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Isadora Duncan

When you think of Isadora Duncan, “flamboyant,” “imposing,” “inspirational” and “original” might be the adjectives that come to mind. Her unconventional life brought criticism from many conservatives and admiration from the liberal-minded people of her day.

It is difficult to pin down the year Isadora Duncan was born, although it is known she entered the world in San Francisco. A discrepancy with her birth certificates — there are two of them — puts the year as either 1897 or 1898. That confusion could well be a symbol of the wild existence she was to lead. The youngest of four children, her interest in dance bloomed early on in her life. Duncan’s mother instilled a love of music and poetry — two art forms that would continue to influence the style of her choreography.

Duncan is considered by many to be the person who first broke the formal rules of dance, particularly those of ballet. Finding it confining for both the body and the mind, she threw this style of dance to the wind. She preferred the openness and fluidity of natural movement and unrestricted breathing, which she dubbed “ebb and flow.” This, along with improvisation, became the signature style of her choreography. Interestingly, she was compelled to break dance boundaries by studying the statues and art of the Ancient Greeks. She began dancing barefoot in flowing robes and scarves. Her works were a blend of music, movement and poetry. This style proved to be a profound influence on the modern dance choreographers who came after her. Duncan also introduced modern athleticism into her techniques, incorporating “skipping, running, jumping, leaping and tossing” [source: Belilove].

Her life was far from quiet or formulaic. Duncan was known for her public love affairs. She dismissed marriage as antiquated, although she was briefly married to a man 17 years younger than herself. Duncan enjoyed a very social life and was a regular visitor to the salons of Paris and London. On a more tragic note, she lost her only two children in a car accident. Many years later, she herself was killed in a car, when one of her long scarves got caught in the open-spokes of a convertible’s wheel. Her ashes were placed next to her children’s graves in Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.

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