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The Indomitable Isadora Duncan

Updated on March 28, 2008

A Legend Forgotten

Though well-known the world over during her time in the early 20th century, Isadora Duncan is a name rarely heard in today's society. An independent, rebellious, and mercurial woman who shocked her conservative peers, she would today - by comparison - seem rather quaint. Isadora, along with being remembered as the "Mother of Modern Dance" was a revolutionary and pioneer, without ever meaning to be, in modern living and women's indpendence.

Today, few know who Isadora Duncan is or was, but she is a woman that should not be so easily forgotten. Her contributions to freeform dance and its spiritual, natural elements left as important a mark on the world as her delightfully eccentric and passionately turbulent life lived without limits.

Isadora, The Dancer

As young as the age of six, Isadora was teaching dancing classes to children in her San Francisco neighborhood. In fact, according to Isadora, she was dancing even in her mother's womb.

Born the youngest child to Joseph Charles Duncan and Mary Dora Gray in 1877, Angela Isadora Duncan was the family's bright star - and they would follow her across the ocean to help her realize her powerful and destinied ambitions. Joseph left the family not long after Isadora's birth, and their mother struggled to raise the small brood. The children often helped with the income by teaching dance or art classes, and - as they aged - they formed a small, family group that performed in the homes of Chicago and New York's upper classes. Mother Mary at the piano, with Isadora and Elizabeth dancing, and brother Raymond reciting pieces of Greek poetry and history - the unique, artistic family never failed to entrance and intrigue their rich hosts.

Eventually, money saved from these private gigs landed the Duncans aboard a cattle ship bound for Europe. They landed in London in 1899 and resumed their group performances until Isadora began to garner the notice of some big and influential names.

Soon she was dancing for packed houses in some of Europe's most prestigious theatres. Her rumored romances with some of the early 20th century's most brilliant minds is legendary.

Isadora and her philosophy of "The Dance" and how it related to the natural rhythms of life became known the world-over and she, it seemed, had finally achieved the status and fame she had always dreamt of - all of it part of her much bigger plan to teach the world's children to dance and bring about a revolution of love and spirituality in the essence of ancient Greek dancing.

Tragedy and heartbreak struck Isadora down from her lofty heights, and the mystical, mercurial woman - beloved by so many - was never quite the same. Towards the end of her life, Isadora had ceased to dance at all; something she attributed to age and extra weight she had gained along with age. She died a broken woman - emotionally, spiritually, and physically - and left behind a legacy that was, sadly, overlooked and forgotten in the fast-paced future.

Isadora, The Non-Conformist

Today's tabloids are filled with the exploits of celebrities and even the semi-famous, each story more wild and unbelievable than the next. It's difficult to read about Isadora's life and see anything spectactular or daring in how she chose to live - until you place it all in context.

Isadora Duncan lived in a world just coming out of the tight-lipped, heavily principaled, and highly moralistic Victorian era. Women did not - at least not so publicly - live such wild, bold lives. It was certainly not in any way common at the time for a woman to go prancing around half-clothed and barefoot, admittedly and unashamedly take on many lovers, have children by different fathers all out of wedlock, or blatantly enjoy her booze in public. Isadora did all of these things, and more. Her life was not bound by the normal morals and restrictions of those around her - something that caused some to marvel and be impressed by her and others to be shocked and seek to discredit her.

In all actuality, though, Isadora wasn't trying to make a statement - she was simply being herself and living life to its very fullest with no apologies. She often complained that most people only got about "10%" out of life, and it was obvious that Isadora intended to get 110% out of her own.

Isadora, The Mother

No piece on Isadora Duncan would be complete without including the greatest loves - and greatest tragedies - of her life; her two children.

Her first child, a daughter, was Deirdre - born on September 24, 1906 to Isadora's first love and lifetime friend, the then-married theatre designer, Gordon Craig. Her son, Patrick, born on May 1, 1910, was the result of a years-long love affair with Paris Singer; son of Issac Singer of the Singer sewing machine name and fortune.

Isadora loved her children dearly and spent many hours with them encouraging them - as her mother had she and her siblings - in a deep love and appreciation for literature, the arts, and dance.

Life would never be the same - nor would her spirit ever shine so brightly - after the tragic accident on April 19, 1913 that took Isadora's very heart and sunk it deep into the black waters of the Seine.

On that day, the children, with their nanny, had gone out. Isadora had stayed behind to talk with Paris in an attempt to patch up their souring relationship. When the car stalled, the driver got out to crank the engine forgetting to set the parking brake. Unable to stop it, the car rolled across Boulevard Bourdon and over the embankment into the Seine River below. By time the car was able to be pulled from the river, its three passengers were dead.

Soon after their deaths, Isadora became pregnant and gave birth to a son, but the infant only lived only a few days.

Isadora turned to drink to cope with the unbearable pain of losing her three children, though it was a wound that she would never fully recover from.


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    • profile image

      maggie 5 years ago



    • profile image

      Antonio Hernandez 6 years ago

      Great story.

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      aj 7 years ago

      I would like to ask your permission to link your page to the newly formed Akademia Duncan, an organization dedicated to the preservation of the Isadora and Raymond Duncan legacy

    • glassvisage profile image

      glassvisage 10 years ago from Northern California

      I had a book about influential and amazing women, and I was always fascinated by the section about Isadora Duncan :)

    • In The Doghouse profile image

      In The Doghouse 10 years ago from California

      Thank you for this wonderful Hub.

    • skatoolaki profile image

      skatoolaki 10 years ago from Louisiana

      Normally I would and do, but I wanted to write about Isadora apart from her lovers and marriage and the men in her life; part of her unique greatness at the time was her ability to be strong *without* a man - a rarity in the times in which she lived. I only mention Craig and Singer because she bore their children.

      In all of the other bios I've written about her, I include Sergei; but this was more a synopsis of her life and lifestyle than an actual biography piece. Hope that explains it.

    • Misha profile image

      Misha 10 years ago from DC Area

      Nice hub, but why did not you write anything about her relations with Sergey Esenin? It really looks incomplete this way :)