isadora duncan

Isadora Duncan y el mar

From childhood, Duncan saw herself as a liberator, opposed but never vanquished by philistines. In My Life she recalls that in elementary school she gave an impromptu lecture in front of the class on how there was no Santa Claus, whereupon she was sent home by an angry teacher. This was not the last of what, with pride, she called her “famous speeches.” When she became a professional, she routinely ended her concerts by coming out in front of the curtain and describing to the audience, at length, how profound her way of dancing was, as opposed to the triviality of other ways—she called ballet “an expression of degeneration, of living death”—and on how, therefore, they should contribute to the expenses of her school. (This declamatory bent was probably the least attractive aspect of Duncan’s personality, as it is of My Life, and some reviewers had a lot of fun with it.) What appeared to her most vile about ballet was its unnaturalness: the rigid back, the studied positions, the relentless daintiness. Duncan was an exemplary bohemian—a quality that was partly rooted, no doubt, in the fact that she was from California. (She was born in San Francisco and raised, mostly, in Oakland.) That region has a history of breeding idealists, animists, nonconformists.

more from Joan Acocella at the NYRB here.