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Isadora Duncan: The Barefoot Dancer

When I was eleven years old, I was brought to the studio of a Russian dance master. I recall well the musty smells of his small, dark studio, the constant ticking of an antiquated clock, and the many old photographs of dancers from an earlier era - including some of him. His classes had no prescribed techniques. He taught his pupils to move from their own center, to free up their individual creative energies. So we simply danced freely to whatever music he played.
In this way I became part of a small group of children who danced periodically in our town park. We danced barefoot in white flowing Grecian-like tunics and flower wreaths in our hair, and flowing scarves.
That small group represented perhaps one of the last scattered remnants of what was known as the Duncan School of dance. And this curious man was my indirect link to the famous dancer, Isadora Duncan.
She was my first mentor and inspiration. I wanted to emulate - not only her art - but her life as well. I admired her free spirit, her enormous courage. Here was a beautiful, creative woman who dared to do and to be what she wanted. Even the tragedies of her life seemed dramatic and exciting to me.
It was not until years later that I understood the tremendous impact she had on the theatrical world, and particularly her great influence on the development of modern American dance.
Isadora Duncan was born in San Francisco in 1878. It was a comparatively quiet world then - those closing years of the Victorian era. Women had their prescribed place. The conventional was beautiful. Novelty was accepted as long as it didn't venture too deep. It was all right as a little diversion.
Popular theatrical dance reflected this attitude. It was either pretty or spectacular; but it was not seriously considered an art. Traditional classic ballet, which at that time had been mainly preserved in Russia, displayed lavish and elaborate productions, designed to entertain the elite who had their favorite ballerinas.
No fine, self-respecting family would ever consider dance as a possible career for their daughters. But there were rumblings and stirrings, and a growing sense of discontent; women were restless for equality; radical individuals had dreams of a better world - perhaps not as "safe" as the Victorian one - but possibly better.
Onto this scene appeared Isadora. She swept across the stages of Europe, causing a sensation. Some proclaimed her a great and inspiring artist; others were outraged and shocked at her behavior and revolutionary ideas.


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