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Duncan Dance Technique

“When Michelangelo sculpted David, he chipped away every protrusion, smoothed every excess and refined every detail to reveal only the pure beauty of that standing figure. So too does a Duncan Dancer study and train to dance only the most essential, only the most beautiful, only the most pure. The result in what you see — ease, grace, passion, expressiveness — is because true Duncan dancers…find and express the truth of each movement.” (Valerie Durham)

In the Duncan technique, the source of all movement stems from “the solar plexus”, located in the center of the torso, between the ribs. All movement must radiate outward from there. In the technique, a thought or idea gives rise to any movement; focus (use of the eyes and position of the head) as well as breath movement, stemming from the solar plexus, are the initial physical expressions of an idea. Therefore, the impulse for movement starts from the center of the body, and the rest of the body then fulfills the impulse. In addition, as the movement and the music are in perfect harmony, the impression is also that the music creates the movement.

The Duncan Dance actual movement vocabulary is based on natural and organic movements: walking, running, kneeling, reclining, skipping, leaping as well as movements derived from European social dance such as the waltz, polka and mazurka. Lines are pure and simple. Gestures and movements are stripped of artifice.

Isadora studied the “how” of all movements, how the weight is shifted from one leg to another while walking, what happens when lifting the leg from the ground, reclining, rising from the ground, leaping. Even from childhood, she studied nature to learn the most natural and the purist ways of moving. She later studied Greek and Renaissance art, including paintings, friezes, sculpture and pottery, to understand the natural, harmonious and powerful lines and movements of the Greek figure. She considered the Greek ideal to be the most beautiful because it revealed the beauty of what was natural as well as the essence of expression.

The Duncan Dancer goes through a rigorous training to achieve mastery of Duncan technique. Training involves building physical coordination, strength and stamina, flexibility and precise articulation. It involves grasping how to move the body harmoniously to express an idea. It also demands sincerity in artistic expression, sensitivity to music, understanding of movement dynamics, and initiating all movement from one’s center. The dancer must learn to make her movement’s ebb and flow, the end of each movement must lead to the beginning of the next — a movement never “ends.” Much of the technique and class progressions have been codified and passed on through the generations.

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: