Isadora Duncan

Isadora Duncan

Angela Isadora Duncan, the daughter of Joseph Charles Duncan (1819–1898) and Mary Isadora Gray (1849–1922), was born in San Francisco, California, 27th May, 1877. Her father's business failed soon after her birth, and she was brought up in poverty. Isadora wrote that there was often nothing to eat in the house: "I was always the volunteer sent to the butcher, and who cleverly got the cutlets out of him without paying... I was the one sent to get credit out of the baker." Isadora's parents were divorced when she was a child.

Samuel Dickson has claimed: "Isadora was a quaint child, a strange mixture of practical common sense and worldly sophistication, and she was a dreamer like her father. The child loved poetry, beauty, and rhythm, and she hated reality. She was, in fact, a rebel. Her childhood had been an unhappy one. There was strife and divorce, with her mother's insistence that her father, Joseph, was a demon in human garb. Then there was her mother's disavowal of the religion in which she had been raised, and her espousal of the atheism of Robert Ingersoll. These were the unhealthy shapers of Isadora's childhood. Of course, when she eventually met her father, she found him a charming, lovable poet, and that heightened the confusion in her mind. Passing years tend to soften the intolerance of childhood, but Isadora Duncan never lost her contempt for the institution of marriage as she had seen it. When she was twelve years old she made a solemn vow that she would welcome love when it came, but she would never marry."

Isadora's mother moved the family to Oakland, where she established herself as a pianist and music teacher. She later described her life as being "shabby" and "thriftless". Her mother did find the money to pay for dance lessons. According to Isadora her teacher was "one of the most famous in San Francisco" but she did not like the steps he taught her "because they were ugly and against nature". She never went back and decided to teach herself to dance. After leaving school she gave dance classes to local children.

In 1895 Duncan became part of Augustin Daly's theater company in New York City. It has been pointed out by Jone Johnson Lewis: "Isadore Duncan's first public appearances in America made little impact on the public or critics, and so she left for England in 1899 with her family, including her sister, Elizabeth, her brother, Raymond, and her mother. There, she and Raymond studied Greek sculpture at the British Museum to inspire her dance style and costume - adopting the Greek tunic and dancing barefoot. She won over first private and then public audiences with her free movement and unusual costume (called "scanty," baring arms and legs). She began to dance in other European countries, becoming quite popular."

While in London she gave private performances in the homes of wealthy patrons. The money she earned from these engagements allowed her to rent a dance studio to develop her work and create larger performances for the stage. Walter Duranty, was a student when he saw her for the first time. He wrote in his autobiography, I Write As I Please (1933): "Of all the people I have known I think Isadora was the most picturesque. I saw her dance once in London while I was still in college, and ever afterwards the memory of her grace and beauty and slim, flashing limbs stayed with me as something rare and wonderful." Duranty later claimed "and ever afterwards the memory of her grace and beauty and slim, flashing limbs stayed with me as something rare and wonderful... a flame inside her whose brightness had nothing to do with her body."

In 1902 Isadora Duncan agreed to go on tour with Loie Fuller, creating new works using her innovative dance technique. In Paris her dancing was seen by the journalist, William Bolitho. He wrote in his book, Twelve Against the Gods (1929): "It is Isadora's resolute rejection of the ordinary hope and destiny of women, the legal support of a man, indeed, that spiritually entitles her life to be considered as an adventure.... To eke out her Nature, she borrowed and adopted the attitudes of Greek vases. She, the pure inspirationist, gradually constructed an intricate technique of her own." When she reached Germany she told a local impresario that she had "come to Europe to bring about a renaissance of religion by means of dancing."

Samuel Dickson has pointed out: "She danced in Paris and was cheered. she danced in Berlin, and the art-loving Germans went mad with enthusiasm. The artists and students of Munich idolized her. The story is told of the night that, unharnessing her horses, they dragged her carriage through the streets of Munich in a rain of flowers. They carried her into their cafe, lifted her onto a table, and she danced for them. Life was gorgeous. But always at the back of her persistent mind was her dream, Some day she would dance in the land of ancient culture where the Athenian maidens had made the dance a religion. Some day she would bring back the beauty of classical simplicity to the people of the nineteenth century. What if she did dance in scant veils that showed the honest beauty of her form? There could be no evil in honest beauty. Europe cheered her and virtuous old wives condemned her."

Duncan had a strong desire to pass on her philosophy of dance and in 1904 she opened a dance-school in Grünewald. Later, Duncan established schools in Paris and Moscow. She later claimed: “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.”

Duncan had a relationship with the theatre designer Gordon Craig, the son of Ellen Terry and the sister of Edith Craig. She recalled in her autobiography, My Life (1927): "Here stood before me brilliant youth, beauty, genius; and all the magnetic willingness of a temperament which had for two years lain dormant, but waiting to spring forth. Here I found an answering temperament, worthy of my metal. In him I had found the flesh of my flesh, the blood of my blood." Duncan gave birth to Craig's child, Deirdre on 24th September, 1906.

The father of her second child, Patrick (born 1st May, 1910), was Paris Singer, the son of sewing machine magnate Isaac Singer. Both children died in an accident on in Paris on 19th April, 1913. Walter Duranty claims that the death of her children completely changed her personality: "It was caused by the tragic death of her children in Paris when a taxi-driver drove them and their governess and himself suddenly into the Seine, because his steering gear went wrong on the corner of a bridge, and all of them were drowned. After that Isadora did not care much about anything." In her autobiography, My Life (1927) Duncan claims that after her children's death she embarked on an affair with the sculptor Romano Romanelli, in a desperate attempt to have more children. She did become pregnant after the deaths of her elder two children. She gave birth to a son, who lived only a few hours and was never named.

In 1921 Duncan met the Russian poet Sergei Yesenin. She was 44 and he was 26. They married the following year. Her old friend, Walter Duranty, thought she had made a terrible mistake: I was sitting with Isadora Duncan one evening in the Stable of Pegasus cafe when the poets were having a party; that is to say one after another got up on a little stage at the end of the room and recited his own verses. That, it seems, is the poet's ideal of a party. Essenin had been sitting there rather drunker and more offensive than usual, which was saying a good deal, and when he left us just before his turn I couldn't help asking Isadora why on earth she married that one." She replied: "He's not at his best tonight, poor Sergai but there's one thing I'd have you know, and it's this; that boy's a genius. All my lovers have been geniuses; it's the one thing upon which I insist."

Duncan and Yesenin went on a tour of Europe and the United States. Duranty claims that she was now "fat and lazy and drank to excess and did not much care whether she was ill-kempt or sloppy". It has been argued by Sally J. Taylor that the tour was a disaster: "After a flamboyant Western tour in the United States and Europe that left the reputation of both the poet and the dancer in tatters."

On 26th November 1923 Walter Duranty introduced Duncan to Alexandra Kollontai. "Isadora grew impatient and sent me out for a bottle of vodka, then she and Kollontai sat and talked about life and love and men and what they thought of them. Kollontai had fully as much experience as Isadora and had written some interesting books on relations between the sexes, from a highly modern and radical viewpoint.... Like the owl I sat tight and listened. I would give much for a stenographic report of that conversation, delivered at high tension by two past masters in the Art of which they spoke. To my sorrow the vodka on top of a hearty dinner was too much for my memory, but I know that I have rarely had an hour of greater entertainment, and I am certain that the transcript of their dialogue would have made a marvellous book."

Duncan's marriage to Sergei Yesenin broke down and they separated. In 1923 Yesenin had a son by the poet Nadezhda Volpin. Two years later he married his fourth wife, Sophia Andreyevna Tolstaya. He continued to suffer from depression and on 28th December 1925, he wrote a farewell poem in his own blood, then hanged himself in his room in the Angleterre Hotel in Leningrad.

On the night of 14th September, 1927, Isadora Duncan was a passenger in the Amilcar automobile driven by Benoît Falchetto in Nice. Her silk scarf, draped around her neck, became entangled around the open-spoked wheels and rear axle, breaking her neck.

I knew that she was fat and lazy and drank to excess and did not much care whether she was ill-kempt or sloppy, but I knew also that she had a hole in her heart which excused everything. In all human experience there is nothing so devastating as a hole in the heart, no matter what it comes from. In Isadora's case it was caused by the tragic death of her children in Paris when a taxi-driver drove them and their governess and himself suddenly into the Seine, because his steering gear went wrong on the corner of a bridge, and all of them were drowned. After that Isadora did not care much about anything. She told me so herself and I said, "Did you ever care much about anything?You're an artist, aren't you? What do artists care about anything ever?" Isadora said, "You're damn clever, Walter Duranty, and you're a damn fool. Can't you understand that there's all the difference between what you feel as an artist and what you care about as a person?"

The naive sparrowishness of her claims on humanity, in step, changes into a more and more definite socialism. No doubt her adherence to Leninism was never very intellectual; still the flag-waving, the redtunicism, this was disagreeably nearer, by whatever the distance, the hysterical earnest of a woman with a cause, than to the exciting day-dreaming of the other Isadora. I find the account of her visit to Russia, her marriage to Esenin... more distressing than interesting ... Incident after incident, as set down by her dearest friends, makes us uneasy. She accepts the use of a flat belonging to an artist, a dancer (ballet, it is true), exiled from Moscow, and criticizes the furniture gleefully and without amenity. She goes to select a fur coat from the vast store of those commandeered from middle-class women, and is snubbed by the very official when she chooses one, thinking it was free of charge. The Communist conductor leads his orchestra out disdainfully when she reminds him she has sacrificed a great deal to come to "help the children of Russia."

Life was pleasant in Moscow that summer (1924). I had come to know a number of poets and writers and artists, who used to meet in the evenings at a cafe on the Tverskaya opposite the Hotel Lux which bore the extravagant title of "Stable of Pegasus". It was a favourite haunt of Isadora Duncan - she had a school of dancing in Moscow at the time - who had just married what seemed to me an extremely worthless poet named Essenin. Of all the people I have known I think Isadora was the most picturesque. I saw her dance once in London while I was still in college, and ever afterwards the memory of her grace and beauty and slim, flashing limbs stayed with me as something rare and wonderful. Then I met her in Moscow, a stout middle-aged woman married to this pimply Essenin, and strange to say I was not disillusioned in the least, because Isadora had a flame inside her whose brightness had nothing to do with her body. I knew that she was fat and lazy and drank to excess and did not much care whether she was ill-kempt or sloppy, but I knew also that she had a hole in her heart which excused everything. She told me so herself and I said, "Did you ever care much about anything anyway. You're an artist, aren't you? What do artists care about anything ever?" Isadora said, "You're damn clever, Walter Duranty, and you're a damn fool. Can't you understand that there's all the difference between what you feel as an artist and what you care about as a person?" Isadora was lonely in Moscow and I think she liked talking to me because she knew that I admired her terribly and thought her conversation wonderful.

One night in the autumn of 1923 I spent an hour in her dressing room at a theatre where she was going to dance with some of the children from her school. Kollontai, the first woman ever to be appointed Ambassador - she had served in Norway or Sweden, and Mexico - was there too. It was a ceremonial evening in honour of the Fifth Congress of the Women's Section of the Communist Party, and the preliminary speeches took more time than had been expected. Isadora grew impatient and sent me out for a bottle of vodka, then she and Kollontai sat and talked about life and love and men and what they thought of them. Kollontai had fully as much experience as Isadora and had written some interesting books on relations between the sexes, from a highly modern and radical viewpoint....

Like the owl I sat tight and listened. To my sorrow the vodka on top of a hearty dinner was too much for my memory, but I know that I have rarely had an hour of greater entertainment, and I am certain that the transcript of their dialogue would have made a marvellous book. I heard a story about Kollontai when I first went to Moscow which illustrates Lenin's humanity and sense of humour. In the early days of the Revolution she had a violent affair with Dybenko, the idol of the Red fleet, who had brought the cruiser Aurora up the Neva from Kronstadt to Petrograd, at the time of the Revolution in November 1917, to fire on the Winter Palace which was then the headquarters of the Provisional Government. He and Kollantai were so absorbed in each other that they forgot about the Revolution whose fate still hung in the balance, and rushed off to the Crimea for a honeymoon. This caused acrid comment amongst the Communist leaders, who were a puritanical lot, and finally the matter was brought up seriously in a meeting of the Central Committee. One speaker after another demanded the severest penalties against the erring couple for what they called "desertion in face of the enemy". It was soon clear that the meeting wanted to have them shot, no less. Then Lenin intervened. "I have listened, comrades," he said solemnly, "to your just and weighty remarks, with which I fully concur. No punishment can be too harsh for this unworthy pair; death itself is inadequate. I therefore suggest that we vote upon the following resolution: 'Sternly repudiating the behaviour of Comrades Kollontai and Dybenko the Central Committee of the Communist Party decides that they be punished in an exemplary manner, to wit, that they are jointly and severally condemned to be exclusively faithful to each other for the period of five years.'"' The motion was dropped in a gale of laughter, but my informant added that Kollontai never quite forgave Lenin for saving her life in that way.

I was sitting with Isadora Duncan one evening in the Stable of Pegasus cafe when the poets were having a party; that is to say one after another got up on a little stage at the end of the room and recited his own verses. Essenin had been sitting there rather drunker and more offensive than usual, which was saying a good deal, and when he left us just before his turn I couldn't help asking Isadora why on earth she married that one. She was not in the least offended. "He's not at his best to-night, poor Sergai,"she admitted, "but there's one thing I'd have you know, and it's this; that boy's a genius. All my lovers have been geniuses; it's the one thing upon which I insist." Mentally I raised my eyebrows but I did not attempt to argue. A minute or two later Essenin reeled on to the stage to speak his piece. The cafe was full of a motley crowd, poets and their girl friends all talking at the top of their voices; just behind me a couple of prostitutes from the Tverskaya bargaining noisily with a reluctant client; in a corner near the door two drunks were having a wordy battle with a hack driver who demanded payment on account before he would agree to wait for them indefinitely. Then Essenin began to recite one of his poems called The Black Man. At first his voice was low and husky, but as the swing of the verses caught him it deepened and grew stronger.

The poem was raw and brutal but alive and true. It described the feelings of a drunkard on the verge of delirium tremens, who was haunted by the face of a negro grinning at him. The face was not unfriendly but it was everywhere - looking over his shoulder in the mirror when he shaved, beside him on the pillow in his bed, poised between his shoes in the morning when he got up to put them on.

I knew the story of this poem. The negro face was that of Claude McKay, the coloured poet who had visited Moscow a year or so before and had been a friend of Essenin. Essenin was then close to delirium tremens, and his verses were real; they expressed what he had felt and known.

As his voice rose there came utter silence in the cafe. Line after shattering line banged the consciousness of that motley crowd and froze them into horror. It was tremendous and terrible to hear the agony of the haunted wretch, and Essenin made us share it. A triumph of transmitted emotion from the Artist to the Public.

When he stopped there was not a sound. Everyone - cabmen, speculators, prostitutes, poets, drunkards - all sat frozen with pale faces, open mouths, and anguished eyes. Then Isadora, whom nothing could dismay, said to me quietly, "Do you still think my little peasant boy has no genius?".


Everyone knows how Isadora Duncan died. Her long silk scarf, caught up in the wheels of a speeding, open topped Amilcar in Nice in 1927, caused her to be flung from the car breaking her neck on impact. (There were other theories that in fact the force of the strangulation would have decapitated her.)

Isadora Duncan’s life however was just as dramatic and singular as her death.

Her dancing, which she always referred to as ‘my art,’ was her way of expressing truth through gesture and movement. She was never, from an early age, to be deflected from this obsession. An obsession that carried her through countries and continents, feted by the rich and famous, artists and writers and poets– she was a favourite of Rodin— but who would never compromise her form of dancing for any amount of money, despite often being in dire need.

Isadora Duncan as the first fairy in Midsummer night’s Dream, 1896

Isadora Duncan was no stranger to poverty. Born in San Francisco on May 26th, 1877, Isadora was the youngest of four children (siblings were August, Raymond and Elizabeth). Her father, Joseph Charles Duncan, was a banker and engineer who fell from grace soon after Isadora’s birth after being exposed in illegal banking practices. Isadora’s mother, Mary Isadora Duncan, divorced her husband and the family now in distressed straits, moved to Oakland.

Whilst Isadora’s mother gave piano lessons and sewed, Isadora began teaching young children in the neighbourhood to dance. She was six years old. By 12 years old, she was already a feminist, anti marriage and pro having children– when and how it suited women– outside wedlock. The family, still being poor, moved often, and Isadora by her own account being the most courageous would inveigle the butcher or baker to extend credit. She gave up formal school at 10, but read incessantly: Thackeray, Dickens and Shakespeare, Greek Classics as well as trashy novels. The Greek classics would influence Duncan’s dancing for the rest of her life.

Duncan with her trademark Greek tunic , by Paul Berger

One of the most extraordinary facets of Duncan’s personality was not only her unwavering self belief but her ability to sweep others along with it, to bend them to her will. Disillusioned with her progress in San Francisco, she ‘harangued’ her mother to accompany her to Chicago whilst her sister and two brothers stayed in San Francisco until she made her fortune and sent for them.

Already dancing in a plain white Greek tunic which was to become her trademark, theater managers in Chicago were less than impressed with Duncan’s free form style and informed her that her singular vision of dance was incompatible to dance and theater companies.

After pawning her grandmother’s jewelry, their money finally ran out and Isdaora and her mother were put out on the street. Only by selling her lace collar could Isadora and her mother afford a room for a week, eating only a box of tomatoes as sustenance.

Undeterred by this episode, the family were still persuaded to move to New York on the promise of a part for Isadora in a pantomime in Daly’s theater. Once more during the six weeks of rehearsals the family had no money and were forced to live in two unfurnished rooms, skipping lunch and unable to afford tram fare.

Finally after two years in Daly’s company, Isadora could take no more and left it was only a chance encounter with Ethelbert Nevin, the composer, that changed the Duncan’s fortunes. Isadora, entranced by his music, “Narcissus”, “Ophelia” and “Water-Nymphs,” demonstrated her dance interpretations of his compositions.

Carried away by Duncan’s dancing, Nevin arranged a concert for her in the Music Room of Carnegie Hall. The concert was a great success and engagements followed in the drawing rooms of rich New York society, including Mrs Astor, whose guests included the Vanderbilts, Belmonts and Harry Lehr.

It wasn’t long before Isadora became dissatisfied dancing in front of an audience she believed did not appreciate her ‘art’ and lured by the idea of all the famous writers and painters of London, decided that, yet again, penniless, London was her next stop.

Once more, with her inimitable ‘courage’, or some would say, brass neck, Isadora canvassed millionaire’s wives in New York, begging and borrowing enough money ($300) to pay for the family to go cattle-boat to London. Duncan says in her autobiography that in the amazement and delight of being in London and their sightseeing at the British Museum, Westminster Abbey, Kew Gardens, etc, they simply ‘forgot’ about their limited resources. The inevitable followed they were thrown out of their boarding house and lived on the streets for three days before Isadora blagged her way into one of the finest hotels in London, stayed two nights and then sneaked out without paying.

As in New York, Isadora danced in private salons, helped by meeting Mrs Patrick Campbell who had seen Isadora and her brother Raymond dancing in Kensington Square Gardens. Soon she was introduced to Charles Halle who was a director of the New Gallery which had a central court and fountain where Isadora danced in front of an illustrious audience. Isadora’s fame grew, newspapers loved her, she was presented to the Prince of Wales and her financial status improved enough to rent a small house in Kensington Square. Isadora’s sister Elizabeth, with the promise of work in America, had returned to New York and Raymond, her brother, restless in London, left for Paris.

Isadora and her mother soon followed and they rented a studio in Rue de la Gaîté for 50 francs a month. Raymond and Isadora rose at 5am and began the day dancing in the Luxembourg Gardens before walking miles around Paris and spending hours in the Louvre.

Although Isadora’s fame was spreading through Paris, her financial situation was always precarious and the arrival of Loie Fuller to her studio was much more than fortuitous.

Loie Fuller was an American dancer, famous for her sinuous Serpentine Dance, who like Duncan did not feel appreciated in America and encouraged by her warm reception in Paris became a regular dancer at the Folies Bergère. Fuller became the embodiment of the Art Nouveau movement, Toulouse Lautrec painted her, Rodin and Marie Curie numbered but a few of her admirers.

(La Danseuse, a film by Stephanie di Gusto, charting the lives of Loie Fuller, played by Soko, and Isadore Duncan, played by Lily-Rose Depp, the daughter of Vanessa Paradis and Johnny Depp, debuted at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival.)

Lois Fuller invited Duncan to join her in Berlin and tour Europe with her dance troupe. Duncan proved a huge success every place she appeared and finally she had a sum of money in her bank that she believed was ‘inexhaustible’.

There followed perhaps the strangest interlude in Duncan’s life. With the family all back together, they traveled to Greece and bought a plot of barren land outside Hymettus, mainly because it was on the same level as the Acropolis. By then they were all garbed in ancient Greek attire, tunics and sandals with fillets around their hair, to the incomprehension of the locals. Raymond designed a temple and when the first cornerstone was laid, they engaged a priest to offer a black cock as a sacrifice, spilling its blood on the cornerstone and chanting incantations. The intention was never to leave Greece and their temple and to dance there forever.

The whole enterprise was an unmitigated disaster financially and although Duncan avowed this year in Greece was her best ever, the temple was never to be finished and had quite easily depleted her ‘inexhaustible’ bank account, and Duncan was back on the road again touring Europe and Russia.

In Berlin she met Gordon Craig, the son of Ellen Terry, and soon became pregnant, giving birth to a daughter, Deirdre.

Duncan with her two children, 1911 by Otto Wegener

Returning to Paris and her longed-for dream of her own dancing school, Duncan took two large apartments in the Rue Danton. Money problems still plagued Duncan and half in jest she longed for a millionaire. Paris Singer (son of Isaac Singer, the sewing machine magnate) appeared almost on cue. Yachts, rich living and a son she named Patrick were all short lived. Her relationship with Singer ended but a far greater tragedy was to befall her.

Her two children, with their nurse returning from Neuilly to Versailles, were in their car when it ran out of control and into the Seine. Both children drowned.

It is doubtful whether Duncan ever recovered from this, and desperate for another child, begged Romano Romelli an Italian sculptor to give her a child. She did become pregnant but the child, a son, died shortly afterwards.

In 1921, Duncan went to Moscow and married Sergei Yesenin, 18 years younger than her and a renowned poet. The marriage lasted barely a year and after accompanying Duncan on tour of Europe and the US, Yesenin left her. In 1925, he was found dead in St Petersberg, an apparent suicide. Duncan did however take Soviet citizenship and had a fervent belief in communism.

Duncan with Sergej Esenin, 1923

In later years, Duncan, now plumper and with the inevitable money problems, became notorious for her scandalous affairs, financial situation and public drunkenness.

After her cremation in Nice, her ashes were transported to Paris and placed next to her children in the Columbarium in Père-Lachaise cemetery.

A plaque with the simple inscription–

Isadora Duncan. 1877-1927

Ecole du Ballet de l’Opéra de Paris

— marks the final resting place of this extraordinary woman.

Lead photo credit : Isadora Duncan at Theatre of Dionysus, Athens 1903 by Raymond Duncan, Online Archive of California


A History of Style: Fashion Inspired by Isadora Duncan

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When you think of a fashion icon from the past, who is the first person that comes to mind? Marilyn Monroe? Audrey Hepburn? Edie Sedgwick, perhaps? While all three of those women have enviable styles that we absolutely love, there are so many other fashionable women that have graced the history pages.This biweekly column focuses on just that: unexpected and out-of-the-box fashion icons from the past. We feature women who have not only made an impact, but also have distinct signature styles that we can still draw inspiration from today.

This week, we’ll be taking a closer look at dancer Isadora Duncan‘s ethereal sense of style. Read on to learn more about Isadora’s life and unique style, then check out some outfit ideas to help you channel her look for yourself:

5 Facts About Isadora Duncan

  • Angela Isadora Duncan was born on May 27, 1877 in San Francisco, California. She became interested in dance at an early age, but soon came to dislike the strict rules and rigidity of her ballet lessons.
  • Isadora is known as the “Mother of Modern Dance” and developed a free-flowing dace style that was based on natural movement.
  • When she was 21, Isadora left the U.S. for Europe and in 1904, opened her own dance school in Germany. She later opened a second school in Paris and a third in Russia. Her schools incorporated dancing along with education in order to to inspire a generation of free-thinking, independent women.
  • Isadora opened her schools to children from all walks of life, taking in students from disadvantaged backgrounds. She eventually adopted six of her pupils. The girls later performed in a dance group called the “Isadorables” alongside Isadora.
  • Isadora’s death is considered to be among history’s most bizarre and tragic. On the night of September 14th 1927, she was riding in a car with a friend when the long silk scarf she was wearing became entangled in the spoke of one of the wheels, breaking her neck and killing her instantly.

Isadora’s Style 101

  • Free Spirit. Since she was a dancer, Isadora needed to wear clothing that would allow her to move around, so naturally she was drawn to lightweight, airy dresses. She also performed barefoot and wore dresses that exposed her arms and legs, which, back then, was considered by many to be “immoral.” Isadora didn’t let the criticism bother her, though, and continued to wear what she wanted while dancing, making her a true free spirit and fashion pioneer.
  • Greek Goddess. Isadora’s dancing was strongly influenced by classical Greek art and dance, and that Grecian influence spilled over into her sense of style. Isadora wore lots of neutral colored, Grecian-inspired tunics and dresses both onstage and off. You can mimic this style by looking for items that have classic Grecian elements, like draping and braided details.
  • The Girl with the Long Scarf. Although one did cause her untimely demise, scarves were Isadora’s signature accessory and she wore them often. Isadora actually helped to popularize long and flowing scarves during her time, so show your appreciation by donning one of your favorite scarves in a new way. (Just learn from her story and use caution when wearing it!)

Outfits for Inspiration

Outfit #1

Product Info: Necklace- Kohl’s, Dress- Warehouse, Headband- ModCloth, Shoes- DSW, Bag- Zara

Outfit #2

Product Info: Earrings- Neiman Marcus, Top- Aerie, Wristlet- Amazon, Bracelet- Mango, Shorts- J. Crew, Sandals- Wet Seal

Outfit #3

Product Info: Earrings- Topshop, Dress- Forever 21, Belt- Dorothy Perkins, Scarf- Oasis, Sandals- H&M, Clutch- ASOS

What do you think?

Do you find Isadora’s style inspiring? What do you think of her look? Would you wear any of these outfits? Let me know what you think by leaving a comment below!


The heroic simplicity of Isadora Duncan: Women’s History Month in Dance, 2021

Women’s History Month in Dance 117 118 119 120 121. The late dance historian Nesta Macdonald never completed the biography of Isadora Duncan she commenced in the 1970s, but she researched much of it in astounding breadth and depth. She often made the point that California in the 1890s had many girls and young women who danced rapturously, barefoot, without corsets that this aspect of Isadora was unoriginal. The corseting and long petticoats of the late Victorian era were injurious and unhygienic, impeding breathing and collecting dirt young women rebelled, especially in the United States, whose more outspoken and inquiring women made immense and sometimes disturbing impressions on their visits to Europe. According to Macdonald, one of the discoveries that transformed Isadora Duncan (1877-1927) came when she first performed in London in 1900. Her taste in music up to that point was not advanced she was fond of light music by Ethelbert Nevin. The critic of “The Times” made the suggestion - when Isadora asked advice - of improving her choice of music: he suggested Chopin. (Isadora later spoke of having danced to Chopin before reaching Europe, but, if she did, she did not realise until Europe how great music could transform her art.)

Isadora, in her unreliable but compelling memoirs “My Life”, did not write of that - but she did write of the epiphany that London’s British Museum brought in its wealth of Greek sculpture and its reading room. She also wrote of discovering the solar plexus as the crater of all human movement. This sense of physical centering, of expansive and rapturous neo-Grecian movement as suggested by the nymphs and maenads of sculptures, combined with a profound response to the classical music of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (Gluck, Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Wagner, Brahms, Tchaikovsky) helped the young Isadora to transform her idiom into one that came as a revelation to Europe and, when she returned there, America. At a time when ballet had become fixated on virtuosity and bravura, she brought beauty and power to the simplest movement: standing, walking, running, skipping, lying, twirling. She needed no painted scenery she often performed before sheer curtains or in grand architectural spaces.

She became an idea, a vision of inspired human potential, variously interpreted and influential across many countries. For some, it was her simplicity and power of gesture that mattered most for others, it was her use of great concert-hall music at a time when most ballet music was relatively trite. Then there was her demonstration of Grecian style in movement. Perhaps largest of all was her heroic demonstration of how a lone woman might invade space with no male partner.

Isadora’s offstage life was tied up with many men. Onstage, however, she showed that a woman had powerful meaning without any man. Nakedness and nudity took on new vitality in her unadorned movement she was prepared to expose one or both breasts onstage, but already her revelation of the bare foot, the unclad calf and thigh, the uncorseted torso, all made immense, thrilling, shocking, vital impacts.

With age, her dancing acquired new notes of Expressionism. She danced the anguish she felt on the accidental death of her two young children in 1913 she danced the heroic sympathy she felt with the Bolsheviks of . Russia. But the early elements of her greatness remained. Frederick Ashton, who saw her in 1921, never forgot how she could stand still and then make a tiny movement that registered profoundly. The chief dissenter was George Balanchine: he, who also saw her in 1921, described her as “a drunken, fat woman who for hours was rolling around like a pig.” Balanchine made a number of nasty and/or ungenerous remarks about famous dancers, including those he had not seen (Marie Taglioni, Vaslav Nijinsky) he hated hype. Still, his resistance to Isadora and malice about her were foolish: the wealth of running that infuses his “Serenade” is indebted to Isadora, the barefoot opening movement of his “Tschaikovsky Suite no 3” would have been inconceivable without her, and his whole lifelong project of dancing to great concert-hall music was a continuation of her legacy.

The choreographer Mikhail Fokine denied copying her, but always praised the epiphany of her use of simplicity Serge Diaghilev simply said that all Fokine’s work was Duncanist. Ruth St Denis was just one of many modern dancers who praised Duncan in the highest terms Mary Wigman and other German modern dance figures were all borne by the vast wave of enthusiasm that Isadora created across Germany.

117: Isadora Duncan dancing in the Theatre of Dionysus, Athens. Photograph by Raymond Duncan.


Isadora Duncan, Part 2

The comforts afforded by fame were forever clouded for Duncan by an ongoing series of tragedies, leading right up to the famous – and horrifying – way her life ended.
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Welcome to Stuff You Missed in History Class A production of I Heart Radio. Hello and welcome to the podcast. I'm Holly Fry. And I'm Tracey V Wilson. So this is part two of Isadora Duncan story. And in the first part of this two parter, we talked about Isadora Duncan's early life in San Francisco in her drive to make a life for herself, her mother and her siblings that was less defined by financial instability. And she sort of succeeded.

Money would remain a problem for her for the rest of her life. This second episode picks up right after Isidore's triumphant engagement in Budapest, where she sold out a month's worth of shows and had finally found fame because Europe really embraced her. But the comforts afforded by these things was forever clouded by an ongoing series of tragedies. And this episode will feature those more unhappy times and the affairs that dominated the last decade of her life. And yes, we will, of course, cover that famous and tragic end of her life.

But we're going to pick up while she is still in Europe, enjoying her acclaim and her new fortune and turning her sights on the country that she had long, revered and imagined. It is really no surprise that a woman who founded her entire style of dance on the ideas she had read as a young girl about the aesthetics of ancient Greece would want to make her way to those ideas birthplace. Her siblings once again joined her and Dora as they made their way to Greece.

She describes them all as being, quote, half mad with joy. When they arrived there, quote, We asked ourselves why we should ever leave Greece since we found in Athens everything which satisfied our aesthetic sense when Isidore's brother Augustine missed his wife and daughter Isadora, who at this point was in a much better place financially, thanks to her success in Hungary and Germany, arranged for them to join the rest of the family. Now, she's so matter of fact, which she writes about a year ago, is, of course, I just sent for them.

She just threw money at problems. The family also took to wearing clothes in the style of the ancient Greeks, quote, much to the astonishment of the modern Greeks themselves. That's according to Duncan. The family also fell in love with a tract of land atop a hill which afforded them a view of the Acropolis. And they arranged to purchase it at a fairly steep price from the five families who all had a stake in this property, like their properties all met kind of on top of this hill.

And the plan was that the Duncans were going to build a home there, which Raymond designed despite having no architectural help, and it was based on the palace of Agamemnon.

So this already sounds a little dicey in the manner of tourists taking on a culture like Play-acting. And that kind of cringe worthy aspect is echoed in Dunkin's own writing about the family temple that they were building and their relationship with the country. Quote, We were completely self-sufficient in our clan. We did not mingle at all with the inhabitants of Athens. Even when we heard one day from the peasants that the king of Greece had ridden out to see our temple, we remained unimpressed, for we were living under the reign of other kings, Agamemnon, Manlius and Priam.

Soon they realized that they had started building their home, their sort of temple of the arts on land that had no water. So in spite of that, the family did spend a whole year in Greece before they headed back to Vienna.

I just love hate, but it's entertaining to me, like just the hubris of like we're going to buy this land and we're going to create ancient Greece. We don't want to talk to locals. We just want to wear our togas and dance around in this house. Also, we didn't check whether there was water now, and they did try to see if they could dig wells, but the land was just super dry. I have to wonder if the locals were snickering off somewhere else, like, yeah, we drove up the price on that land and they bought it and now they can't even live there.

However, in nineteen, Isadora decided to open her first true dance school. This was a far cry from the crumbling castle mansion that we mentioned in part one. And she opened the school in Berlin. This was the first of many schools she would have, and her students were nicknamed the Isadora Bowles by the press. That name persists even to this day. She started the school initially with a coeducational model, with both boys and girls enrolled. But over time and due to minimal interest, she started taking only female students.

Also in 1995, Isadora met a man named Gordon Craig while she was performing in Berlin. Craig was essentially English theater royalty. He was the son of Dame Ellen Terry, who was one of England's most famous stage actresses. He had become a theatrical designer, and Isadora fell deeply in love with him from the night she met him, she stayed with him for two weeks. Her mother actually thought she had gone missing. Duncan described Craig as, quote, one of the most extraordinary geniuses of our epoch, a creature like Shelley made of fire and lightning.

Yeah, he's often described as like the great love of her life. Craig and Duncan had a daughter together in 1986 named Deirdre Beatrice, whom they had not gotten married. Gordon Craig was actually already married. He also already had a number of children out of wedlock with other women. He would go on to have even more. Their romance ended after a few years, but the two of them stayed lifelong friends. But all of this really significantly strained Isidore's relationship to her mother, who had been horrified by Craig and called him a lot of bad names about being a a seducer, and also was probably pretty horrified that she was with someone who was cheating on his wife since that had broken up her marriage.

And the whole having a child out of wedlock really upset her.

Soon after the affair with Craig and did, Isadora started a relationship with Paris singer, the son of sewing machine mogul Isaac Singer, who we have talked about on the show before.

This was an interesting relationship. Isadora often found Paris to be a spoiled, bullheaded man, and she was often frustrated that he seemed to think himself above working people who were the very same people who had built his fortune. But she still loved him. Duncan and Singer welcomed a son into the world in 1910. He was named Patrick.

Yeah, their relationship is fascinating to me. Wow. She was still pregnant. She toured the United States with German conductor Walter Damrosch and her performance and the very filmy drapes of fabric which allowed her body to be seen beneath them was considered a revelation by some and absolutely shocking and immoral by others. Remember, she had tossed all of that ballet convention out of the window. She really was like going for the Grecian look. But in these very see through filmy outfits, President Theodore Roosevelt eventually offered his take, which quelled the detractors a good bit when he said, quote, Isadora Duncan seems to me as innocent as a child dancing through the garden in the morning sunshine and picking the beautiful flowers of her fantasy.

Duncan had an experience during a performance in Paris in 1913 that really seems to have prophesied a great tragedy. She was dancing to Chopin's funeral march at the Trocadero when she had what she described as a sense of foreboding regarding her children. And she smelled, quote, white to roses and funeral flowers. She later wrote, quote, This was the first faint note of the prelude of the tragedy, which presently was to end all my hopes of any natural, joyous life for me forever.

After several days later, Isadora parted ways with her children and their nanny so that the kids could go home to rest after they had had lunch with Paris singer, who she refers to in her writing as Lohengrin. After the Wagner opera, Isadora had to go to rehearsal for a show that she was contracted for at. The nanny thought that the children were too tired to wait through rehearsal on the way home, the car carrying the nanny and children stalled and it was on a slope when the chauffeur got out to crank the engine, the car started, but he could not get back in fast enough and the vehicle plummeted into the same.

All three of them died. Duncan described the moment that she heard what happened from Paris himself, writing, quote, I remember a strange stillness came upon me only in my throat. I felt a burning as if I had swallowed some live coals, but I could not understand.

So this was just unimaginable loss. And Duncan understandably thought she was never going to dance again or do much of anything. But just as she always had, she let her emotions fuel her work. She choreographed to pieces, reflecting her sorrow. They were mother and March few Narborough. There's her to the piano sonata by Chopin of the same name.

Yeah, you can actually find videos of modern performances of those dances if you want to see them. You just Googled literally Isadora Duncan mother or Isadora Duncan Marsh Funabashi and they will come right. Up next, we are going to delve into how Isadora tried to move on with her life. But before we tackle that, we will pause for a word from the sponsors that keep stuff you missed in history class going.

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It was like, I can set you up. You don't have to dance anymore. If you don't want to, I will take care of you. But she really, really still hated the idea of marriage. And as the two of them struggled with their grief and their disagreement over where their relationship was going, things kind of fell apart. And after feeling that she either had to end her life or find some purpose to it, Isadora decided to spend some time in Albania, where her brother Raymond was working with refugees, the Balkan wars.

Isadora next went to Italy. She spent some time with close friend and actress Eleonora Doozer, who was nursing her own broken heart over the end of her relationship with feminist playwright Lena Poletti. There's been a lot of speculation about whether Duncan and Dusa ever had a romantic relationship, but there's not really anything definitive here. There is the possibility that Duncan had an affair with Mercedes de Costa several years later and possibly with other women as well.

But it really does seem like Eleonora was more of a best friend. And in her autobiography, Duncan speaks of the closeness that she felt to Eleonora and specifically how Eleonora did the one thing that no one else was able to do for her during this time. She actually asked Isadora to talk about her children. She wrote of her friend, quote, She never said cease to grieve, but she grieved with me. And for the first time since their death, I felt I was not alone.

For Eleonora, dusa was a super being. Her heart was so great it could receive the tragedy of the world, her spirit, the most radiant that has ever shown through the dark sorrows of this earth.

While in Italy, she met Ramano Romanelli, who was a sculptor, and even though she barely knew him, she said to him, quote, Save me, save more than my life. My reason, give me a child. She told Eleanora that she thought he was the next Michaelangelo, the two of them did not start a relationship. Romanelli was engaged and intended to marry his fiancee, and Duncan was not really bothered by this. She did get pregnant again.

And according to her quote, From this moment I entered into a phase of intense mysticism. I felt that my children's spirits hovered near me, that they would return to console me on Earth. But the hope of new life was snuffed out pretty quickly. Her child, who was a son, died shortly after being born in August of 1914. As she heard the military mobilization outside.

Yeah, World War One was starting. She had really believed that either Patrick or Deirdra was going to be reincarnated in this child that she had had conceived with Romanelli. So there was a lot going on. She clearly, again, was still working through a lot of very serious grief. By the time she had the baby, she had moved back to Paris. That was at the urging of Paris singer who was still back in her life and was bankrolling a new school for her in Bellevue, just outside of Paris.

But as her pregnancy progressed and she grew very, very tired, Singer arranged for all of the students to travel to England for two months that Duncan could rest. In addition to a depression that seemed to loom in her third trimester, the events that had led up to World War Two were playing out, and that made her feel even more melancholy. She describes this sense of sort of hopelessness with the world. Her school was also turned into a war hospital during this time, so they basically commandeered it, brought in cots and set it up.

In this way, the students that had traveled to England were housed in Singer's home in Devon sure to wait out the conflict.

After the death of her third child, Duncan traveled to Devia with her friend and she continued to be unwell. She had a brief affair with her doctor, but soon she left for New York in the hope of getting a truly fresh start away from all of these memories and sorrows.

That affair with that doctor is very strange and also full of coincidence, where allegedly he was also the doctor that tried to save her children after they had been brought into the hospital, after they had their car had gone into the sand. And so there was just a weird dynamic at play between the two of them. So she restarted her school anew after reuniting with her siblings, Augustine and Elizabeth, in New York, and she started performing again. And at the end of a performance she gave at the Met, she improvised a dance to the marshes while wearing a red shawl to honor the French troops in the hopes that it would rouse her U.S. audience.

She had found the United States to be shockingly indifferent to what was going on in Europe. She wanted to try to inspire them to take action, and the audience cheered as she finished. But it wasn't really what she was hoping for.

She also booked the sensory theater for a new production, but she wanted to transform it into a Greek theater for the performances. Her production of Oedipus, which her brother Augustine starred in, was playing to a theater where blue curtains had been hung over the boxes and the orchestra seating had been pulled out and replaced just with a blue carpet. This show was a critical success, but Duncan went bankrupt, staging it. She had also grown completely disillusioned with American audiences.

She was horrified that they wanted just to have a good time. While so many people were dying overseas, thanks to the generosity of a benefactor, she was able to book passage on a ship back to Europe, specifically to Italy. Once again, she met up with many of her students there. After regrouping in Naples. They headed for Zurich and for the relative safety of neutral Switzerland. But keeping the school running in its nomadic state, having to rent new spaces all the time was getting costly.

So when a contract to perform in South America was offered, Duncan took it to keep the school going. Her boat made a stop in New York en route to Buenos Aries, and her brother Agustin joined her so that he could keep an eye on her while she was in Argentina. On her first night there, she was persuaded to tango with some local students. And it turned out this was a problem because it was technically a breach of her contract as it was written up in the papers as a performance.

This put her in violation of an exclusivity clause. So her tour was basically over before it started. And she had received word in the meantime that the money that she had already sent to Switzerland to keep the school going had been held up because of the war. She sent Augustan ahead to Geneva with what money she had to try to save the students from eviction while she and her pianist tried to drum up some additional money by booking gigs. She did not enjoy any of this.

When they moved on to Montevideo, they had greater success. And then it Rio, her pianist, was so popular that he decided to stay. When Duncan decided to head to New York, yeah, he was like, South America loves me.

Stick around. I think he was probably also reluctant to return to Europe because it was in the middle of a war. By complete coincidence, Paris singer was also in New York. And when he heard that Isadora was at the docks by herself with no money, he immediately went to help her. She described him at this time as being in, quote, one of his kindest and most generous moods. And they first went to lunch with a friend and they drink champagne.

And after that, singer booked the Metropolitan Opera House and he arranged for all of their friends in the art community of New York to attend a free gala performance by Isadora that night. Singer also wired money to Switzerland for Duncan students. But at that point they had all left and gone home. Their parents had come to collect them. Her school was over, at least for the time being.

We really cannot overstate her attachment to this school. She really considered her students to be her daughters, and a lot of them even took the last name Duncan, and used it for the rest of their lives. She had students that stayed with her for decades and then taught the younger students. So it was a school, but it was also more than that. And to lose the school after losing Deirdre and Patrick was just one more heartache. Once again, with singers generosity, Isadora rented a studio and she and Paris and Augustine and Agustin's children spent the days together.

She would later write, quote, In fact, for the time being, life became wonderful through the magic power of money. Soon as her health faltered in the face of the New York winter, Singer arranged for her to travel to Cuba with his secretary as her escort. The time in Havana really did her good. And from there she traveled to Palm Beach, Florida, where Singer met her.

But she was still grieving really heavily through all of this. To outsiders, she seemed to have regained at least some of the spirit that she had lost when her children died.

But she wrote of feeling extraordinary pain any time she saw a child with its mother and how this disparity between her continuing grief versus people believing she was over it like that was its own kind of pain.

Simultaneously, things were once again turning sour between her and Paris singer. He started to have jealous outbursts when she spoke with. Other men she describes this evening in her book where she was teaching a much younger man how to tango and Singer kind of grabbed her by the arm and spun her around and started yelling at her about it. So he left her rather abruptly.

He did not give her a warning and he stopped paying for her hotel and her school. And so she soon found herself broke in New York with no way to get anywhere.

She pawned some of the gifts the singer had given her to get by for a while. And then she took a contract that brought her back to California for the first time in more than two decades. She also reunited with her mother, who had moved back to California because she did not like staying in Europe and from whom she had been somewhat estranged for some time due to her unconventional lifestyle.

California had its own surprises and its own doses of disillusionment waiting for Duncan. We will get to that after we take one more sponsor break. Hazari, what's a TV moment that you're still not over? I'm Celotto for the musical episode on Grey's Anatomy and me too.

I'm cringing just thinking about it. And there are so many of these pop culture moments that we had no choice but to make a podcast about it.

Hi, I'm Becky Keusch and I'm sorry, sneaky. We've been working at PopSugar for the better part of a decade, covering events, interviewing celebrities and spending too much time analyzing the latest in entertainment.

Listen to Not Over It on the radio app, Apple podcast or wherever you get your podcast. Isadora was welcomed as something of a hometown hero in San Francisco on this tour, and that gave her the idea that it might be a great place to start a school in her hometown.

But there was a problem because by that point, there were already multiple dance schools that taught her more modern, less structured style of dance. They were kind of copycats of the schools that she had set up with her sister years and years before. So she once again found disillusionment. She felt that the dance that she had envisioned to truly express the American spirit had been watered down as it had spread in popularity. And to make matters worse, no one was interested in backing a school, even if it was run by the originator of the form.

So in 1921, she set out with a very new purpose. She wanted to open a dance school in Moscow. The Russian Revolution of 1917 had captured her imagination, and she was convinced that she would fit right in. In this newly formed Soviet republic, she envisioned something bigger than she had ever been able to put together on her own with thousands of students to teach.

According to her memoir, she had been sent a telegram in the spring of 1921 which read, quote, The Russian government alone can understand. You come to us, we will make your school. And she replied that she would indeed teach Russia's children to dance so long as they provided her with a school and, quote, the wherewithal to work.

She moved to her new job with only one of her students turns teachers, which was Irma Duncan. And Isadora did flourish in Moscow.

She choreographed new works, including the Revolutionary in 1922, and she did indeed teach. She also met a young man named Sergei Yesenin and they got married, which surprises me.

He was 18 years younger than she was. And the marriage was so that he could travel to the United States on engagements. Right. If they had not been married, he would not have been allowed into the country. And when she traveled to the US, Duncan was a little bit surprised by the reception she received, which was highly critical of her affinity for Russia and for Vladimir Lenin. Both Duncan and her husband were accused of being Bolshevik agents. They were apparently stopped in New York at the port of entry.

She responded to these criticisms by making the point that though she was not particularly interested in the politics of her new home country, she felt that all artists are inherently revolutionary. So, of course, it made perfect sense that she would be drawn to a revolutionary place during their time in the U.S..

The relationship between Duncan and her husband was reported widely when he got drunk at a party in the Bronx. The papers the next day ran stories that he had become violent and had given his wife two black eyes. When she left the U.S., Isadora swore she would never return. After the two of them returned to Europe, he started to exhibit increasing instability. Their relationship was deeply strained. In nineteen twenty three, Yesenin returned to the Soviet Union by himself, and in 1925 he was found dead, apparently by suicide.

After the split with you said in Isadora lived in NIS, she returned to France once again. She would claim to anyone who asked that Moscow had been too bourgeois for her.

This was not a glamorous time in her life. She was getting older. She recognized that she was not the youthful beauty she had once been, and she was prone to drinking too much. And her finances remained perpetually on the edge of ruin.

In early nineteen twenty seven, Duncan took on a project that had been brewing in her mind for quite some time. She wrote her autobiography. When she started this memoir, she opened it with quote, I confess that when it was first proposed to me, I had a terror of writing this book. Not that my life has not been more interesting than any novel and more adventurous than any cinema, and if really well written, would not be an epoch making recital.

But there's the rub, the writing of it.

No, she was not a writer up to this point, even though there were writers in her family. And I will say her memoir is a really fun read. Isadora Duncan may not have had formal schooling after she was quite young, but she was a very smart woman. Her writing style is filled with really wonderfully expressive turns of phrase. It is incredibly frank on topics of sex and love, and she doesn't seem to really hide much of anything. And as some of the quotes we have used here indicate, it also reveals a person who in some ways was just incredibly ignorant for all of her world travels.

One of the things that's really fascinating is how, even though it was written when she was done with her Moskal phase, the ending of this book really reads almost like Bolshevik propaganda. For example, it ends with her arriving in Moscow, even though that means that Ammit. Several years from her life, after that, the last two paragraphs read, quote, When the boat at last arrived, my heart gave a great throb of joy. Now for the beautiful new world that had been created, now for the world of comrades, the dream that had been conceived in the head of Buddha, the dream that had been resounded through the words of Christ, the dream that has been the ultimate hope of all great artists.

The dream that Lennon had by a great magic turned into reality. I was entering now into this dream that my work and life might become a part of its glorious promise. Adieu, old world. I would hail a new world. Yeah, reading that kind of blew me away.

I was like, whoa, this is the way after she had already left the Soviet Union and had all kinds of trouble because of her time there. She actually finished writing this book in late August of 1927. She turned in a manuscript that was entirely handwritten. Why she chose to end it in 1921 and ignore her marriage to Yesenin and her return to France is just a mystery. We don't know.

She had also been reported as having gotten engaged to Bob Chandler, who was a New York decorative artist in 1927. But she claimed that had been a dinner party joke between friends that had somehow reached the press.

Yeah, it's interesting when you read newspaper reports of of this last section of her life, many of them do mention like, oh, if only she had been able to marry Bob, everything would have been different.

She gave a quote to an Associated Press reporter in September of 1927 that is often mentioned as eerily prescient when talking about her autobiography. She said, quote, For the first time, I am writing for money now. I am frightened that some quick accident might happen. And so that brings us now to her very famous and grisly death.

The details of this story have two different set ups. One is that while she was living in Neith in September of 1927, Isadora met a young man driving a Bugatti convertible. She suggested to him that she would love it if he would take her for a drive. And he agreed. And the other is that the car was hers, a new car, and that her chauffeur was teaching her to drive it. According to some stories, he turned to her friends as the car started and said, Do you miss me?

Gervais's Eloqua, which is Goodbye, my friends, I'm going to glory. But despite those inconsistencies, what is consistent is that it 940 p.m. on September 14th, she was in the vehicle on the promenade days. Only when her long scarf was picked up by the wind, became entangled in the car's rear wheel and her neck was broken.

Today, Isadora Duncan's work survives. Her choreography has been passed down through generations of her students. And you can see her work performed today. Isadora Duncan, Dance Company and Isadora Duncan Foundation are both run by Laurie Beli Love, who's a third generation Duncan dancer.

This episode is kind of a bummer to end with, so I don't want to do that to anybody. So to finish on a slightly more upbeat note, I thought it would be fun to end on a passage that just struck me from Duncan's autobiography, which was published shortly after her death. Obviously, because she had had died so suddenly, she was not able to make any revisions to it. So most of it's pretty, pretty much entirely transcribed from her handwriting.

The version I have has notes of Winlock spellings were different and whatnot. But other than that, it's pretty much word for word.

And I like this passage because it evidences that for all the flaws that she had, she was also very sharp and funny and self-aware. She wrote, quote, How can we write the truth about ourselves?

Do we even know it? There is the vision our friends have of us, the vision we have of ourselves and the vision our lover has of us, also, the vision our enemies have of us. And all these visions are different. I have good reason to know this because I have had served to me with my Morning Coffee newspaper criticisms that declared I was beautiful, is a goddess and that I was a genius and hardly had I finished smiling contentedly over this.

Then I picked up the next paper and read that I was without any talent, badly shaped and a perfect harpy. I soon gave up reading criticisms of my work. I could not stipulate that I should only be given the good ones and the bad were too depressing and provocatively homicidal. I love that quote so much. Because she is funny and, yeah, very interesting and it does sort of break my heart that when you say her name, most people go and she die in that gross car accident, which she did.

But obviously she had a whole whole interesting, very fascinating life.

Yeah, I do highly recommend her her autobiography because it is a fun read and it's a pretty quick read.

Do you have some listener mail for us as we wrap this up? I do.

I do. The first is from our listener, Carla, who writes, Dear Holly and Tracy, I just listened to your podcast on John Dalton. My dad is red, green colour deficient. I very distinctly remember learning this in the hardware store. We were standing in front of a bunch of dowels that had been color coded in varying shades of green. My dad, who is a very even tempered man, grunted and said these idiots, which was about the harshest thing he had ever said in my presence.

He asked me if I could get the one that matched the size he needed. He then explain to me why it was so bad to label stuff in only color coding because people like him could not tell the difference. I'm very happy to hear of the trend moving toward using the term color deficient vision, since it helps people understand what's really happening in middle school. I corrected my science teacher when he said that colorblind people only saw in shades of gray.

If my dad wasn't colorblind, as they used to say, I would have just believed my teacher. I ended up giving the class a lecture on why color coding by itself is bad, just like my dad had done for me. My dad has always been pretty comfortable with his color deficiency. He'll make comments like heck, I'm colorblind and even I can tell that doesn't look good. I think the funniest thing he's done was paint the living room wall purple thinking it was gray.

Thank you for your thoughtful podcasts that shed light on so many subjects. Every time I listen to your podcast, I feel a bit smarter. Carla, that's adorable.

I said, to the best of my knowledge, do not have color vision deficiency and still paint in my living room purple.

I also wanted to mention a quick email from Kathleen, who wrote, as she also wrote, we mentioned it in the last episode about the new information about the Dyatlov Pass. But there's a second part of her email that I wanted to share because it's adorable. It's a dog story. Second, I wanted to thank you for your hellhounds episode as it provided a middle name for my newest dog, my first dog, Macchi mixed body. But Grogan got his middle name because when he gets shaved in the summer, he turns into a Dalmatian under all his fur.

However, I'd had my second dog, Mirriam, four months and still not been able to come up with a middle name for her. But after your hellhounds episode, her middle name simply had to be Rugaru. She is black and her nickname is Monster because she's a high energy jerk who gets into everything she and I say. Thanks. I hope these pictures of the destruction she can cause in the videos of her being a turd, dragging my other dog around by his leash and running while carrying a log right near 2021.

She sent two videos of Miss Mirriam, Rugaru and Macchi, and they are adorable. I have a dog crush on Mirriam. It's exactly the cute flavor of dog. I love a little black thing with perky pokey up ears and she looks like she probably keeps you on your toes.

So thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Because that did make 2021 great. You can also write to us at History podcast I heart radio dot com. You can find us everywhere on social media as missed in history. And if you would like to subscribe, you can do that on the Internet radio app, at Apple podcast or wherever it is you listen. Stuff you missed in history class is the production of I Heart Radio for more podcasts from my Heart Radio is it by her radio app Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to your favorite shows?

For all you foodies out there, I'm unwrapping a mcdonnel steak, egg and cheese bagel. Look at this steak and the juice running down the side. Get a little bit on a wrapper here and then a fluffy egg and real cheese folded over the side, looking just so good. Mm hmm. Grilled onions on about a bagel. Two thumbs up from McDonald's steak, egg and cheese bagel for breakfast. Love it.

Bah bah bah bah. I participate in McDonald's.

You already know his big break checking me. And, you know is the voice of the one and only D.J. Scream. And the number one podcast's industry's big fact's is now on the black effect and heart radio. NetBank If somebody ain't never listen to Big Fast before, let them know what time it is. They're going to get the truth. They're going to get our facts, our facts, big facts.

No, I'm saying the biggest names in the culture, the realest conversations, it gets no better than big, fat, big fat. So get an audio experience like no other big facts on our heart radio app, on Apple podcast or wherever you get your podcast.


Classroom Activities

  • Research: Divide the class into two groups with one group researching Loïe Fuller’s “Fire Dance” and the other group researching Isadora Duncan’s “Ave Maria.” Discuss the differences between a dance with realistic imagery (of a mother and child) and one that is inspired by a more general and abstract concept (fire).
  • Move: Based on the research project, have students in the two groups create a short (3 minute) dance evoking some aspect of the two choreographies. Perform the works and have the audience write a description of what they saw. Read them aloud and compare these descriptions with the historical information about these dances.

Albright, Ann Cooper. Traces of Light: absence and presence in the work of Loïe Fuller. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2007.


How dancer Isadora Duncan was killed in a bizarre accident (1927)

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Isadora Duncan killed in Paris under wheels of car she was buying

Nice, France, Sept. 15 &mdash Fate designed a dramatic exit for Isadora Duncan &mdash the flair for the unusual that characterized her crowded lifetime extending to the hour of her death.

The dancer was killed last night when her Spanish shawl was caught in the rear wheel of an automobile.

Unaware, the chauffeur of the car which was being demonstrated to Miss Duncan started forward. She was drawn out and under a rear wheel. Her spinal column was broken.

Friends saw that she was taken to a hospital, but medical attention was futile. The dancer had been overtaken by the same nemesis which had caused the death of her two children &mdash the automobile. She was 49 years old. [Her age was later learned to be 50.]

The terrible incident

The car was a racing model designed in the general pattern of a torpedo. Miss Duncan and Miss Desti sat in the rear seat.

The driver who was demonstrating the vehicle accelerated sharply. Over the side of the car fluttered the loose end of a long white and rose scarf of silk. It was wrapped loosely around Miss Duncan&rsquos neck.

Catching in the left rear wheel, the scarf tightened, jerking Miss Duncan over the side of the car. Miss Desti screamed, but Miss Duncan&rsquos body already had been snatched from the car. Her head was jammed between the mudguard and the car side, her body sagging to the street.

The automobile stopped and an American named Edgar Josez, assisted by Miss Desti and the driver, lifted the back of the car and released Miss Duncan&rsquos head. Miss Duncan was dying when Josez picked her up.

Only death could overpower the energy that was Isadora Duncan&rsquos. Semi-starvation, marital unhappiness, a thousand disappointments had failed to break the spirit which carried her from an obscure girlhood in Chicago to a place where she might say that the world was her public.

Photographic recreation by artist of the scene at Nice during which Miss Duncan perished

An aura of tragedy

Through the near half century of her life, a million front pages depicted the frequently mad exploits of the artist. Over her hung an aura of tragedy, and yet her love of life managed to pierce the sorrows that beset her.

In April 1913, her two children, Patrick, 6, and Deirdre, the baby, went motoring with their governess in Paris. The car&rsquos brakes failed to hold while approaching the Seine, and it plunged into the river. The children and the governess were drowned.

Stricken with grief, Miss Duncan said she could never again appear in the Greek dances which had made her popular. But she changed her mind and returned again to the stage.

The dancer herself was injured several times in motor car accidents and once resolved she would never ride in one again. But it was an automobile that finally caused her death.

She wished to die

Friends of Isadora Duncan revealed today that an hour before her tragic death last night, the world-famous dancer had expressed a wish to die.

Mary Desti, an American writer, dined with Miss Duncan here and they chatted of the dancer&rsquos remarkable career.

&ldquoI am seeking death,&rdquo Miss Duncan said. &ldquoBut, I do not find the means to die. I don&rsquot know to die.&rdquo

In an hour, Miss Duncan&rsquos body lay in the street, her scarf entangled about the wheels of an automobile and her back broken. The silken garment trailing over the side of the car, had pulled its wearer from the tonneau and dashed her to death on the road.

Strangled by the scarlet scarf that was her mascot

Tangled in the wheel of her motor car, Isadora Duncan&rsquos &ldquogood luck veil&rdquo snaps short her strange career of poverty, riches, dancing, love and tragedy, including the deaths of her children (October 1927)

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4 Luxury Renault Type CB Coupe de Ville

In 2022, the world will be marking 110 years after the sinking of the famous ship Titanic. Part of Titanic&rsquos story is the sinking of a luxurious car, the Renault Type CB Coupe de Ville.

The luxury car was the only automobile aboard the titanic and belonged to a 36-year rich heir, William Carter of Pennsylvania. He had bought it while touring Europe with his family. Carter survived the catastrophe and later claimed compensation from the insurance firm Llyod&rsquos of London. He was paid a total of $5000(about $130,000)


Isadora Duncan

Isadora Duncan
American Dancer and Teacher
1877 – 1927 A.D.

Isadora Duncan, an American dancer and teacher, born in San Francisco. She revived Greek dances in New York, later in Paris and other European capitals, and was the first to introduce the barefoot dance in simple free draperies – the antithesis of ballet and toe dancing. Her dances interpretative of Beethoven, Gluck and Chopin, were greatly admired, and brought back a beautiful spirit of the dance that had been forgotten. Her temporary retirement in 1913 was caused by a sad accident – her two children were carried by a runaway motor car over the Seine embankment in Paris, and drowned.

She then devoted herself to training young girls in her art, and in 1918 – 1919 the Isadora Dancers, composed of six maidens, appeared at Carnegie Hall in New York. The purity, grace, and poetic charm of these young dancers, were a fitting tribute to the genius of their teacher.

Reference: Famous Women An Outline of Feminine Achievement Through the Ages With Life Stories of Five Hundred Noted Women By Joseph Adelman. Copyright, 1926 by Ellis M. Lonow Company.


Lisa's History Room

The Fitzgeralds in their Paris apartment, 1926. “Scottie,” age 5, Scott, and Zelda

Zelda Fitzgerald‘s health improved greatly following an appendectomy in June of 1926 in the American hospital in Neuilly outside of Paris. Unfortunately, the same could not be said of her husband, American writer F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940). Although his recently-published novel, The Great Gatsby (1925), had received mostly positive reviews from literary critics, it was not selling well.

While Zelda (1900-1948) was still hospitalized, Sara Mayfield, Zelda’s childhood friend from Montgomery, Alabama, ran into Scott in Paris. She was having drinks with the son of the Spanish ambassador to the United States and Michael Arlen, whose novel, The Green Hat, was creating a sensation abroad. Scott joined them at their table. At first, the conversation flowed pleasantly. Scott complimented Arlen on his literary success. A half hour and more drinks later, the conversation turned to the writing of Ernest Hemingway. Arlen did not think highly of it. Scott considered Hemingway his great friend and a great writer. Scott pounced on Sara’s friend, accusing Arlen of being

A finished second-rater that’s jealous of a coming first-rater.”

Someone diffused the situation and steered Scott off the subject. Then Scott was on his way to the hospital to see Zelda and asked Sara Mayfield if she would join him. She agreed. First, however, he decided he wanted to have dinner. He wanted to find Hemingway who may have returned from seeing the running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain. He and Sara stopped at Harry’s New York Bar. Things turned nasty quickly. A newspaper man asked Scott if he was promoting Hemingway. Scott somehow got offended and wanted to punch the newspaper man. Fortunately, someone interceded and stopped him.

Sara and Scott never did get around to visiting Zelda. Scott got roaring drunk and passed out in the fresh food market, Les Halles.

More and more, Scott’s nights and days were passed in this way: no work done, drinking, and talking with friends, passing out and being put into a taxi and sent home alone.”

Once Zelda was sufficiently recovered from her surgery, the Fitzgeralds were back in the South of France in the area known as the French Riviera for the rest of that summer.

The Fitzgeralds ca. 1927. photo courtesy Mary A. Doty.

One evening in August, they were dining with two other American expatriates, Sara and Gerald Murphy in the hills above the Mediterranean near Nice, France in St. Paul-de-Vence at La Colombe D’Or.

St. Paul-de-Vence is located where you see the red marker, approximately 20 km southwest of Nice in the hills.

St. Paul-de-Vence, South of France

La Colombe d’Or was a quaint and popular roadside bistro frequented by artists like Picasso, who sometimes paid for his meal with drawings. The open-air terrace restaurant is set on the edge of the ramparts of the ancient Roman hilltop town of Saint-Paul-de-Vence.

That August evening, the Murphys had reserved a table for four on the elevated stone terrace overlooking the Loup Valley, two hundred feet below.

A view from the open-air terrace of the hotel/restaurant La Colombe d’Or. Image from the book La Colombe d’Or: Saint Paul De Vence

La Colombe D’Or today, a restaurant and hotel

Midway through the meal, Gerald noticed that the famous American dancer, Isadora Duncan (1878-1927), was sitting at a table nearby along with three of her admirers. Gerald pointed her out to Scott and he and Sara told Scott who she was.

Now 48 years old, Isadora was no longer the lithe young dancer who had revolutionized the dance world by eschewing the rigidity of traditional ballet. In her heyday as a dancer who toured the globe, Isadora Duncan abandoned the plié, stiff-toed pointe shoes, and the tutu, preferring free form movement—skipping about in meadows and on beaches, barefoot, bare-legged, fluttering her arms about, wearing loose and flowing Greek tunics with long scarves trailing and billowing behind her.

Isadora Duncan dances for the Italian War Relief Fund during World War I. (Photo by George Rinhart/Corbis via Getty Images) 1917

Now 48 years old, Isadora was hugely fat and her dissipated life was legend. Her hair was dyed with henna.

Nevertheless, Isadora Duncan still had star power. Scott, enamored of fame, rushed over to introduce himself to her. He crouched at her side. He praised her artistry. Knowing that Scott was a writer, she divulged to him that she had a contract to write her memoirs she had received a cash advance. As a result, she was being pressured to complete and submit the manuscript to her editor and, frankly, she was stuck. Scott offered to help. She wrote down her hotel and room number and handed this note to Scott. Scott was still fawning at her feet. Isadora reached down and began running her hands through his hair. She called him a centurion, her protective soldier.

At this point, Zelda, observing this scene, stood up on her chair, and, without warning, leaped over the table—and over Gerald, who was sitting with his back to the valley view—and dove into the darkness beyond and below the terrace. (Zelda was a proficient diver and swimmer.)

I was sure she was dead,”

Shortly, Zelda reappeared. She had fallen down a stone staircase than ran down the hillside. Her knees and dress were bloody. Otherwise, she was remarkably all in one piece. Sara grabbed her napkin, flew to Zelda’s side, and began wiping away the blood. Gerald’s first thought was

T hat it had not been ugly. I said that to myself over and over again.”

Zelda Fitzgerald’s behavior would grow more and more peculiar and yet she would live another twenty-two years. In the fall of 1927, she returned to her childhood study of ballet and it became an obsession. She would practice 6-8 hrs a day to the point of exhaustion and a weight loss of 15 pounds.

Zelda in ballet costume, 1929.

In 1930, she suffered a mental breakdown and was hospitalized in Paris. From then on, she would drift in and out of various mental institutions in Switzerland, France, and the United States. She endured grueling and often inhumane and certainly experimental treatment for her diagnosis of “schizophrenia.” She would make progress and then exit the institution before, reliably, suffering setbacks and needing to be readmitted to the hospital. Her mental health spiraled downhill.

Fitzgerald, in his own words, “just couldn’t make the grade as a hack” writing Hollywood scripts for MGM. Illustration by Barry Blitt for the New Yorker.

Meanwhile, Scott’s party drinking had exploded into full-blown alcoholism. He found it harder and harder to write in those gin-soaked years. But their daughter, Scottie, had expenses and Zelda’s hospitalizations cost a fortune so he had to write to make money. He wrote until the end of his days, although suffering ill health all the while. He died of a heart attack in Hollywood at the age of 44.

Isadora Duncan, ca. 1903, wearing a signature neck scarf

After having met Scott Fitzgerald on the terrace of La Colombe D’Or, Isadora Duncan would live another full year. On the night of September 14th, 1927, she was riding in a open-top car with a friend in Nice, France, when the long, silk scarf she was wearing—her signature look was her long, silk scarf— became entangled in the spoke of one of the rear wheels, breaking her neck, dragging her backwards, and killing her instantly.

According to dispatches from Nice, Duncan was hurled in an extraordinary manner from an open automobile in which she was riding and instantly killed by the force of her fall to the stone pavement.”

Upon learning of Duncan’s tragic death by strangulation, the poet and Nazi collaborator Gertrude Stein acidly remarked:

Affectations can be dangerous”

Vaill, Amanda. Everybody Was So Young (1998).

Bruccoli, Matthew J. Some Sort of Epic Grandeur: The Life of F. Scott Fitzgerald (1981).

Taylor, Kendall. The Gatsby Affair: Scott, Zelda, and the Betrayal that Shaped an American Classic (2018).

O’Neill, Frances Rennie, David Alan. F. Scott Fitzgerald in Provence-A Guide (2018).


Watch the video: Isidora Duncan - Ich habe nur mein Leben vertanzt