Biography of Dancers Isadora Duncan Part 1

About the American dancer Isadora Duncan, her biography and history.


Isadora Duncan (1878-1927). A beautiful yet tragic figure, Isadora Duncan was one of the most revolutionary and controversial personalities the dance world has ever known--both on stage and offstage.

She was born Dora Angela Duncan, 4th child of Dora and Joseph Duncan in San Francisco, Calif.; her father deserted the family a few months before Isadora's arrival. Her mother supported the family by giving piano lessons and knitting. Their nomadic existence--necessary to keep distance between them and their creditors--was a difficult but happy one, for they ignored defeat. Isadora's incredible optimism in the midst of the most depressing of circumstances sustained her throughout a tumultuous life.

Isadora believed from the time she was a child that her life as an artist was destined by the gods, and that she was a mortal incarnation of Aphrodite. "I belong to the gods," she wrote. "My life is ruled by signs and portents, which I follow to my set goals."

Dancing was as natural as walking for Isadora, and when she turned 17, she decided she was ready for a professional dance career. She headed for Chicago accompanied by her mother. In order to keep from starving, Isadora took a job in a vaudeville show where she was billed as "The California Faun." Her 1st break came when she auditioned for the impresario Augustin Daly while he was in Chicago. She was immediately hired for his New York Revue.

Daly was responsible for Isadora's brief but formal ballet training. He sent her to study with a leading ballerina in New York, and then with another in London. However, Isadora was in total opposition to formal ballet, and she rebelled against its rigid set movements. Her dancing was totally free form--romantic and lyrical. Isadora challenged not only the staid direction that ballet had taken, but its costumes and musical accompaniment as well. The human form was beautiful and sacred to Isadora, and her costumes were softly draped Grecian tunics which silhouetted the body, enhancing every movement. The traditional ballet slipper was replaced by sandals or she wore no shoes at all.

The lingering Victorian attitude of the American audience was at odds with Isadora's innovations, and her costumes--or lack of them--(it was said that she once danced in Boston in the nude)--were regarded by many as "shocking and scandalous." Isadora's use of Beethoven's 7th Symphony as dance music outraged purists who felt that music should be used as its composer had intended. Sometimes, poems were read aloud during her dance. Isadora's philosophy of dance was ". . .to blend together--a poem, a melody and a dance--so that you will not listen to the music, see the dance or hear the poem, but will live in the scene and the thought that all are expressing."

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