Jodi Lomask Isadora Duncan 

Isadora Duncan, born in San Francisco in 1877, was possibly the most influencial 
advocate of modern dance internationally in the twentieth century. She brought 
her freeform movements and her toga-style dress, modeled after Greek sculpture, 
to packed audiences in dozens of countries. Duncan gave expressionist dance 
words through her books (My Life, The Art of Dance), speeches, and letters to 
the newspapers: "What I am interested in doing is finding and expressing a new 
form of life" Duncan declared in The Mentor. (February 1930) 

In a period during which art dance was limited to entertainment, corsets, and a 
Ballet vocabulary, Duncan revealed the revolutionary potential of body-movement 
art once freed from restricting garb, "technique", and the economic constraints 
of the bourgeois audience: "I left Europe where art is closely linked with 
commerce. And it will be contrary to all my convictions and wishes if I shall 
again have to give paid performances to a bourgeois public." 

Duncan was inpirational to poets, artists of many disciplines, and 
revolutionaries: "There is just one thing that astonishes me. That is to hear 
that the American government has no sympathy with revolutions. I had always been 
taught that our great country was started by a revolution..." 

Duncan's quest was to express the inner landscape through her body. It was not 
to achieve virtuosity of form or strength of line: "No pose, no movement, no 
gesture is beautiful in itself. Every movement is beautiful only when it is 
expressed truthfully and sincerely. The phrase 'the beauty of line' is -- by 
itself -- absurd. A line is beautiful only when it is directed toward a 
beautiful end." 

She spent her childhood moving from one poor apartment to another with her 
mother and two sisters, and dancing alone by the sea. Her mother, though 
struggling to support the family on her own after Duncan's father left her, 
found the energy to expose her children to fine arts and literature: "When I 
could escape from the prison of school, I was free..My real education came 
during the evenings when my mother played to us Beethoven, Schumann, Schubert, 
Mozart, Chopin, or read aloud to us from Shakespeare, Shelley, Keats, or Burns," 
Duncan wrote in My Life. 

Hardships in Duncan's life inspired her vision, which primarily was a free 
school for children which she believed would be the lever to move the world: "When 
I speak of my School, people do not understand that I do not want paying pupils; 
I do not sell my soul for silver. I do not want the rich children. They have 
money and no need for Art. The children I long for are the orphans of the war, 
who have lost everything, who no longer have their fathers and mothers. As for 
me, I have little need of money. Look at my costumes. They are not complicated; 
they did not cost very much. Look at my decors, these simple blue curtains I 
have had since I first started dancing. As for jewels, I have no need for them. 
A flower is more beautiful in the hands of a woman than all the pearls and 
diamonds in the world." 

Duncan supported many new ways of living including vegetarianism and birth 
control. A believer in the Bolshevik revolution in Russia, she declared free art 
necessary to Communism: "The children of Communists still receive an essentially 
old-fashioned bourgeois education. If you want the future generation to 
understand the nature of Communism and the International, you must today free 
the child from the slavery of bourgeois education and prejudices." 

The Commissariat of Education in Russia gave Duncan a house and grounds to start 
her school, along with one thousand children the first year. Duncan traded the 
packed Opera houses of Europe for the bare existence in Communist Russia. 
Comrade Podvoisky told Duncan upon her arrival, "In your life you have known 
great theaters with applauding publics. That is all false. You have known trains 
du luxe and expensive hotels. That is all false. Ovations-false. All false. Now 
you've come to Russia...if you want to work for Russia...go alone amoungst the 
people. Dance you dances in little barns in the winter, in open fields in the 
summer. Teach the people the meaning of your dances. Teach the children. Don't 
ask for thanks." After a famine her school was cut down to 20 students. 

She voiced strong support of the liberation of women, children, and the working 
class, all of which she saw in reference to the spirit of humankind. At twelve 
years old, she resolved to "live to fight against marriage and for the 
emancipation of women," she recalled in My Life. "So long as children are aloud 
to suffer, there is no love in the world." 

Isadora Duncan's most revolutionary quality was her public honesty as one can 
see here in these statements to the press concerning her marraige to a Russian 
poet named Esenin whom she described as " a genius...mad as a hatter, strong, 
full of vitality." She brought him to the United States and eventually helped 
him return to Russia. "I never believed in marriage. I married Serge to enable 
him to get a passport to America...marriage between artists is impossible. 

Serge loves the ground I walk on. When he goes mad he could kill me -- he loves 
me so much more, then. For four months I worked with Serge. He is the loveliest 
boy in the world, but a victim of fate. Like all geniuses, he's cracked. I've 
given up hope of ever curing him of his occasional madness." 

In Isadora Duncan's own words, "Yes, I am a revolutionist. All true artists are 
revolutionists." 

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