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Isadora’s Artistic Contributions

While many other dancers were simultaneously working to bring forth “modern dance,” Isadora is rightfully known as the “mother of modern dance.” She more than any other, brought dance out of its lowly state of opinion in the art world to a place among the “high arts” of literature, painting, music, poetry, sculpture and the like.

She managed this realignment of dance in the art world through several methods. First, by choreographing and performing to concert music; previous to Isadora, dancers only danced to music specifically written for the dance. Isadora was the first to take concert music and choreograph to it, shocking critics and audiences at the time. Isadora was able to associate dance with the greatest music in the world, by masters such as Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert, Chopin, Brahms and Wagner. In addition, the ancient Greek and Renaissance overtones to her technique put into the minds of society at the time, that dance was as lofty as the Greek and Renaissance art that was so popular at the time.

Isadora also wrote and lectured extensively about the art of the dance. Her important book “The Art of the Dance” is a wonderful resource for all dancers of all disciplines as it discusses theories and impulses as well as the significance of dance. In her philosophy of dance, Isadora includes the importance of knowledge of other art forms — literature and poetry, painting and sculpture and drama — as well as politics and science. Isadora revolutionized the dancer from mere entertainer to expressive and intellectual artist.

Isadora had direct effect on the dance world. For example, her visit to Russia in 1904 was a coalescing, catalyzing effect on the formation of the Ballet Russes. Isadora's use of music, flow of movements, staging and costuming greatly influenced Mikhail Fokine in creating his great works of Russian ballet.

After Isadora, dancers were free to dance to the music of their choice, to dance about the condition of the human spirit, to express their own ideas. Movements become more innovative, less stilted and mimed. And much as Balanchine criticized Isadora when he finally saw her dance, late in her life, his choreography was profoundly influenced by the artistic breakthroughs Isadora made throughout her career. And as much as Isadora criticized ballet, ballet has grown tremendously in its breadth of expression, somewhat due to her early criticisms and example.After Isadora, the three “Bs” of dance during her day — Ballet, Ballroom, Burlesque — gave way to a greater expression of dance.

Isadora was a beloved muse for and friend of other artists and notables of her day. Rodin, Cocteau, Walkowitz, Craig, Rummel, Stanislavsky, Duse, Stein, Esenin were among the many artists and thinkers that she communed with, learned from and influenced. She was the subject of countless paintings, sketches and poems and sculpture. But her greatest artistic contribution was to the art of dance, lifting it to a higher plane of artistry and expression.

Dance Visions NY would like to thank Valerie Durham for her intelligent insights and writings on Dance of Isadora Duncan. Much of the above is from the writings of Ms. Durham.

About Isadora Duncan

Isadora Duncan is known as the “mother of modern dance.” Learn about this dance pioneer's work, her influence, and Dance Visions NY's relationship to the Duncan technique and legacy: