Isadora Duncan: The Free Spirit

“People do not live nowadays. They get about ten percent out of life.”

“You were once wild here.  Don’t let them tame you.”- Isadora Duncan (1877-1927)


Born in San Francisco, the poetic thinker and dancer proclaimed,

“I, Isadora Duncan hereby vow on my twelfth birthday that I will dedicate myself to the pursuit of art and beauty; and to the single life.  I will never marry.  I will never submit myself to any claims other than to truth and beauty.  To seal this vow, I hearby burn my parents’ marriage certificate.  Beauty is truth.  Truth, beauty.  That is all we know on earth, and all we need to know.”

While Isadora did eventually marry the Russian poet, Sergei Yesenin, in 1922, the Mother of Modern Dance kept her vow of dedicating herself to the pursuit of art, beauty, and truth.

From early childhood, Isadora studied the lines of ancient Greek sculpture and the movements of nature; both of which she incorporated into her unique style. Rejecting classical ballet which she deemed, “ugly and against nature”,  she clad herself in Grecian tunics, threw off her shoes, unbound her hair, and danced from her soul.  Stressing improvisation and pure emotion, she strove to rid her movements of all artifice.   The result was a simplicity of grace, which like all masterworks, appeared deceptively easy to achieve.

Isadora considered the solar plexus the “internal motor” and would stand hours in trance.   “I spent long days and nights in the studio, seeking that dance which might be the divine expression of the human spirit through the medium of the body’s movement. For hours I would stand quite still, my two hands folded between my breast, covering the solar plexus… I was seeking and finally discovered the central spring of all movement, the crater of motor power, the unity from which all diversions of movement are born, the mirror of vision for the creation of dance.”

   In 1903, she gave a lecture in Berlin where she stated her dance principles. 

“My intention is, in due time, to found a school, to build a theatre where a hundred little girls shall be trained in my art, which they in turn will better. In this school I shall not teach the children to imitate my movements, but to make their own, I shall not force them to study certain movements, I shall help them to develop those movements which are natural to them.”

 She opened her first school in Grunewald, Germany in 1904.  Driven by her belief that, “Every child that is born in civilization has a right to the heritage of beauty”, she  covered the poorer students living expenses.  During class,  she urged her students to listen to the music and wait until it moved them to dance.

Of dance, she said:

“If I could tell you what it meant, there would be no point in dancing it.”

“Natural dancing should only mean that the dance does not go against nature, not that anything is left to chance.”

“The true dance is an expression of serenity; it is controlled by the profound rhythm of inner emotion. Emotion does not reach the moment of frenzy out of a spurt of action; it broods first, it sleeps like the life in the seed, and it unfolds with a gentle slowness. The Greeks understood the continuing beauty of a movement that mounted, that spread, that ended with a promise of rebirth.

The Dance – it is the rhythm of all that dies in order to live again; it is the eternal rising of the sun.”

“If we seek the real source of the dance, if we go to nature, we find that the dance of the future is the dance of the past, the dance of eternity, and has been and always will be the same.

The movement of waves, of winds, of the earth is ever the same lasting harmony.”

“It has taken me years of struggle, hard work and research to learn to make one simple gesture, and I know enough about the art of writing to realize that it would take as many years of concentrated effort to write one simple, beautiful sentence.”

Published in: on September 13, 2009 at 2:36 pm  Comments (18)  
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18 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. That was amazing, especially her last quote. I wonder if it’s like this for other writers — the tens or hundreds of thousands of words we write at our everyday level of ability, then seemingly from nowhere we write something that fills us with awe. Issac Asimov said the second section of “The Gods Themselves” was his moment.

  2. Hi Edward,

    I’m really glad you liked the quotes.:)

    Even though she was speaking of dance, they resonated very much with me in regards to writing.

    And yes, it’s definitely like that for me. I write and write and then finally there’s this moment of bliss when I’ve broken through the wall.

  3. Dear Edward, Wonderful article- well researched….I work for Lori Belilove and the Isadora Duncan Dance Foundation here in New York. Lori has spent her life with Isadora ‘s work- teaching performing and creating new works in the style….we noticed that your article uses an image of her—I think through no fault of yours- just found on the google images web page? ….the second photo (B&W dancer jumping with the scarf wrapped around her arm) in your article is of Lori Belilove, not Isadora Duncan. Please will you credit her as a third generation Duncan Dancer-alive and well living and dancingin New York City??
    Thank you…Heather, The Duncan Foundation,
    PS the other photos is also not Isadora….if you want her name I can look it up for you…..

  4. Heather,

    Thank you for being so gracious regarding my error with the photos. I am sorry about that. In the end, I thought it best to delete them as I’m now uncertain about the copyright. (I had thought them old photos of Isadora that were in the public domain)

    And I’m glad you liked the post. Even though I’m not a dancer, Isadora has always been an inspiration.

    – Tasha

  5. Sounds like she was a force of nature.

  6. Mmmm, beautiful. 🙂

    I like this research and sharing you’re doing these days with amazing independent women of our history.


  7. Oh, lovely. I don’t feel that way about every sentence I write (I wish!), but there are definitely moments when, thinking hard and agonizing over a turn of phrase, a scene, the culmination of a character relationship or point of development, I can feel all the effort I’ve put in over the years and every book I’ve read and learned from behind what I’m doing. Nothing left to chance.

  8. Ralfast,

    She was indeed. 🙂

  9. Thanks so much Sput. Really glad you’re enjoying them. 🙂

  10. Amy, indeed those are beautiful moments when you feel the hard work has paid off. Dancers practice endlessly on the barre; we practice endlessly on our keyboards.

  11. The first quote about most people only getting about ten percent out of life still rings true…especially these days.
    Fascinating woman, and I loved this look at her and what motivated her art.

  12. Hi Dominique,

    I agree. That’s part of the reason I love reading your blog- all the enthusiasm for life and travel that shines through. 🙂

  13. Somehow it doesn’t surprise me she was from SFO 😉 It’s still a funky town.

  14. DD,

    Heh. Hadn’t thought of that. 🙂

  15. I love the dance quote…as a dancer, sometimes I feel disappointed that people don’t feel all of the emotion that comes with dance, but its so true that its so inspiring and movement is so full of every emotion. I love that quote.

  16. Heya Colby,

    Do you have a favorite type of dance to perform?

    I took ballet, jazz, and tap for a couple of years as a kid. I regret quitting.

  17. Now you’re making me blush!

  18. Dominique,

    Blush all you want. The compliment is true. 🙂

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