Tuesday, February 2, 2016


Image from Wikimedia
Identified as in Public Domain in the United States only
ISADORA DUNCAN as a young woman. 
This outstanding book by Peter Kurth is the primary reference,
along with Isadora Duncan's own memoir,
 called MY LIFE, for this month's focus.
I read both cover to cover.
ISADORA DUNCAN, in her early womanhood, said this: "Any intelligent woman who reads the marriage contract and then goes into it, deserves all the consequences." 
Marriage, she thought, was excessively Repressive and she was excessively Romantic, at least into the days of her sexual awakening, before she had been pregnant and abandoned. 
To put Isadora Duncan into the context of her times is important. She wasn't just unconventional but a Rebel and she was considered an Old Maid when, at twenty-four years old, she finally found a man willing and lost her virginity.  She would suffer two miscarriages and give birth to two children in her lifetime.  She'd be known most for her "mothering" of children, students, and friends, but be horribly disappointed by men repeatedly.  It was Paris Singer who Kept her, and perhaps loved her the most and best.
Born in San Francisco to a mother who played the piano and instilled culture into her children even as they moved frequently ahead of debt collectors, and with a banker father who got in trouble and abandoned the family, she, her siblings, and their mother had to find their own way in the world and experienced lifelong extremes when it came to finances.  Technically homeless at times, even as Isadora's dance theories, inspired by the Ancient Greeks as well as other artists who emphasized the connection between body and spirit, made her famous and wealthy, she lived in chaos.  Isadora many times had the patronage and sponsorship of society women and fellow artists.  She made money but spent it freely.  She let money slip through her fingers with questionable management, risk taking, a preference for spending on good times and vacations,  and supporting the father of her first child, the irresponsible womanizer, Gordon Craig.  She was always begging, or had others doing it for her, in campaigns official and personal, to cover costs to prioritize her school and students.  The school survived because it became the forte of her sister, Elizabeth.
When I first read Isadora Duncan's own memoir, which I will provide a link for you to this month, I was a teenager struck with her way with words, her world view, her Romanticism.  I've come to see Isadora Duncan as someone with a Gift and a Vision, but also someone who was unable to deal with the practicalities of life.  By today's standards she was alcoholic, depressed, possibly bi-polar.

As an Artist who ran on Emotion, and by all accounts was Free Spirited, going against the prevailing morals of her time, believing that marriage was a trap for a woman, especially an Artist, Isadora seemed to believe that the Universe would always be kind to her. But then, 30ish, Isadora became more Pragmatic.  She decided to counter her plea for funds from patrons and friends alike and practice the new, mystical method of getting what it was you wanted called Coueism, *** the original Positive Thinking.  After having been though emotional sickness and mental breakdowns as a result of her relationships with men, came the time, in May of 1901 when she was 30 that she reassessed.  She said, "I had created an Art, a School, a Baby."  By then she had bailed Gordon Craig out more than once and was becoming frustrated with him. (Finally!)  She practiced mantras to attract a millionaire, at first only to finance her dream of dancing schools. 

Her multi-millionare turned out to be Paris Singer, one of the siblings of her first great patron in Paris, his sister Winaretta,  the Princess de Polignac, who had invited her to dance, introduced her to the aristocrats, given her a generous sum of 2000 francs, and arranged a series of subscription dances for her that brought notables to her when she arrived there in 1901.

Isadora met Paris, who she called "the Grand Duke," in February 1909. 

Could she really ever reconsider what she had said about marriage?  Not yet.
Her relationship with Singer, one of the younger of a couple dozen children begot by the inventor of the Singer Sewing Machine, lasted for eight volatile years in which he continually financed her dreams, even buying her a historic mansion to live in that also housed a dance studio.  (During World War I she gave it up and it was turned into a hospital.)  Singer bailed her out time and time again, asked her to marry him, paid for the latest fashions and important pieces of jewelry and fur coats,  provided Interior Decorators who made her personal rooms into, reportedly, a Courtesan's, and tried for a short while to settle her down in England as a proper English Aristocrat.   With an income suspected of being about $15,000 a month without any need to work, Singer had no worries about running out of funds.
With Singer, Isadora became pregnant and gave birth to her son, Patrick. Patrick as well as her daughter by Craig, Deidre, were accidently drowned as children, an event so terrible that hundreds of the famous and important in Paris came to support her in her grief and she became defined by it.  Her hair is said to have turned white overnight as a result and she dyed it with red henna for the rest of her life.  It's also speculated that her Depression after the death of her children is what accelerated her drinking - she favored Champagne - and lead to increasingly promiscuity.

Did she love Paris Singer and he her, or was he there in her life only for money?  She did love him, in her way, without being faithful.  Accordingly, he also loved her and accepted much about her.
After the eight years, though he seems by then to have given up on Isadora, she apparently was still in his heart.  He was still someone who cared enough about her to keep tabs on her through friends and more than once he tried again. Then, if you count his anonymous bail outs later in life when she found her tours in America and South America to be losses,  you realize that Singer was in Isadora's life for the rest of her life.
In her forties, Isadora aged and got fat. She took criticism that her looks and weight took away from her dance, though it's said that she always held herself and walked with light and grace no matter.  By then there were many imitators of her dance in the world, others touring and making money without crediting her, and the public no longer needed the Original.  Her life turned into an ongoing party, surrounded by homosexual admirers and, this is still controversial, one or more lesbian lovers, usually also American Ex-Pats and heiresses who supplied money. Some claim she had as many as 1000 lovers, mostly young men chosen for the night.  My guess is that her reputation more than her behavior moved her towards that statistic.
Was Isadora a woman who was unable to learn from her own life?  Did she actually sell out?
Nearing fifty she did marry as badly as is possible. She married a violent, abusive, much younger Russian poet, Esenin, who she'd met as a result of her attempt to found a school of dance with the government sponsorship of Soviet Russia.  To some extent Isadora Duncan was mixed up, if not in actual participation but by philosophy, in the Russian Revolution and the cause of the Bolsheviks.  In hypocrisy, she seemed to despise the wealthy, though no doubt she had depended on them from the early days when she was featured entertainment in their Salons, in American and in Europe, and had lived lavishly due to their generosity rather than her own ability to earn, invest, or save.
Duncan's death has also become part of defining her because she was killed instantly by a broken neck when a long wrap scarf she was wearing got caught in the wheel of an expensive sports car that Paris Singer had agreed to purchase for her that very day.  In many of her dances a scarf was used as a symbol and accessory. Singer came to take care of her funeral. Of all her lovers, he was the most true to her.
This month, I'll select excerpts from the Kurth book that exposes the relationship between Isadora Duncan and Paris Singer.  I'll also give you a link to her memoir, and post videos of the dancers who carry her legacy of dance philosophy into the next century.  No matter the hell of her life, or however unstable she was or seemed, there is no doubt that Isadora Duncan is a Mother of Modern Dance.  We are lucky to witness her dance carried on by the students of her - and her sister Elizabeth's - students.
Having once attended a live recital of Isadorable dancers, I can say that they took my breath away and gave me chills, and that there is something profoundly spiritual in her dance.  It made me wish I'd been alive in the era in which Isadora lived, so that I might better understand her.
Check out this link on Philip Emile Coué (1857-1926)  Gordon Sanders on Postive Thinking /Coeu
C 2016  All Rights Reserved.  Mistressmanifesto.blogspot.com
If interested in Isadora, you might also want to read my posts from September 2014 on Natalie Clifford Barney.  It's said that she may have been a patron or kept for a short while Isadora Duncan.  The Kurth book mentions Mercedes D'Acosta and other ex pat American lesbians in Paris in the early 20th Century. 

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