy. However, this time Isadora’s baby died shortly after birth. At this point in her life, Isadora was constantly depressed, lonely, and full of sorrow.She had brought three lives into the world, only to have them die in childhood.She gave up her most recent school to the French to use for battered veterans of World War I. Isadora decided that the best way to forget what was making her depressed was to abandon her romance and concentrate on her art. She went once again to New York city with only her “Isadorables,” knowing they would find somewhere to perform. Indeed, as soon as they got there they were greeted with warm welcome and given plenty of places to perform, one of which was the Metropolitan.Isadora had so much fun on this trip, that she decided she would legally adopt her six “Isadorables.” With the adoption papers signed, the girls’ names were changed to the Isadora Duncan Dancers. They left the United States forever and with barely enough money, the small family started out for Moscow where they would start yet another Isadora Duncan school of dance.Isadora and her girls were happy there. They had everything they wanted; a beautiful place to dance, a family, and just enough money to support themselves. They lived in this spot for five years, until once again Isadora Duncan was penniless. She and her girls went to Paris, knowing for sure they would get the same, if not better response as they did in New York. They got what they had been looking for when they arrived, and immediately began giving concerts to overflowing theaters.
Isadora Duncan never lived beyond that trip to Paris, for she died on September 14, 1927 after having dinner with her life-long friend, Mary Desti. After dinner, she hopped into a Bugatti sports car with the agent from the car company. She was wearing a long, elegant, red scarf, and as Mary Desti looked on in horror, that scarf got caught in the axis of the spinning wheel and strangled Isadora Duncan to death.
More than ten thousand people gathered at the cemetery to watch Isadora Duncan’s ashes be place next to her children’s in their memorial. Even people who had watched her dance decades before came to the solemn service. To all these people Isadora Duncan meant something. She brought into the world the idea of teaching young children how to dance. Even though she knew they would not all become professional dancers, she felt that a feeling of rhythm and freedom of movement were important for one to have. She was the first to ever express her personal emotions in her public dancing. She always wore revealing clothes, often whatever she could find around her house. If you ever see a young child on a stage twirling and leaping to the words of her own feelings, they are there because Isadora Duncan danced.