Badass Isadora Duncan: Her Life Was a Dance

Badass Affirmations author Becca Anderson has written a new blog post on the legendary dancer, Isadora Duncan. Learn all about her life and inspiration here!

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Isadora née Angela Duncan was born in San Francisco on a summer’s day in 1877. Brought up in the manner of fallen aristocracy by her poor mother, a music teacher, young Angela studied classical ballet, but soon discarded the rules in favor of her own freer, interpretive dance. Her public debut of this new style of dance was a total flop in New York City and Chicago, so she scraped together some savings and headed for Europe on board a cattle boat.

In London, she studied the sculptures of pagan Greece and integrated the sense of movement from these classical remnants into her dance practice. A grande dame of the British stage, Mrs. Patrick Campbell, became the young American’s patron and set up private dance salons for Isadora at the homes of the most cultured crème de la crème. Soon, snooty Brits couldn’t get enough of the barefoot and beautiful young nymph, dancing her heart out in a dryad costume that left very little guesswork as to Duncan’s anatomy. Soon she was packing theaters and concert halls all over the continent. In 1905, she toured Russia as well.

Isadora Duncan was not only the dance diva of her day, but a woman who dared to flout social convention, bearing children out of wedlock (wedlock was a notion utterly repugnant to Duncan and her pack) to stage designer Gordon Craig as well as Paris Singer of the sewing machine dynasty. But her life was not all roses—Duncan lost her two babies and their nurse when their car rolled into the Seine and all three drowned. Duncan tried to sublimate her grief in work, opening dance schools around Europe and touring South America, Germany, and France.

In 1920, she received an invitation to establish a school in the Soviet Union, where she fell in undying love with Sergey Aleksandrovich Yesenin, a respected poet half her age. The two married despite Duncan’s abhorrence of the institution, and were taken for Bolshevik spies as they traveled the globe. Upon being heckled mercilessly at a performance in Boston’s Symphony Hall, Isadora Duncan bid her homeland adieu forever: “Goodbye America, I shall never see you again!” She was as good as her word; the honeymooners scuttled back to Europe, where their relationship crashed against the rocks of Yesenin’s insanity. He committed suicide in 1925, and Duncan lived the remainder of her life on the French Riviera, where another auto accident ended her life. One of her dramatic Greek-inspired scarves got tangled in the wheel of her car, and she was strangled.

Though her life was wild and messy, Isadora Duncan’s real triumph was her art. She changed the dance world forever, freeing the form from Victorian constriction to allow more natural movement. Duncan believed in celebrating the sculptural beauty of the female body and that dance, at its zenith, was “divine expression.” Duncan is regarded by many to have been the chief pioneer of modern dance. She was a free spirit who believed that “to dance is to live.”

If my art is symbolic of any one thing, it is symbolic of the freedom of woman and her emancipation.

—Isadora Duncan, dancer who transformed the rules of dance

There were three of us in the marriage, so it was a bit crowded.

—Diana, Princess of Wales

I still miss my ex-husband, but my aim is improving.

—Seen on a sign

I have always found husbands much more satisfying after marriage than during.

—Peggy Guggenheim, philanthropic art collector, bohemian, and socialite

Don’t put an absurdly high value on him. Think of the millions of other girls doing without him, yet able to bear it!

—Orfea Sybil, bohemienne of bon mots

I’m not upset about my divorce; I am only upset I’m not a widow.

—Unknown wild woman

I should be groaning over the sins I have committed, but I can only sigh for what I have lost.

—Héloïse, medieval French nun, writer, scholar, and romantic correspondent of the famed scholar Abelard

I still miss those I loved who are no longer with me, but I find I am grateful for having loved them. The gratitude has finally conquered the loss.

—Rita Mae Brown, pioneering lesbian author


Badass Affirmations

The Wit and Wisdom of Wild Women

Even a badass needs daily affirmations. We all need reminders. You don’t leap out of bed knowing you are amazing and about to have an incredible day. All of us have a lot of demands, pressures, to-do’s and responsibilities. We find ourselves rushing around, working hard to please others. Often we find ourselves at the back of our own bus, having made everyone else happy but our own damn self. Then you go and beat yourself up about it. Let’s stop that, shall we?

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