Isadora Duncan 

May 27, 1878 - September 14, 1927

Isadora Duncan: Dances

The Daughter is the Mother to the Woman Dance

Isadora Duncan rejected the constraints of formal ballet and devised her own
unique lyrical free-form style of dance. American audiences were disconcerted,
even outraged at her non-conformity, but European audiences were more
appreciative. Her influence on modern dance is undeniable. Duncan was also a
fiercely independent woman of radical and perhaps racist social values. 

Isadora was born in San Francisco, the youngest of four children. Her father,
Charles Duncan was a poet and he divorced her mother Mary Dora, a music teacher,
shortly after Isadora's birth. The family plunged into poverty. Despite their
poor condition the Duncan environment was rich in cultural, artistic and
intellectual stimulation. After the failure of the marriage, Mary Dora rejected
her Irish Catholic religious background and became a follower of the agnostic
Robert Green Ingersoll. Ingersoll, a lawyer, a Civil War veteran and a former
attorney general of Illinois achieved some notoriety for his lectures and
writings which attacked popular Christian beliefs. Isadora's mother would read
Ingersoll's works to her children. 

The absence of a father and the strong unconventional attitudes of her mother
created a stridently independent woman who preached and lived a life that we
might call distinctly "feminist." This independence, married to her artistic
nature, created a soul that forever battled the demands of conventional society
with the demands of her art. Isadora didn't straddle the fence between the two
worlds. Her body and her soul were clearly attuned to the calling of her art.

Given the realities of her childhood she eschewed the concept of marriage
(although she did get married now and then) on both personal and political
grounds. She recognized that marriage and the artistic spirit are not compatible.

Marriage is an absurd and enslaving institution, leading- especially with
artists- inevitably to the divorce courts, and preposterous and vulgar lawsuits. 

The Dance of Passionate Passions

Isadora Duncan was a woman brimming over with passion. And love, like art, was a
continuing obsession. Her first love affair, at age 11, was a secret from the
object of her affections. Vernon, a young chemist who worked in a drug store was
a dance student of Isadora's older sister Elizabeth.

I wrote in my journal that I was madly, passionately in love, and I believe that
I was. Whether Vernon was conscious of it or not, I do not know. At that age I
was too shy to declare my passion...I sat up until the small hours recounting to
my journal the terrifying thrills which I felt... This passion lasted two years
and I believed that I suffered quite intensely...That was my first love. I was
madly in love, and I believe that since then I have never ceased to be madly in

Her second intense love affair began in Paris in 1905 when she met the stage
designer Gordon Craig. This affair produced Isadora's first child, a daughter
named Deirdre born in 1906. Despite her deep passion for Craig the inevitable
conflicts between life, love and art emerged. Liberated women do not always fall
in love with liberated men. 

After the first few weeks of wild, impassioned love-making, there began the
waging of the fiercest battle that was ever known, between the genius of Gordon
Craig and the inspirations of my Art.

"Why don't you stop this?" he used to say. "Why do you want to go on the stage
and wave your arms about? Why don't you stay at home..." [H]is jealousy as an
artist would not allow him to admit that any woman could really be an artist.

Isadora's second child, a son Patrick, was born in 1910. This birth was the
result of a romance with Paris Singer, heir to the Singer sewing machine fortune.
Again her love life conflicted with her artistic life. 

My life has known but two motives- Love and Art- and often Love destroyed Art,
and often the imperious call of Art put a tragic end to Love. For these two have
no accord, but only constant battle.    

This dialectic between "love" and "art" is but an umbrella covering a wide range
of dualities. The tension between her creative life and domestic responsibility,
between her public persona and her private self, between her passionate love and
her motherly love...all this tension and conflict somehow found its expression in
her art, which was exhibited in the movement of her body. Commenting on Duncan's
art, Linda Tomko, wrote in her essay "She Saw America Dancing" (Women's Review of
Books, Volume XIII: June 1, 1996), that Isadora's dancing was about
transgression, but not primarily about sexual transgression. It was cultural
transgression: a refusal to respect the boundaries between the public and the
private, between art and life. The spectator's pleasure lay in the play across

Isadora writes about how much she loved her children, Deirdre and Patrick. 

How empty and dark would life be without [my children], for more than my Art and
a thousand times more than the love of any man, they had filled and crowded my
life with happiness.    

Her commentary on the pregnancy and birth of her daughter is moving and
heartfelt. But despite these expressed feelings, one suspects that like her
lovers, her children too were sacrificed for her art. She talks about not seeing
her young daughter for six months at a time while on dance tours. Despite
expressions to the contrary, Isadora sacrificed everything for her "art."

The Sacrificial Dance

And then tragedy struck. In Paris, on April 13, 1913, it was a rainy afternoon.
Isadora's children were accidentally drowned when the automobile they were in
rolled into the Seine river. Her already faltering relationship with Singer all
but collapsed. And so did her life, for awhile. But again, her "art" restored
her, in part. After a convalescence that included refugee work in Albania and
romance in Constantinople she returned to Paris.

Although the love affair with Singer was over he continued to support her and her
dream of creating a dance school community. For a brief time the school
flourished in Paris at the Bellevue Hotel which Singer had purchased for Isadora.
But by 1914 the world situation had become ominous as the Great War began to
unfurl its fury in Europe. Her school and its students were moved to New York to
avoid the hostilities. Isadora had also become pregnant again, but the baby died
at childbirth. (The father apparently was an Italian lover euphemistically
referred to as Michael Angelo). 

Isadora spent most of the war moving around. She performed in South America where
she was surprised to see "the mixture of black and white races taken with
nonchalance." She learned to dance the tango in Argentina. She visited and
performed in Cuba. In 1917 she toured in America, but her performances were not
well received. 

In 1921 the Soviet Union invited Isadora to Russia to open a dance school. There
she met the Russian poet Sergei Esenin, seventeen years her junior. She married
Esenin in 1922 and together they toured the United States. Their reception in
America was uniformly hostile. They were accused of being "Bolsheviks" and their
politics, not their art, became the main focus of their appearances. The marriage
soon dissolved (Esenin would commit suicide in 1925). 

The End Dance

In 1926 Isadora began her autobiography, My Life in which she covered her life
history up to her departure for Russia in 1921. On September 14, 1927 while
riding in an automobile, Isadora Duncan died tragically and suddenly when the
scarf around her neck got caught in the rear-wheel spokes of the open-air car.
She died instantly.

Enigmatic and paradoxical to the end, Isadora Duncan's life exhibits the very
complex choreography that is the life of the modern artist. 

Isadora Duncan External Links 
Women in the Visual Arts Isadora Duncan
Isadora Duncan Dance Center - San Francisco
Isadora Duncan (1878-1927)
Duncan Link

Isadora Duncan-Official Cosmic Record   
YEAR    TEAM    POS     BA      AB      H       HR      RBI     
1997    Virgins of      .277    321     89      0       40      
Total 1 Season  
1998 Virgins Roster

Isadora Duncan 1998 Cosmic Player Plate
Published: February 3, 1998
Copyright c 1998 by the Cosmic Baseball Association


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