“Isadora,…Sans Limites”

“Whenever you feel the evil influence of the middle class muddling your soul, you’ll say these two words and you’ll be a free spirit again: “Isadora Duncan.”  Steve Tesich, in the screenplay for Four Friends (1981)

“Love is not the sacred thing that poets talk about … Love is an illusion; it is the world’s greatest mistake. I ought to know for I’ve been loved as no other woman of my time has been loved. Men have threatened suicide, they have taken poison, they have fought duels for me. All kinds have come to me — geniuses, poets, millionaires, artists, musicians — but now there is not one to whom I have appealed for the loan of £25 who have responded. There is love for you! Isadora Duncan – As quoted in A Century of Sundays : 100 years of Breaking News in the Sunday Papers (2006) by Nadine Dreyer, p. 65

Angela Isadora Duncan (May 27, 1877 – September 14, 1927) was an American dancer. Born in California, she lived in Western Europe and the Soviet Union from the age of 22 until her death at age 50. She performed to acclaim throughout Europe after being exiled from the United States for her pro-Soviet sympathies.

Duncan began her dancing career by teaching lessons in her home from the time she was six through her teenage years. Her different approach to dance is evident in these preliminary classes, in which she “followed [her] fantasy and improvised, teaching any pretty thing that came into [her] head”. A desire to travel brought Duncan to Chicago where she auditioned for many theater companies, finally finding a place in Augustin Daly’s company. This job took her to New York City where her unique vision of dance clashed with the popular pantomimes of theater companies. Feeling unhappy and limited with her work in Daly’s company and with American audiences, Duncan decided to move to London in 1898. There she found work performing in the drawing rooms of the wealthy and inspiration from the Greek vases and bas-reliefs in the British Museum. The money she earned from these engagements allowed her to rent a dance studio to develop her work and create larger performances for the stage.From London, Duncan traveled to Paris, where she drew inspiration from the Louvre and the Exposition Universelle of 1900

“To seek in nature the fairest forms and to find the movement which expresses the soul of these forms — this is the art of the dancer. It is from nature alone that the dancer must draw his inspirations, in the same manner as the sculptor, with whom he has so many affinities”. Isadora Duncan – As quoted in Modern Dancing and Dancers (1912) by John Ernest Crawford Flitch, p. 105

“My inspiration has been drawn from trees, from waves, from clouds, from the sympathies that exist between passion and the storm, between gentleness and the soft breeze, and the like, and I always endeavour to put into my movements a little of that divine continuity which gives to the whole of nature its beauty and its life”. Isadora Duncan – As quoted in Modern Dancing and Dancers (1912) by John Ernest Crawford Flitch, p. 105

The Art of the Dance (1928)

“The dance of the future will have to become again a high religious art as it was with the Greeks. For art which is not religious is not art. It is mere merchandise”. Isadora Duncan – The Art of the Dance (1928)

“The movement of the waves, of winds, of the earth is ever in the same lasting harmony. We do not stand on the beach and inquire of the ocean what was its movement of the past and what will be its movement of the future. We realize that the movement peculiar to its nature is eternal to its nature. The dancer of the future will be one whose body and soul have grown so harmoniously together that the natural language of that soul will have become the movement of the body”. Isadora Duncan – The Art of the Dance (1928) p. 54

“The harmony of music exists equally with the harmony of movement in nature. Man has not invented the harmony of music. It is one of the underlying principles of life. Neither could the harmony of movement be invented: it is essential to draw one’s conception of it from Nature herself, and to see the rhythm of human movement from the rhythm of water in motion, from the blowing of the winds on the world, in all the earth’s movements, in the motions of animals, fish, birds, reptiles, and even in primitive man, whose body still moved in harmony with nature…..All the movements of the earth follow the lines of wave motion. Both sound and light travel in waves. The motion of water, winds, trees and plants progresses in waves. The flight of a bird and the movements of all animals follow lines like undulating waves. If then one seeks a point of physical beginning for the movement of the human body, there is a clue in the undulating motion of the wave”. Isadora Duncan – The Art of the Dance (1928) p. 78

“Come away!  her dancing says. Come out into the splendid perilous world!  Come up on the mountain-top where the great wind blows!  Learn to be young always! Learn to be incessantly renewed!  Learn to live in the intemperate careless land of song and rhythm and rapture!  Say farewell to the world you know and join the passionate spirits of the world’s history!  Storm through into your dreams!  Give yourself up to the frenzy that is in the heart of life, and never look back, and never regret! You shall become sweet and mad as a lover …  Robert Edmond Jones, in “The Gloves of Isadora” in Theatre Arts, Vol. 31, Issue 10 (1947)

By the end of her life Duncan’s performing career had dwindled and she became as notorious for her financial woes, scandalous love life and all-too-frequent public drunkenness as for her contributions to the arts. She spent her final years moving between Paris and the Mediterranean, running up debts at hotels. She spent short periods in apartments rented on her behalf by a decreasing number of friends and supporters, many of whom attempted to assist her in writing an autobiography. They hoped it might be successful enough to support her. In a reminiscent sketch, Zelda Fitzgerald recalled how she and her husband sat in a Paris cafe watching a somewhat drunk Duncan. He would speak of how memorable it was, but what Zelda recalled was that while all eyes were watching Duncan, Zelda was able to steal the salt and pepper shakers from the table.

“So long as little children are allowed to suffer, there is no true love in this world”. Isadora Duncan

Isadora Duncan with Serguei Esenin

“Most human beings today waste some 25 to 30 years of their lives before they break through the actual and conventional lies which surround them”. Isadora Duncan

In his book Isadora, an Intimate Portrait, Sewell Stokes, who met Duncan in the last years of her life, describes her extravagant waywardness. Duncan’s autobiography My Life was published in 1927. Composer Percy Grainger called Isadora’s autobiography a “life-enriching masterpiece.”

“We may not all break the Ten Commandments, but we are certainly all capable of it. Within us lurks the breaker of all laws, ready to spring out at the first real opportunity”. Isadora Duncan

Adieu, mes amis, Je vais à la gloire! “Farewell my friends, I go to glory!”

The Art of the Dance

Isadora Duncan Painting by Tayete Garcia


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