Isadora Duncan and Ballet Competitions: Is There A Parallel? (Part 1/4)

Isadora Duncan 1

Isadora Duncan 1 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Isadora Duncan 1 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Awww….everyone knows diaries are just full of crap anyway.”

Bridget Jones

I came across these three articles about First Position and YAGP. Before I go into my soliloquy, it is probably better to go and read the articles first. Then you can come back and laugh at mine. I am tempted to put a poll at the bottom to see who everyone agrees with, No.1, No.2, or No. 3….or the long shot-Me. I have messed around with this entry so many times without reaching that point, well, you know, where it feels right….that I have contemplated removing it, and stop bothering people who actually might read it with the edits. But, as I am sure most of you understand, it is just one of those things that I have to get right. I apologize in advance for you receiving these re-edits if you follow my post. I have divided it into 4 posts (as I could have no way of seeing how much or in how many ways it would effect me).

Isadora Duncan was first revealed to me in a movie of the late 1960’s featuring Vanessa Redgrave, entitled The Loves of Isadora Duncan. I would like to ask Ms. Redgrave her thoughts on the extraordinary character she portrayed in that film, whose dancing she copied as close as possible to her original choreography, but alas, this is not the day for that. As Ms. Duncan, Ms. Redgrave was very bohemian, arty, destroyed, elegant, in short, her usual genius self. I am not sure whether or not Ms. Redgrave embraced Isadora’s life or not, as I never knew Isadora Duncan and the context of the whole life of a great contributor to not only dance and art, but also the women’s movement, etc., simply cannot be encapsulated into a film of less than two hours in length. I constantly have to remember and remind people other than myself that movies cannot teach us much about details and facts. Reading and research may not prove final as well. Most of the time no answer is finite and this blog was certainly not meant to be interpreted as fact, but rather as my thoughts on various things, some of which include research, which is neither in support of the truth, or evidence of my knowing it, and some of which is completely fabricated and opinion. Having begun Isadora’s autobiography recently, my opinion is that there is truth in it and there is a lot of trauma, which is just as evident in her writing style, as her related experiences and outpourings. On the one hand, this makes me sad, and on the other, I refuse to give up the idea that Isadora was great, misinterpreted in her life and now in her demise. This has more to do with the time and opinion of other people, and ignorance, that her own style or way of life. She is at the least a sort of Fanny Hill and at the best, a great dancer and promoter, a real go-getter. But that life, from birth could not take away its shade from her throughout it, and its impact is discernible through her story-telling and manner. Before anyone says, “well, this confirms one writer’s opinion of her,” let me say that it does not! There is much to learn from a read of her book-I would say it is probably the best one I have read, for me, as in many ways, my own life parallel hers, not in the dancing sense, but in the pioneer spirit, without constraint, which both caused her journeys and her altered her history. A man would  never write this essay, nor probably understand the deeper side of it, for her writing is not all that practical, but it is clear that a woman with a vision and a dream set out to accomplish something different, if not wonderful, and she accomplished as much as she could. This should never be demeaned.

But I was reminded of that film when I read the above articles and I realized I hadn’t heard much about Isadora Duncan for many years. The writers of the 3rd article, Ian Ono and Jana Monji (LA Examiner, May 31, 2012) wrote a sort of rebuttal to the article by Lewis Segal (LA Times, April 13, 2012) on the film, First Position.  Ono and Monji also reference another review of the film by Kenneth Turan (LA Times, May 4, 2012). Now, it sounds as if the writers who extrapolated on Isadora Duncan had facts, or did they? I think that Lewis Segal’s one statement about Isadora Duncan was not enough to attack a writer for re-stating a widely known fact about gymnastics and ballet. Are the writers suggesting that there are no muscular skeletal injuries in ballet or that it is worth it for your child to be injured (seriously) to become a good (notice I did not say great) ballet dancer? There is no way of knowing whether dancers we see in YAGP, Prix de Lausanne, Varna, etc, or any other competition, will be placed as highly sought after and regaled presenters of the work of great choreographers, and you never hear any talk about that-all of this work is done just to win the competitions with very little thought to the quality of dancing. Were they just posting a commentary, or were they news-jacking to support their contempt of the writer (Segal), who doesn’t seem to think much of competitions, and they post links to two other articles he has written that they disagree with as though a group of people who despise him are being supported for that form. I disapprove of any writer being censored or pressured into stating views that he/she does not agree with.

Ono and Monji’s grammar was worse than mine, but that is not what bothers me about their article. Lewis Segal briefly stated what was his position on First Position. Was that promotion of the film First Position, or was it his position? No publicity is bad publicity, or at least the saying goes in the business. The statement which seems to have enraged them relates specifically to Segal’s comments about the dangers placed upon the young muscular skeletal system, with respect to the rigors of dancing. But we all know this to be true and many of us know or have heard of the life-lasting and debilitating injuries and conditions sustained by dancers. This does not stop adults from pursuing dancing, or teenagers either, but overuse in this vein of training is well-documented and certain idiosyncratic injuries are relevant to dancers, nay, even stem from dancers, as in the grand plie, which places great strain on the patella at the lowest point in all dancers. Whether the dancer is perfectly turned-out (and most are not) has much to do with recurrences of types of injuries and overuse. Simply put, the plie is as common to dance as baking to brownies-there is no way to dance without it. So all dancers are at risk, not just competition dancers. Anyone, really. I was surprised to hear of the number of injuries sustained by dancers as young as 8-10 in my daughters ballet classes, many of them already having been dancing for a while. When I was growing up, and even now, young dancers go to movement, lyrical, tap, and many begin jazz, before ballet. Due to these competitions, I see parents enrolling their children into several years of gymnastics, putting them on point at 8-9 and dancing them on point several times per week, and day, as well as rehearsals, and in privates for these competitions. That is too much strenuous use of the same muscles over time for most children to escape without any permanent effects. It does guarantee, with some certainty, that just about the time your child is off to study at some school, or enters a company, a result of the fruits of their labor, your child is going to have tendonitis or a worse condition, probably at least by the age of 15-16. Treated or not 80% of dancers are reported to have injuries and the outstanding 20% may be those who have not reported them! When other dancers catch up and really begin to dance, mature, and apply themselves, your child might not be able to dance at all. But they will possibly have won at competitions and some may even have summer scholarships or be invited to study at top schools, only to be sent home because they are worn out, their passion to dance sometimes extinguished by the pain of injury, and even the sudden realization that alongside other dancers in those classes, they are not as good at some things. This is not always the case, but I have seen it far too many times not to think it is important-mothers of competition children do not usually want to hear this, but it is true. I am sure, as many do okay, as well, and very carefully, or possibly by genetics escape some of this, or even all of this, to go on and lead wonderful dance careers. The other injuries are numerous, and you can ask dance doctors about a list of what they see and are bound to see more of due to these competitions. There are more ways than one to skin a cat, figuratively speaking. That is not what this is about. In relation to this, in her book, Isadora’s actual comment is cheap, not what these writer’s claim, and vague. She says, of ballet, and point shoes, “Why?” Judging from her tendency to talk, I am sure more was probably said, but who said it? We have no other proof (extant) that Isadora actually did say what they claim. I only have hearsay. But her philosophy was about something entirely different than ballet and as she chose not to discuss it in her book, I am assuming her stance was to leave it out, uncommented upon, and to dwell on that for long, would have kept the conversation away from where she wanted it to go-she was too skilled for that. Isadora talked about what she envisioned, no point in discussing the competition-no publicity is bad publicity (for the other side as well).

I am going to assume Ono and Monji are parents of a dancer(s)-parents and exhibit some guilt in their argument, seemingly writing in the defense of their own dogma and while probably forcing their children to do these things and thereby fulfilling their own latent desires to dance which were apparently thwarted, i.e., “just think of what I could do now,” and “I wish I had not been so lazy.” I too danced and have no bad feelings about the path that I chose, involving ballet and modern dance at the same intervals. I also had injuries. Modern dancers have them as well as ballet dancers. Any repetitive motion causes problems somewhere for anyone in any labor. I can say a lot of positive things about both kinds of dancing, and learned together, one definitely being the antithesis of the other, one never seems to be overworked, strained or stiff, nevertheless, though the injuries may be fewer, over a long period of time and if any strain occurs, injuries and repetitive use problems can occur. To them, dance should not be the revelation you were looking for (unless for your child), but something your child has selected that they enjoy doing, whether they become this passionate about it or not on their own, you can be sure it will do them no harm, done correctly, and will do them a lot of good, discipline-wise, also expanding their cultural understanding, etc….If you cannot justify the expense, unless they win at something, then perhaps there are less expensive and risky hobbies to pursue. Ballet is not a sport, no one necessarily thinks your child is beautiful yet, and only years of hard work, passion and intelligence, including the proper use and care of the dancer’s tools, are going to produce grown-up dancers who last. The politics of ballet being what it is everywhere, there is no guarantee that even the very best dancers have a shot at performing, rising to the level of soloist, let alone ballerina. I agree with Mr Segal that all dancers have not reached a level where they can call themselves a ballerina, and many of them think they have mastered it at a young age, even Isadora. If you are working your little one too hard, there will be warnings, you hope, but it is up to a parent to learn about dance injuries, proper training, and take preventative advice, before an injury to your young dancer occurs. Most of us are at fault in that area by being ignorant and not being able to recognize signs of overuse and fatigue and this can be detrimental to your child. Still, no one is to blame for this necessarily, and without the perspective of ones such as Mr Segal, some people might never begin to think about the relation of dance injury to overuse and competitive training, as one would see for an athlete, in a field where more than sportsman’s skill is required. It is hard enough to dance correctly without having the pressures of competition placed on children by their parents, organizations or schools. I am sure the founders were not trying to cause injuries and undue competition, but as long as the bar for entry is so low, there will be injuries by students who compete when perhaps their training is more important, such as my daughter. It is better to be safe than sorry-cold war days of Russian training to compete at the Olympics are now over and ballet has always been an art, and too much attention is paid to these competitions by students (and parents) within certain studios at the expense of good technique, paying their dues, and fair play/pay. It is not enough for parents and bad teachers to say, “my child is the best, she is able to compete.” How would they really know, unless a panel were comprised of great educators, who determined that their child was at their peak and trained well enough to compete? This is factually proved by attending one of these competitions or performances and seeing the mistakes the dancers make. One has to assume these mistakes are made repeatedly (if rehearsed) and contributing to future injury. Right? I would guess they are parents by the sound of it, wouldn’t you?

Particularly bothersome to me about this prevailing attitude of competition dancers suddenly appearing in ballet, is that they bring with them this sense of having read a few lines about great artists in Wiki or somewhere, and thinking they are experts, just repeating hearsay. Isadora Duncan is the backbone of American modern dance (in this country, at least), probably Loie Fuller everywhere else,  and revered everywhere for her contributions. I would expect Europeans to criticize her, for to support her as the first modern dancer would contradict their own contributions, and it is no secret that Isadora found an audience for her performances in Europe, while the states were not ready for her advances. But to exclude her is like saying Martin Luther King was not important to the black movement and the detente of racial tensions here in the US. perhaps these above writers have other perspectives or influences. I do not discount that. Perhaps, like me, film watchers learn a little about Isadora in that movie, but there is much more to the meaning of this life. At age 9-10, my age when I first saw the film on late night tv, I was somewhat irritated by the laissez-faire attitude she appeared to have taken towards life. I did not understand her past. I was not convinced, at that age, that she was very responsible, intelligent, or normal. I was wrong and right. I was young and had not the wisdom to look back and understand my own past, let alone hers. She points out in her writing that the reason dancers fail at expressing emotions when they are young is because they have no understanding yet. In fact she did not believe in censoring reading of children because she felt they would not understand it anyway, so it would not hurt them to read about sex, for example, because they would not understand it. She is partially right, in my opinion. She also believes that a person ought to start doing what they want to do with the rest of their life very young, as this prepares them the more for it. Life is short. She demonstrates that accurately by herself. Movies on late night tv were generally B grade or lower such as Faye Dunaway in Bonnie and Clyde, or Kirk Douglas in The Juggler, and I probably assumed, “here comes another boring tear-jerker.” Our tv was black and white. Some of these movies are now considered great films; I think that is the case with this film. The life of Isadora Duncan was lived in Technicolor and not in articles and books and films, but it was very controversial at the time, and apparently still is. The problems with First Position is that a lot of young children see it and think,”if I cannot do that, then I cannot be a great dancer.” That is not the case or it depends. They are amazing children, but not all of them win the competition and became or will become great dancers-that does not mean they are not good enough or that they should stop dancing. It also means there are a million more stories than those stories, all unique, all relevant, not just those. Children seem to take things quite literally-this is definitely true, and should be counseled and supervised in their dancing as much in their watching of these competitions. Especially since the children in them have done so much and are doing so much WRONG. Children will tend to reason that these dancers are good, all good, and the seemingly good ones-perfect, the best. Quite the opposite, if it inspires them to watch and to dance then that is good, but there are far better dancers out there, young and old! I would encourage my child to watch all dancers and not to consider these the best, or the end-all in their lives. All it means, is that this is important to these particular dancers, to compete and to have public or medal reassurance by their peers and these adjudicators that they are dancers, and are in line to be considered for more important lives, success, and that they feel this recognition is more important than studying ballet day-to-day, resting their bodies, having time with their families, and other normal activities and pursuits, and they will probably be back the next year, to try and improve their chances. Most use this as an opportunity to gain entrance into a better school or one leading into a company. Roads (all) are filled with well-intentioned advice, and this is not the only path dancers follow. Other students might take a different approach-staying in class, learning better technique, taking the occasional private and learning variations, enjoying ballet, reading, pilates, yoga, modern dance, watching ballets, traveling, doing auditions for summer programs, and trying to get accepted into a good school where they might have access to a better dance education, without the expense and added stress of trying to win a ballet competition. It is the idea that there is a fast track (and all these dancers are on it) to becoming a great star that bothers me most about the film, not that it points out the hard work by these dancers to compete. I honestly do not think the ones I know work harder than my daughter has, and usually they only work that hard right before YAGP. I do not think one of them is yet a star, but I believe they are all still dancing. The young girl from Israel had a real gift for acting it seemed, but there is no way of knowing whether she will be a great dancer, she already appears to be a very creative and potentially talented child. She is dancing still, but not competing that I know of. They are all children and the way their lives play out and are molded has everything to do with their happiness and success, early or late, and we as parents, have something to do with that.

My mother was out partying and now I cannot fault her for this brave attempt at 34 to enjoy what was left of her youth. She made the choice to rear a child on her own, out of love, in the sixties, when most women today cannot even imagine the hellishness of that undertaking in those days. With my mother’s perceived notions about the way society viewed her, I see now that she felt guilty, or at least confused, and that came down to me. Even today. But, as a child, I sometimes felt the need to defend myself or my mother and I did-that didn’t mean I didn’t think about it, or that I knew I was right, but I was. I just was alive and there should be no apology necessary for that. Isadora doubted herself and thought (plenty) during her life, but while she defended her positions in her book, I know, from experience, that she blamed herself. I would. When anyone, including the press, mentions your actions, they are expressing an opinion and sitting in judgment. Personally, I do not feel this is right, but it is the power of the press and you know what they say about opinions. I sometimes have to go out and have some alone time, or spend time with friends. It wasn’t even until I was that old that she went out at all, trying to make associations, make friends, have a good time, and I am sure she felt strongly about the beginning of dance too young, because she danced and her mother danced, meaning she too, had opinions. I am sure she felt  that had to prepare to defend her position and to rationalize it and that made her actions questionable and not the doing of them. She did them. If Isadora felt that too much stretching and overwork of the self to obtain gymnastic ability could have long term effects on the body, I guess she had reason to think so, but I do not believe she ever questioned her actions or her philosophies-she believed them. But she does admitting to periods of self-doubt in later years. She rationalized those, she claimed, by remembering the words of inspiration she received at the head of some great poet, composer, or another, who encouraged her to go on with her ideals and her form of, well, dancing. My mother’s own best friend, involved in gymnastics at an early age, had to have her insides put back in place before she could have babies. But my mother wanted me to dance. Perhaps Isadora had this knowledge from personal experiences also. It was not uncommon.We are all a product of our experiences and wishes. Sometimes the wishes take priority over the practicality of our path. Either way, one cannot say one’s  approach or path is better, for all are currently in use, and all will result in something, good and bad.

There were not any good dancing schools where I lived, all those little recital studios which she disdained and refused to let me join. So my friends and I danced to pop and rock music on the radio-free style we called it, but not to be confused with break-dancing, etc., but we got up to some pretty good moves, and we danced on weekends at the skating rink for small prizes because we knew we could win. We had to switch partners every week to not run the risk of being disqualified for winning each time and sometimes we would take a break, letting other people have a chance. But, probably due in some small part I was always scheming and planning how to be successful at whatever venture we chose, and in everything I tried with some small success, I also correlated that enterprise with the next step, or what to do to make it better or more popular. I was ambitious, not always for myself, because I realized I had not had the training to do many of the things in dance or whatever I tried, but I never lost that feeling of heightened excitement at the prospect of asking myself, whether this could be famous or not. In my later life, after I plugged away at college and had a child, this came back to me in my quests in the music business and so was a very important part of my adult character. Isadora and other women, such as Harriett Tubman, encouraged my imagination, spurned my creative genius, and imbued me with common strength, that I believed, and such fortitude, that anything was possible and if you really wanted something you could make it happen. Where there is a will there is a way. But I have learned to choose my battles very carefully. Sometimes I do nothing at all, but when the notion strikes me, and it does not so often these days I will admit, but watch out!

I pretended well into my teens. But, like soap and water, to my mother, being the best disinfectant, moving was the best way to gain strength for any kind of dancing and I believe by Isadora’s constant motion, she was a dancer extraordinaire. Sally rand was also a dancer, and I am not sure, if in some cases Isadora’s dancing was viewed this way by men in particular and that is why she had so much trouble with it, why she used her sexuality, when she discovered it and was mistaken for using it before. She makes much of this in her memoirs, and of being a virgin, which I think to trite to believe she actually believed and I am sure modesty was her basis, for I am sure, she would have been hard put to not understand the relation to it made by others. She deigns innocence too oft, for it to be truly believed, but who cares? What I also noticed about Isadora, besides her manipulation of people was her encumbrance of her own family, her strength and fortitude stemmed from it and it is easy to be waylaid without that protection, even today. She had a very protective mother and her family was nearly always with her. She was the dominant member of the family and eventually they all left, finding her way too overbearing and not much help to them. Her mother alone stayed on, followed her, believed in her and supported her. She also supported them for a long time, contributed and shared, we do not know truly to what extent, for it is mentioned that at one point she felt bad about leaving her mother alone in Paris while she went to Germany and Budapest. She eventually felt bad enough to send for her, or was able to, and I think that much of Isadora’s life was lived around finding a way to survive and this was all she knew how to do. Much like many dancers today. I am sure when Isadora finally lost her, it was difficult for that mother was your compatriot, fan, and true love. All other loves seem less important at the realization of that one true loss unless you are in complete denial. Hopefully, other love sustains you, but in the end, most of us have to deal with that loss.

My mother became very ill due to an immunodeficiency disease, which at that time was just called “crazy” by her doctors, and we now recognize this as resulting in severe allergies. I, too experience some environmental reactions sometimes, and anxiety, but I just do not know what it is. Then it goes away. My son was born with many allergies, and by the time he was 4-5 he was a regular patient in the allergy clinic at New York Hospital. My mother encouraged me in all things creative, particularly art, writing, acting, dance, politics, language and anything else which I was led to do. I passed this on to some effect with my children as have their fathers, also artists. She did not want me to study just one thing-putting all of my eggs into one basket, so to speak. There were no video games and as I said before, we did not even have a color tv. In a way, life was much simpler then and your own imagination was not led to some other activity which dampened it, for if you were creative, then you found ways to amuse yourself and you learned about yourself. I am not sure children today know about themselves or are just repeating what their parents bade them say or they have learned from watching tv. In most cases today, it is not their love of books, the search for knowledge or their industry. It is difficult in today’s society to pass on effectively these things as other people do not, tv does not, and society does not. But we had temptations, too, of a different kind, but none-the-less, vices and burdens. Instead of getting up to take ballet in the morning, I would teach myself to dance and read books about ballet, or comics, whatever I wanted. I would eat candy-sometimes lots of it, and ham (I loved ham). I would look outside and see the dew on the grass and go slide my feet through it. As the sun came up, the grass dried. I would look at the flowers in our yard, visiting each area to check on the changes from the previous day. Children today do have these same revelations and experiences, but they choose to get much information for themselves off the Internet and much of that is decent, but not all of it is correct, just as sources of information were always questioned, today’s information must still bear the same tests and children should be taught that, not just to surmise.

I would catch bugs in bottles, including bees, rake with a stick, pretend I was a pilgrim, climb on the dog house roof and eat an apple. On a Saturday morning, this was my time, and my mother would always say, “look at this, or look at that,” never letting me miss the wonders of nature and our world. I do not think you can have a better childhood and I firmly believe that a child should have that, not only know the studio. One child in particular, effects everyone who has seen the movie. But there are many more children like that. There are hundreds, probably, of other types than that, and so few of these dancers are questioned, or their parents questioned deeply it is hard to have any true or lasting impression-it is a vehicle for a story, that’s it. These children, might make great technicians, but what do they learn of beauty, reality and life? Some seemed to try very hard to proximate a normal life, and most would be happy with a dancing position anywhere, but one parent was particularly daunting and her daughter, Miko Fogarty is an example of a child who had no more talent than most other children, but whose teacher and parent contributed to her own desire to win this competition, and any others, in her quest for dancing with the Royal Ballet. I do not really think she knew that from the start, and I think it is teachers and parents who goad children to do these things. But I do not think they had to twist her arm, although I am sure nothing else is discussed at their dinner table and her mother clearly wants success for her daughter. Given a teacher who is willing to commit himself, the only thing that is needed is the child herself and I am sure she has learned from her experiences. What she will do in the future only time will tell, but she may well be a lesson to all of us that it can be done with lots of money and perseverance and average talent.

Climbing trees was good exercise, walking, running, bike riding, swimming, shoveling snow, cleaning house, ice skating, basketball, running down the railroad tracks at lightning speed, skipping ties, hopping down the creek bed from stone to stone, balancing on curbs and walls. Yes, I was prepared to dance in a different way, but just as good and a lot of fun. By the time I was in 9th grade, I wanted to be a cheerleader, but here were all these other cheerleaders with gymnastic skills and practice, though I am now sure I would not have liked it anyway. But, I decided I was going to audition.  I was going to get their attention, somehow. There was a jump some of them could do where you jumped up and touched your toes, and only a few of them could do it. But I sat on the ground and thought, and sat in the window seat and thought and I went back outside in the yard and tried it. Not there. But I analyzed that jump, and kept jumping higher every day that summer and extending myself, pushing myself to do it. One day, there it was-perfect. I did it. In many ways I kept trying other things like that, until I realized that there was a place I should be if I wanted to do those things and it was dance class, not gymnastics. As a sophomore in high school, I could take classes at the local community college in the summer if I got permission. The school let me and I registered, paying for my class tuition with money I earned from my own job. I went 2 days to modern and two days to ballet. By the end of the summer I was able to begin the adult ballet class at the local dance company school, the Dayton Ballet. I continued evenings at the community college and there until the following summer when I took the intensive. I was hooked on dance! After a couple of years, my dance teacher (from the Royal Ballet) told me that, at first, she thought I was too old, but when she saw how hard I worked, and how facile I was, she believed I could do anything I put my mind to. So did I-that was another thing my mother had taught me. These competitions do not teach all children that-they only teach some children that, as well as schools which also feel that some dancers are good for the competition and others are not. I think it makes more politics where enough already exists, adding a new dimension to studios and competition among families there to see who is to succeed, and more money for the owners! The list of dancers who are famous and who started late is as long as the list of winners at YAGP-look it up. No one asks for credentials at a dance studio, just as no one asks for birth certificates at YAGP. You can say you started at any time, and most professional dancers are asked that question first, and have learned to sidestep the question of their wisdom and abilities by replying that they have been dancing all their lives. Issue dropped. Expert. Easy. Few really state the truth, give a list or references, like MY Cousin Vinnie. The fewer years you have rained, many assumptions are made, as to your expertise, but dance is an unusual ability, not all gymnasts and recital dancers are really good dancers. You can teach someone ballet, but you cannot teach them to be a prima ballerina or a great dancer, that comes from within the dancer, the self. Gene Kelly was a great dancer, I do not think anyone living would argue that, if they know who he was. But he began dancing very late in classes and began the formal instruction of it when his parents bought a school in Pennsylvania. He taught there, and he went to California in his early twenties. Some people have been dancing all their lives, just not in class. Others have been in class and not learned much. You have to be pretty intuitive to be a ballet dancer and swear off all injuries. Really smart. And you do not have to be too bright to see in these competitions that most of it is not dancing, but the dogmatic approach to learning some steps in succession, and practicing them, until you get it right, or sort of. I see little real dancing, and hardly any good dancing at all. They are too young to expect that much. Isadora would have been a good judge of artistry, for she had no known technique until much later when she apparently felt that all of her movement and center of gravity, flowed from her core, the area right at the base of the spine and coming from the center. Most modern dancers, pilates practitioners, and yoga enthusiasts would at least, partially, agree. Ballet dancers speak of alignment, but if the body were drawn as an inverted triangle resting on the ilium, I think we could make the hypothesis that ballet dancers, too, work from the core, if they are completely aligned. So, Isadora was a dancer after all and had some valid points when questioned, although, I think her success rested on the originality of her ideas and so she tried to express her version, originally. In those days there was not as much information about dance, not as many forms of it, and certainly a briefer history. She seems to have researched the background enough to support her own judgments and positions. Not as much was made of dance kinesiology then, and everyone was taught calisthentics, but i am sure that dancers of her mind and ilk went a long way to support the study of it for which we may also be thankful of today for their part in its discussion then. Even Vaganova, not a successful dancer herself, strove to clarify the reasons behind one dancer being successful and another not, the study of movement, not competitions-the body and training. Today, due to her diligence, we can be thankful for a (mostly) safe and pragmatic method of teaching ballet, which is accepted by the best schools and quickly becoming the preferred method for teaching ballet, although not all teachers of it, truly understand it.

I am not sure my mother ever knew any real happiness outside of the joy motherhood gave her, but that was considerable, thank God for me, because now she is gone, but she would not really have approved of these parents of YAGP dancers. But she did like to write. Now she is gone, enough said. Isadora made that choice, to rear her children outside the parameters of acceptable society, around the turn of the 20th century, but this was also in keeping with her personality, development and history, which she rationalized by living her life as she wanted to and stating that as a philosophy. I said I didn’t think she had much choice or control over it. That is just what happened. Once you have made your bed, you have to lie in it or get up and do something about it. I expect that is what she did. She had to pay the bills, didn’t she? All those people had to survive. We have all seen enough television, made for tv movies on Lifetime, and experienced enough of the discrimination women face to know that much more could be said about this history. Suffice to say, Isadora had those babies and no one else was going to take care of them and she probably found them useful in her publicity-good or bad. If she did not take care of them all of the time, and they were drowned in a boating accident, while she was not caring for them (and that is the case), she was in some way, responsible and had to live with that guilt, but things do happen, like car accidents when our children are away from us, and while we are with them, too. No parent wishes for anything to happen to their children, even those we perceive as the worst ones. Who are we to judge?

But, this kind of guilt, which Isadora had no control of after the fact, or any remorse for the way her life was lived, or the decisions she made, had much to do with or was like any guilt I might feel for enrolling my daughter in ballet and then realizing later how much would be expected of her and in what ways I would let her be manipulated, or manipulate her into thinking it was worth it, whatever the consequences. I am sure the reason Isadora never knew ballet was that she was not placed into ballet classes at a very young age, because they were proud and poor, and she probably defended her form of dancing as equal to and as important (more important) to the world, as ballet. If she had studied ballet, ballet could have had no better spokesperson. Isadora probably believed a lot of untruths, too, we all do, but, Isadora was, in a way, the epitome of the “new woman.” She must have been a strong woman, strong enough for all of us to appreciate, for both of her children, and surely labeled a whore by the public, who were fascinated with her life-with illegitimate children, refusing to give them up, or marry a man or stay married to one, because she felt there was something wrong with marriage as it is practiced in the US, even then. She was used to the life and went on alone, having no qualms, and the press continued to exploit her doings. This was the source of her cause celeb and no doubt paid the bills, so she must have had to continue in some ways, giving the public what it wanted-that is the price of fame, at anything. Certainly she felt justified and was fashionable and popular, so her behavior could not have been worse than any Kardashian, Tallulah Bankhead, or other celebrities that we hear of or have heard of. Wherever there is a death of a child, there is enough for the press to have a field day. Dancers are just people and people err. It has happened numerous times in history, and when the death of a child is of a celebrity it is all to easy to seek to blame that on the fault of the parent’s lifestyle, when in fact the variables are not altogether known to us.

Because of Isadora’s contributions, fortitude and relentless efforts, in the world of dance, sometimes without a plan at all, we were given the opportunity to witness some other, lesser known, dancers come forward, at the right time, and begin to offer their perspectives and opinions of dance and modern dance. She had created a market for this, more of a welcome mat. Modern dance became more popular, spread from Europe to the US and bolstered ballet ticket sales as well-no such thing as bad publicity. What she did was open up a whole new universe for us today through her insistence that other types of dance deserved focus and had merit. Her own dance was no less ritualistic than that of ballet, maybe even more so, except she wore less clothing and did not follow the same regimen as ballet dancers. Modern dancers do have a regimen, technique and training. What is wrong with that?

Her book, My Life, is being republished May 25, 2013, with previously unreleased information (and pictures). Other sources of this book, if you want to read it before B&N republishes it, and someone no doubt makes a film, are Amazon and some libraries. Grab it for $3-4. It ought to be very revealing to you and inspire you to new dancing or revelations and discoveries about dancers. The advance reviews are as good as would be expected of this important book no one has really had reason to discuss for many years. I have pre-ordered my copy on Nook (aka B&N) exclusively for the pictures. It is about $10.


One thought on “Isadora Duncan and Ballet Competitions: Is There A Parallel? (Part 1/4)

  1. Pingback: My Life, by Isadora Duncan | mysylph

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