Isadora Duncan – The inventor of American modern dance died tragically when her long scarf became entangled around the rear axle of the car she was riding in

Isadora Duncan

Isadora Duncan was a dancer who was born in 1877 or 1878, in San Francisco. What distinguishes Isadora from all her other contemporaries is that her dancing didn’t adhere to a form, to rules, or rigid ballet techniques. She had a completely different and pioneering philosophy towards dance.

She perceived dance as a natural movement of the body and a medium for the expression of the human spirit. Isadora was deeply moved and inspired by ancient Greek art, which she combined with her American sense of freedom. She is considered the creator of modern dance.

Portrait of Isadora Duncan.


Isadora Duncan during her visits to America in 1915-18, by Arnold Genthe.


Isadora Duncan dancing in the Dionysos theater of Athens. Photography by Raymond Duncan, 1903.

Duncan’s parents divorced when she was just an infant, and she lived with her mother and three other siblings in extremely poor conditions. The children, who were all dancers, didn’t have any other choice but to contribute to their household income by giving dancing lessons to the other kids in the neighborhood. Isadora continued with this throughout her teenage years. She loved dancing, and she always improvised and experimented with her moves. She traveled to Chicago and became part of the Augustin Daly’s theater company. From there, Isadora moved to New York City, where, unfortunately, the stage wasn’t ready for her unique movements.

Feeling disappointed and unappreciated, Isadora left America and moved to London in 1898. In London, she danced in wealthy peoples’ drawing rooms, while she was drawing her inspiration from the Greek art in the British Museum. Her earnings were sufficient for renting a studio where she could create “magic” for the stage. After London, Isadora traveled to Paris, drawing more inspiration from the Louvre.

Isadora Duncan in 1900, by Paul Berger


Abraham Walkowitz’s Isadora Duncan #29.


Isadora Duncan. Illustration by Antoine Bourdelle.

In 1902, Isadora was invited by Loie Fuller to tour with her. They traveled all around Europe and Isadora could perform freely, creating a more innovative technique. She influenced the perception of dance at the time by giving the audience natural movement dance instead of rigid ballet techniques.

Even though the critics were divided in their opinion, Isadora inspired many artists such as Abraham Walkowitz, Arnold Ronnebeck, Auguste Rodin, and Antoine Bourdelle, who created works based on her.

Photo by Arnold Genthe of Duncan performing barefoot during her 1915–18 American tour.



Isadora Duncan during her visits to America in 1915-18, by Arnold Genthe.


Isadora Duncan in a Greek-inspired pose and wearing her signature Greek tunic.

Unusual for a stage artist, Isadora wasn’t fond of the commercial aspects of public performance, such as contracts and touring. Her mission was to share the dance and her philosophy of movement, so she opened schools and dedicated herself to teaching young people.

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