Isadora Duncan: The Queen of Dance
Isadora Duncan revolutionized dance into what we know it today. While structure and tradition ruled during her time, she introduced improvisation through her performances and in her school.
“Let them come forth with great strides, leaps and bounds, with lifted forehead and far-spread arms, to dance,” Duncan wrote of American dance.
What isn’t as known about this woman was that she was a great lover of both men and women. She grew up amidst hardship and experienced a number of tragedies.
Isadora Duncan: The woman behind the dance
The youngest of four children, Duncan experienced poverty when her father was charged with illegal bank transactions.
When her parents divorced, her mother moved them to Oakland when she was still a baby. However, at age of six, she was already teaching dance to other children in their neighborhood.
At age 19, Duncan moved to Chicago and joined a dance troupe. While the theatrical gods of New York loved her maverick style of dancing, she was still underappreciated as a great artist.
She moved to Europe where she found her audience, and she inspired other artists with her dance form. The likes of Auguste Rodin created art based on her, while the occultist Aleister Crowley was impressed by her.
She also began a school that taught young women her dance technique. Her technique was to combine ancient Greek art with Americans’ love for freedom.
In time, she created her signature white free-flowing Hellenic-style tunic that she used while dancing because it allowed her freedom of movement.
Isadora Duncan’s loves and tragedies
Aside from dancing, Duncan was also a voracious lover. With her beauty and grace, men fell head over heels in love with her. She didn’t stop with men as she had many women lovers as well.
Her most famous lover was the mannish Mercedes de Acosta. De Acosta was described by Alice B. Toklas as having bedded the most important women of the 20th century.
She would also have affairs with her young female students, but she preferred relationships with married men as there was less pressure.
However, tragedy followed the dance queen throughout her life.
She lost two children who drowned along with their nanny when their car fell into the Seine River in Paris. Her next child died after birth.
In 1922 she married the poet Sergie Esenin who was 18 years her junior. The marriage broke apart when Duncan went back to having lesbian affairs. He would kill himself two years later.
Sadly, Isadora’s death was also tragic: her scarf got caught in the open-spokes wheel of the car she was riding on at Nice, strangling her.
Despite this, Isadora Duncan’s legacy lives on as she is remembered for her freedom of expression both as a philosophy and as a dance form.