Isadora Duncan was a rebel. If a label was to be applied to her with regard to her sexuality it would be ‘bi-sexual.” Isadora defied and hated labels – she was a free spirit who chose who she slept with and loved.
Angela Isadora Duncan (May 26 or 27, 1877 – September 14, 1927) was an American dancer who broke with traditional dance moves and became a sensation in North America and Europe.
Isadora was born to wealthy California parents who embraced the arts, but soon after her birth her father lost the bank he served and they were reduced to a much lower financial state of living. After her parents divorced, her mother taught piano. Isadora dropped out of school and she and her sister taught dance lessons.
Dance Becomes Her Life
In 1896, at the age of nineteen, Isadora became part of Augustin Daly’s Theatre Company in Chicago. Creative genius was in Isadora’s blood, but Chicago was not ready for Isadora. She left for London in 1898. She was paid to dance in private homes of the wealthy. She drew inspiration from Greek vases in the British Museum. Years later, in lesbian Natalie Barney’s salon in Paris, Isadora would dance dressed in Greek custume.
Her first real break came in 1902, when Isadora (25 years old) was asked by Loie Fuller to tour Europe with her. This was Isadora’s opportunity to work on perfecting her innovative dance techqique. This was a fluid and natural form instead of the rigid technique of ballet. Her popularity bloomed and she toured Europe and North and South America. Such touring brought her a good income, but she felt that her true mission lay in encouraging creativity in young dancers. She achieved this by opening German dance schools in 1904.
Love Affairs and Interests
Isadora flouted traditional mores and morality. She bore two children out of wedlock. The first was Deidre, whose father was Gordon Craig and the second child, Patrick, was the son of Paris Singer (one of the many sons of sewing machine magnate Isaac Singer). Tragedy hit when in 1913, both children were drowned when their car went into the River Seine with their Nanny.
The driver stalled the car while attempting to avoid a collision with another car. He got out to hand-crank the engine, but forgot to set the parking brake. The car rolled across the Boulevard Bourdon, down the embankment and into the river. The children and the nanny drowned.
Seven Years Later – 1922
Isadora attempted to have another child and a son was born in 1914, but he lived only hours. In 1922, Isadora stood on a Boston stage, waved a red flag and bared a breast. She referred to the flag by saying, “It is red and so am I.” In the same year, Isadora (45) married the Russian poet Sergei Yesenin (aged 27) who was 18 years her junior. Three years alter Sergei committed suicide.
Poet and Playwright Mercedes de Acosta.
Letters to and from Isadora and Mercedes reveal that they had a lesbian affair. In one letter, Isadora wrote, “Mercedes, lead me with your little strong hands and I will follow you – to the top of a mountain. To the end of the world. Wherever you wish.”
Unhappiness and Death
Isadora’s final years were spent running up debts, having sex affairs and being seen drunk in public. There is an eerie coincidence between Isadora’s death by car and the earlier death of her two children who drowned in a car.
On the night of September 14, 1927 in Nice, France, Isadora was a passenger in a car owned by a French-Italian mechanic. She wore a long, flowing, hand-painted silf scarf. It was a gift for a dear friend (some say lover) Mary Desti. It is reported that Isadora called back to Mary Desti, “Je vais à l’amour” (“I am off to love”).
Isadora’s life ended when her silk scarf, draped around her neck, became entangled around the open-spoked wheels and rear axle, hurling her from the open car and breaking her neck. At her death, Isadora was a Soviet citizen. She was cremated, and her ashes were placed next to those of her children in Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. The headstone of her grave contains the inscription École du Ballet de l’Opéra de Paris (“Ballet School of the Opera of Paris”).