My rating: 5 of 5 stars
There are a lot of books about people, but I always feel that autobiographical works are interesting to read. Once read, you can be moved to read everything else you can get you hands on about the author; this book inspired me to both read and write about Isadora. You can read part of what I wrote here https://mysylph.wordpress.com/2013/02/…
If you have danced, have connections to dance, are a woman, an artist, or are another creative type, you would probably find this book interesting , too. I think it would appeal on many levels, and it has also been (loosely) used as the basis for a movie. If I told you why I liked the book, it would spoil the book for you, but I will say that the time period in which the book is set provides a good historical backdrop for the story, it can be funny, as well as highly informative, sad, witty and is filled with anecdotes, including antics by illustrious characters of the day.
May is underway already and my daughter has been attending ________Ballet School for over one year now. She has had many ups and downs, working very hard, but she has definitely improved. I see a fine dancer emerging from her. She has grown in confidence and strength, although she needs more strength, I hope it will come. Strength is apparent in many things, not just ballet. I learned when growing up, and finding dance, that dancing is not only good for the soul, it is good for discipline, is character building and improves your ability to perform just about any other lesser sport, such as volley ball, etc. I found that after a few years of dance I was able to play sports with above average ability, that previously I just wasn’t into at all. Every year my grandfather used to buy me sporting equipment, baseball, bat and glove, badminton equipment and a net, ice skates, roller skates, and one year we even bought a tennis racket from someone in The Trading Post (where he spat in a dog’s eye), and all of these things I tried to eschew for him, and more, but to no avail-they just did not enthuse me. I swam every day in the summer, sometimes staying at the pool until after dark, but other sports I just didn’t excel at. I remember the other girls driving home other players in softball, and standing in the field letting the ball go by me-irritated, that is what I was. In volley ball I could not serve a ball over the net with any force or impetus. I could run. I climbed trees. I did roller skate, but not with any stability or verve, and not as well as my friends. I could ice skate pretty well but they closed the rink. No one I knew really played any of these different sports and surprisingly it was not kids from my local school that would go to the pool. But I did make friends. I walked and we danced to popular music a lot. We wanted to have a girl singing group, or my friends did, mostly I just liked the music and to dance. I was creative in many other ways though, drawing, I could build things, and I did go through long periods where I would just sit by a window and read books, until my mom had enough and kicked me out to go do something else, and “not be a house plant.” Maybe that is why I put my daughter in ballet. Because after ballet, I could do anything better than anyone else, practically. It just made me an athlete-confident, strong and focused. It is what I needed. When I had a teacher that said to go back and do something over, I didn’t complain, but just went and did it. We didn’t have much money, and I paid for classes myself.
The world today is different, but what ballet can do for you is not. I know I didn’t put my daughter into ballet thinking,”she is going to be a ballerina.” I put her into ballet so she could see what she could do with herself, to grow in confidence, to use all the muscles she wasn’t and to gain some discipline. Each day, she grows a little (almost two inches since August 2012) in stature, and is beginning to “know what she knows.” She is beautiful to me of course, but I can begin to see the woman she might become, all the more confident and lovely each day, and ballet helps-it works wonders! She knows that ballet makes her special, and that we cannot avoid in our children-why should we? But, todayI asked her why she did not ask her friend to join her in a modern class one day next month, and she said “no way.” I thought,”Well!” I said, to take _____wouldn’t be so bad for her, she might like dance, thinking, certainly she is not competition yet, and why would she say “no?” Well, I can remember wishing my friends wouldn’t take ballet, because I felt it was mine. I didn’t want to be competitive with them, I just wanted them as friends. As soon as one of them did take a contemporary class, by my example, I immediately left off that friendship, and now I feel remorse over it. Well, not exactly remorse, but rather I see now that it really doesn’t make a difference who takes ballet, and to have a friend in ballet does seem like an impossible thing sometimes, but it happens, when both parties are mature enough to realize everyone is different. I think that girls in ballet ought to have the same kind of trust exercises required of boys and girls in ballet in pas de deux classes. Girls should stick together-boys do! But do boys in ballet? But this has never been done, addressing these issues of petty competitiveness which actually serve to make us better dancers, strive harder, follow other examples, laugh and have fun, support each other when we fail, or fall, instead of smugly thinking, “it serves her right-good-she fell!” Wishing other dancers to fail is actually bad-not good, and we always think of other dancers as merely competitors, but we need to put this in the right perspective, for without other dancers, who would we have to be better than? Or better put, possibly, we are only as good as the best person in the class, and seek to be better than that person, whoever it is, and without them, our bar just went down to the next best person. How does that prepare us as dancers for the rest of the world?
One thing I noticed about my daughter when she was just starting ballet in I think, her second year (she was eleven or twelve), and that was that the teacher created a lot of competition between the girls by praising one or two, and my daughter was from that moment on, determined to be better than that one, or every one, at every thing, and I found myself using them to explain that while she was good at these things, this other dancer was good at these other things, but I did not have to-she knew. And she likewise talked about this, but mostly it served to try and make herself better. There were some things she knew this other dancer had, such as ridiculous feet, but she spoke with sympathy about the other faults the girl had, and it did not take me long to realize that my daughter did not really feel sorry for her faults, she was happy that she did not have those faults (at least). Subsequently, I have not tolerated (often) the talking down of other, better in some ways, dancers, who have been selected for summer programs, year-round programs, scholarships, etc., that my daughter coveted. In fact, when the teacher gets after these other dancers after competitions, too much, to try to instill some humility into that dancer, I pointed out to my daughter that the teacher was possibly only doing this to make the other dancers feel better about themselves and to spark competition between the dancers and this child, who is a good dancer. Who is? She has most of the physical qualities companies look for in their dancers, and she dances pretty well, I think. I said my daughter ought to substitute, in the phrase,” you only have good ________, something that she felt confident about in herself, her vanity-and apply the entire criticism, personally, for if she did not, she too would run the risk of thinking she was too good, better than everyone else, would not strive to become better in that area, other areas, or feel she was good enough, or better than everyone in her class/school.
I suppose I am too jealous of the corrections. I wanted them ALL as a dancer, and every dancer is aware of whom the teacher is giving corrections (mostly) to, and envies or pities that person, but any correction can and must be applied to oneself if there is to be improvement of a substantial nature and understanding of ballet. Yet, professional dancers can almost never broach criticism, particularly when they turn to teaching or the direction of a school. They automatically think they know everything and must be respected above all other parties for their expertise, by their students and parents. When opening up communication between parents and teachers might result in improvement in not only the dancers, teaching but teach these children that as a group they are strong. If students witness their own teachers vanity and those at other schools, are we not grooming htem to be vain peacocks, like their teachers, instead of artists and dancers? It is an art. It is not simply put, being someone people want to watch dance because you are pretty, otherwise why would we say of Plisetskaya that she was “beautiful when she danced?” It is not just gymnastics, otherwise why would Pavlova’s teacher said, “cease these gymnastic routines! They are not for your delicate frame! I shudder when I see you try to compete with the gymnastic didoes of other dancers, for delicacy shall be your mien, your strength.” It is not the early starter who can burn out or be injured, for otherwise we would not have had Rudolf Nureyev, Margot Fonteyn, Gene Kelly, Suzanne Farrell, Misty Copeland and many others in many countries at many times (I am so tired of reading you can’t when you can-if only you will!). It is not merely technique, or Vaganova would not have been compelled to create a science of movement and training, and there would be no great Russian dancers. Without Isadora Duncan there would be no history of contemporary dance, exercises by her, or any dances, ballet or otherwise in a tunic, and all dancers would probably wear scarves! There would be no modern dance. It is not likely that there would be just one ballet, one choreographer, and no variety of music to choose from, but there is, and there are many varieties of dancers, including many types of ballet dancers. Students of dance need to realize they are not the only ones, and they should be taught to accept challenges, open invitations to other people to dance, prepare to perform, dance, and that this does not change their ability at all. In fact, it makes them grow. It is hypocritical to say, ” I love dance, and I want to see dance continue and ballet, in particular, to be popular”, if you shut out competition, other dancers, others schools, choreographers-you do nothing for the art. Watch “Chocolat.” If no one tries it, they may not ever be advocates of it, may not seek to see it performed, understand it, and may only enter their children in it as competitors, to be better than everyone else at gymnastics, or prettier, or at technique, or performing-it is all inclusive. Ballet needs to open its doors to adults, all children (rich and poor), all kinds, in order to survive.
I told my daughter that if her friend attended a dance class, perhaps she would invest in my daughter’s dance company one day, her grandmother is very wealthy. Perhaps they would have more to share-not less. The focus should not be on the end result, but the process. The process should be an enjoyable one, and the experiences at our dance studio suffer because of the competitions, the parts which everyone fights over, the parents sitting in their cars because of the perceptions that 1) Their children are not that good, 2) Are overlooked, and 3) The competitiveness between the parents-which is passed on to the children in most cases-not all-to the point that these dancers are not NICE. My daughter, is always nice, congratulates everyone, and genuinely cares for them and they do not like her one bit. Funny. Jealous and her teacher just quit giving her privates because we had a fight and he said she would never get into a really good ballet company. This is just ridiculous-who cares? She does, but it is ME he got into the fight with. He likes her, and even though it was awkward, she says, at first, now he looks at her when she isn’t looking, comes over to correct her (like he used to), and she is recovering from her latest injury (in the hip) so is able to do more each day. For us, everything is looking UP. She decided not to go to ABT (more about that later), not to go to The Rock, not to go to Dance Master Class (Italy, this year-see my Pinterest), and not to go to English National Ballet in Ohio. Instead, she is taking the summer session with her favorite dance teacher and the one at her school. She will also go to Desmond Richardson’s Master Class at LBHS on June 19th. She will be in the recital and is doing a Hungarian (marriage) dance for recital, and is a dancer of the Winter pas de trois in Cinderella for recital here, and is doing a variation from Don Quixote at another school recital. As well as her regular classes, that seems enough. Maybe her teacher will try to teach some pas de deux. That would be nice. Never know.
Sh is busting herself to complete her school work and is doing a semester with Geometry and Algebra (she failed first quarter algebra) and she is doing it! She also has French, Honors English, Biology and a Juilliard-music class online-as well as gym! She walks with me and will soon begin swimming and doing yoga (for healing and stretching). Now, if I can just find volleyball…..
As for my daughter being accepted into the world of ballet, getting into a major company, being able to do the contortions required by ballet dancers the world over these days, I do not know. But, she is certainly going to be a lover of ballet. Perhaps she will be a great artist, anything is possible if you work hard enough and long enough. Dance is fickle. Directors are fickle. But one must be prepared in life to set out one’s goals and to plan an attack. If the first attempt does not work, you hit again, and each time you set out to achieve new goals, reach a new plateau, it is important to look back at what you did the year before, pat yourself on the back for what you have accomplished and to move forward with certainty that this year will produce as exceptional results, catastrophe withstanding! Everyone also has a different path. She had three injuries this year to contend with (one was a carryover from last year)and I wish more than ever there were doctors of dance in every county, as there are more dancers today than ever and nothing is worse than a dancer with a misdiagnosis. The harder you dance, the more injuries you are likely to sustain. I wish there were a school for dancers in this state which offered dance to all students who wanted to learn and which provided the essentials of training for great dancers to emerge. It would make so much more sense than 500 little schools able to teach only the minimum and not to offer other courses and training which is so important-mime, acting, makeup, hair, stretching, yoga and other therapies, modern and ballet, jazz and character, and wherever there are dancers there should be healing tools for dancers, dance doctors, etc….Instead, schools are set up to make money for themselves, all claiming a not-for-profit status, not dancers, and their directors are usually motivated by their paychecks, their fine cars, paying for their houses, their own companies, themselves-not the art, the student, not scholarships, and if those schools banded together, they could support a company in our area and a school worthy of the name. Somehow, it could be done. This would lower the costs to all, thought it would equalize the payment of teachers, it would be able to support itself and would lead to these dancers being able to stay in their own area and dance.
My daughter stands in class everyday and her teacher looks at her to remind him of the combination, everyone seems to forget it.
I did not analyze what would be the impact of reading Isadora‘s My Life, on my own life, my own perceptions are here underscored in some ways, in others, I could not agree with her less; I will not be a critic of her life, for that would be to also criticize my own and other women’s, unfairly. But, the parallels to any woman’s life must be so significant as to require a full scale review of the book, and aside from dime novel mysteries which I read to put me to sleep, I have not been moved to finish very many books recently, so overwhelming has my own life been in the past few years. I did try to read deeper books previously, but have not been so engrossed in one novel since college, that I can remember. A discussion group of this book would be so large as to include artists, women in general and celebrities, as well as powerful and successful women such as politicians, and mothers, of course, and any sons of mothers who are sensitive to this life.
There was so much that Isadora tried to do in her short life. It is though she knew she had fate nipping at her heals, and startlingly enough, this prophecy was given to her more than once by fortune tellers and the like, whom she seemed to run across on her sort of mystic journey. She did discount them, and was actually very realistic, down to business and not the idle dreamer represented historically or in cinema. She was not sure whether to believe them at all, but in recounting those instances to us, she did feel they might have had a deeper meaning than she at once thought. She definitely knew she was off her path of her life’s purpose, she knew when she veered, and even with her great love affairs, to try and balance love with a serious profession, and motherhood, was to her the chief obstacle to being in love and ultimately the inevitable sacrifice of the woman-to man.
At one point, she weighed what she had accomplished, how much money she had accrued, by a certain age, and though she felt money and unhappiness were inextricably linked, and she sought to reduce her bank balance religiously (in order to invest in her dreams), she was moved to increasing action by the fact that all of what she hoped to accomplish was not nearly done. Her dream hinged on the Isadorables, which she did not call them, but they came to be called, her children, dancing as an orchestra, freely and understanding the nature of movement, to the music she enshrined as part of her nomenclature, her theater and her school. Her school, was not ably represented in any country, by any government until quite late, but she did manage to seed a generation of dancers none the less, who mastered her ideals and dance technique, and who, for a time, actually taught younger students, and she felt they got it. It is a real shame that what she incorporated into dance and into the living of a dancer’s life is not enshrined in our culture, as a service not only to dancers and artists, but to young ladies, for to understand her is not only to love her, but to embrace what it means to be a woman and to cautiously balance a life.
Her travel did not only have to do with her vision and dancing, but was promotion, for her school, an idea which she felt, at the end, might be the one true vestige of her career that would last, and the only part of her life it seemed that remained stable. Like many lives, which feature great losses, upheaval and turmoil, sometimes the keystone of that life, what is left to always go back to, is not love, or children, but a mission, built up from pure love, no material gain, and her investment, her stocks and bonds, was her school. Her children, her home, the school was always there for her. Even when she lost her own children and wandered as Persephone, seeking her children, it was her school, and teaching her children, who needed her, that was her salvation and brought her back, even temporally, to life, to responsibility.
Men were useful to her, her friends, and because of them, she was able to go on with her mission-they made it possible, but they did not fulfill her completely, except briefly. She quotes, about her mature relationships, from Oscar Wilde, “better the pleasure that lasteth for the moment, than the sorrow which endureth forever.” This increasingly became the case, when her possible soulmate(s) died or were married, unavailable, or for reasons of dependence, were set aside, for they took her energy reserved for her art. But as for her school, she conceived the idea to tour and to request funding for her school, supporting the war effort, and a American support of France, by dancing the Marsellaise in America, in her own way, calling for allied support. Her school was the focal point of these tours, establishing the fact that whether the United States liked her or not, this was American, she was American, and this was the future of dance, hers, and women, she. She wizened-up in her later years, realizing that to flog a dead horse, entertain a lover, might be a waste of her time, and she sought to impress less, and to ask for more, to be more direct, and had a clearer vision of her goals, and quite simply what would and what would not work.
She did, however, take her children here and there, Russia, London, in hopes of finding a permanent base for her school, and funding support, but she was just ahead of her time-everywhere. No one would have expected Isadora to be a part of the bohemian set that was the Greenwich Village art crowd-but she was, and was of course very well received. This, she felt, made up for her losses. At this time, she formed a great relationship with artists (sculptor George Grey Barnard, David Belasco, painters, etc), and where was conceived the idea for a work entitled “America Dancing” of herself, but it was not to be, although a great romantic involvement no doubt was assurance in having it completed, political and possibly personal influences combined for him to produce instead the great Abraham Lincoln statue, sombre, which now stands before Westminster Abbey. Of one of her performances, she said,” It is to revive the lost art of dancing that I have devoted my life.” Of her was written much, I am sure, but what she quotes is what she feels best describes and compliments her, akin to her own way of thinking and describes best what she would have you think or remember. One writer said of her performance,” She has been standing near her parterre of poets when she begins to talk, and when she finishes, she is at the other side of the room. You do not know how she got there….nonchalant way of ignoring space.”
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty-that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.
Isadora describes the importance of playing up to a crowd, in other words, thinking big. It was her experience in NY that by playing small theaters with bad orchestras, she was limiting herself to the appreciation of the masses (which she did not disdain), when whom she wanted to and needed to impress upon the importance of her art were the affluent, for their money-so when opportunity knocked, Isadora came dancing to the Metropolitan Opera House for about a month (December). Not a seat remained in the theater. Sold out. She felt this was the common experience of artists who were not understood by their promoters, and who were afraid to relegate them to a higher position, but when given the chance, they were welcomed. And despite criticism of Isadora by historians who were unable to find a record of appreciation for Isadora or her work here in the US, these are Isadora’s own impressions and experiences, which set down the fact that this was probably her best experience in the history of her tours, when music, setting and joy prevailed, resulting in press which augmented her popularity and the understanding of her Art. President Roosevelt himself attended a matinee and commented in a letter to a friend,” What harm can these ministers find in Isadora’s dances? She seems to me as innocent as a child dancing through the garden in the morning sunshine and picking the beautiful flowers of her fantasy.”
The next part of Isadora’s life was spent in Paris, where she felt she had support. Long before the actual running of the school had been turned over to her sister, Elizabeth, because the German authorities had felt Isadora’s promiscuity and lifestyle were wanton, Isadora complied and had relinquished administration duties-one cannot really expect her to continue in that capacity-how else could she continue as an artist? As she points out in her book, funding the school herself and rearing 20 children in Germany and now another 20 in France, was just one of her supportive roles. All of her money was spent on this endeavor, for where would they go without her? Where would they be, many of them orphans? Even though Isadora found support in Paris, they imagined and wrote more about her that was shocking, for she claims she never really gave them reason to and this is her claim whether she lived as they saw fit or she didn’t, she did feel that to trample her was their goal, and she gave very little consideration for what they wrote, except to comment that what they had found shocking, wasn’t particularly-she must have known that they did not perceive her deepest secrets or understand her. She did not seek people out for support and clearly she felt that support was truly not with her, alone, lost, with only a few people who truly understood her, and forgave her.
Her goal then became to find a millionaire. It just hit her as the way to fund everything, much as a mother goes into the world looking for a way, this was Isadora’s device, for it freed her to pursue her art, and provide for her children, her own daughter and the many others she supported at her school, including her own family members, mother, brothers and sister. It was all up to her alone, to save the sinking ship, and she was good to her word. Very fortunate in that men adored her, she spent as much time pursuing men who would not sacrifice their homes, marriages or celibacy to have passionate love affairs with her, but in one she found a mate, for a very long time (for Isadora), who was also the father of her 2nd child, her son.
Strangely, L. and Isadora were brought together by tragedy and compassion of spirit, and were separated by tragedy and culmination of spirit. The lifecycle of their relationship was like a second relationship (for Isadora) and he seemed drawn to her mothering instincts. Likewise, he supported her, but the loss of her children (one his), and bother of hers, was, not surprisingly, the end of that affair. When L. did resurface, it was to remind her of her mission, the school, and to offer to support her in that at least, which proves he did have concern for her and more sense than she credited him with having. She, likely, did not bear as much concern for her other male amours, due to her art. She did take from them what she needed to continue, but such is the life of an artist, and making art was as much a part of her being, as she realized later on, as was her ability to mother, foster or act as a muse, to inspire others, and later in life, politics became a dominant part of herself and her power.
She did not seem at first to think very highly of her dancing, not as an art, not important, girlish and whimsical, but later in life, she came to understand the importance of art to her being and this, I think, gave her the understanding of it, to believe in it herself and validated it for her and then she was truly able to convince other people. Isadora could sell a trinket, but she could not defile her art. It was part of her roots. Her one statement regarding L, besides her comments on his neurosis, was,”All money brings a curse with it, and the people who possess it cannot be happy for twenty-four hours.” She believed this until the time she died. Despite her love for L., she felt relief when they separated-freedom. To take care of someone you loved was more tiring than performing, traveling, for it was fatiguing to the senses and drained you. Perhaps she was ordaining some post-apocalyptic vision when she stated that in the maternity ward of the future, women would have music, flowers, and surreal peace of mind as an environment in which to deliver their children and not the bestial conditions that existed for child-birth then, and her feeling was that women would have everything to do with the control and direction of this phase of life, as the understanding of it went entirely with women. But we have progressed to this way of thinking, much more slowly than Isadora, but eventually, she was right.
Isadora projected onto her lovers, some of them, a strange gloom, in the case of L., neurasthenia, defined as a complex of symptoms characterized by chronic fatigue and weakness, loss of memory, and generalized aches and pains, no longer ascribed to in Western medicine, but still characterized in Chinese medicine, and other ancient cultures. Isadora did not complain and she did not have any memory loss. When she suffered, it was from abject grief, so she ruled out other maladies and appeared to be quite healthy otherwise all of her life. I do not think she liked to talk about weakness, in herself or others, and she wanted to accomplish too much to spend time licking her wounds, except one big wound, but up until this point, she referred to many people as losing touch with reality, giving up the fight, being suicidal, and perhaps she was exposed to so much to this it haunted her after her children’s death, not as preparation for her own life’s loss, but likely, it was that she dwelt upon and recounted those associations and their possible meanings later in her life when she was forced to sit down and deal with her own grieving, try to survive the suffering, and look for helpful answers from her past experiences. Generally, there was a certain malaise in Vienna, turn of the century Paris, and depression which is artistically and historically significant, called the fin de siecle. A time when industry, communications, art, all were combined together in a very overflowing pot, and many afflicted stragglers, unable to deal with this monumental societal and industrial change, could not survive. A time when traditional values and mores came into direct opposition with modernist thoughts, ideas, and modes of life, some people could not endure. Her tragedies seemed similar to these others in some ways, feeling too deeply might be another way to put it, before the crust was callous enough to withstand the effects and changes occurring, when a move away from religion, the state and order, to the self and wants over duties. Pride goeth before a fall. In all a somewhat, self aggrandizing period of history for some; for others truly freeing and exhilarating.
For Isadora, who now felt that the caprice and selfishness of men, who called that love, was nothing more than an evil, and false love, that jeopardized her Art. She felt she had to give up one for the other. She called it her spiritual line, an upward curve, and all that “adhered to and strengthens this line is our real life-the rest is but chaff falling from us as our souls progress.” She felt that there was never to be any accord between love and Art-a constant battle. She was torn similarly with her body, her canvas, being wrought with the ugliness of pregnancy, and risked her career to have her son, she felt, now with the full knowledge of the changes it brings. She was disgusted with herself, her own weakness, giving up her Art for childbirth, motherhood, but she did it again and she makes us aware of this choice, not cowering behind the martyrdom of it, but rather in picking up her cross, bearing it once again, seems pure duty, and she does does ask for our pardon. She was visited again by spiritual entities and dreams, she was quite possibly a clairvoyant, foreboding the folly of motherhood, the fact that in the end, this was a trick, that it would not turn out well, and that it would be a boy, and somehow was in vain, would not make a difference. She knew not how. One would think these were the rantings of a madwoman, or a self-promoter, except she did not still, at the time of writing this memoir, understand fully, as we do, her fate, or the relevancy of these positionings to her actual history, for of course, she did not see herself as we do, and therefore could not benefit from her own advice. Perhaps, she remembered these things later, when she was consumed by her loss, and attributed them to an earlier time, but she was warned in having her second child, of death, and later when she is taken to that place again, where those visions occurred, she cannot stand the memory, loses all control, in remembering them and had to leave, the meaning of them realized to her now. But still she does not think herself a medium.
Not just the time when she bore her son, but up to (and after) the time of their deaths (by automobile accident) was she absorbed with them, in the book, and seems to pass rather quickly, as though, even at the time of writing, she cannot dwell on them very much, for the thought and memory of them cause her too much pain and anguish to bear. It influences all of her book and becomes quite morbid actually, and surreal, ending very quickly, as though like myself, there is further understanding that must take place, closure has not occurred, and the rest is quickly written, not a real ending to her book. It seems once she brings them up, she cannot let go of them again in her thoughts even to complete her biography.
Perhaps the fact that their death consumed the rest of her life, would be fitting punishment, according to those two writers I referenced in the beginning, who felt that she was weak and a bad mother. If I learned anything at all about Isadora from reading this book, it is about a woman who has sunk to the bottom of the pit of the stomach of life, been drowned by bile and acid and rose from the ashes to continue living. It is about the strength of the human spirit to persevere, not just during calamity, but when you are building up that fortress by living a full life and one that does not bow down to oppression and convention, that life is short, and by wasting it, even one day of it, you take away part of what you can build up in reserve, when you just might need it. She did that, and probably was able to see this period of loss through, because she was strong and independent. Whatever you call it, Isadora was superhuman strong, and was tested in the fire, for mothers the ultimate testing. Why would we even digress, dream or think about something so awful-I cannot even bear to watch movies where children are used for describing truthful situations or crimes, even though I know they exist, to give them proper attention, or is it to sensationally create entertainment of a bass sort. I do not know, but I cannot bear it. Nor dreams of danger to my children.
It was almost as if, she did create a certain amount of her own problems in the beginning, spiraling inward as life went on, to achieve a certain amount and to clean up the opinion and life that in other ways was messy, disorganized and demonstrates less achievement when we view it now, than it certainly really did, for without knowing, she achieved more than all people could have hoped for when you consider she only set out to dance and to survive as an artist in a world where women were viewed as chattel, and whose favors might be exchanged for power, as they had been for centuries, but where true individual power for women still was abhorrent to men. She found this, but she also devised ways for getting around it. She also would have been bored with a more mundane life, was not meant to be wife or concubine, but rather goddess or queen, except coming to depend on a man for finances, even during early motherhood, makes us weaker, but perhaps only those of us who have been truly independent and successful know that. It is a concession you make so as not to be alone, especially when a mother, for it is seemed necessary to have the support and presence of the father. I think she endured them, rather than loved them, for she felt for once in her life, the purpose in their necessity, and then never forgave herself the folly. Save for motherhood, which she felt she could do and was womanly, as Demeter serviced the earth, Isadora served dance and women and artists alike. She served everyone, without really being aware of it, she was the epitome of the female as vessel, giving until she had no more to give, instead of dying, she was taken violently, having spent her course. Her death might have been a kindness to her as she claimed never to recover fully from the loss of her children and it is possible to love to deeply, too much, as part of our beings slip over to our children and we live through them, until they grow up, and as weeds, many of us find it difficult to find water or reason to survive. Isadora found strength in being needed. She was able partly to transfer that feeling of usefulness to her students, but would not ever get over the loss of her children, she needed them, and no one else, ultimately, but even she did not understand the metes and bounds of that loss or those lives until they were taken from her and what might have been, hope, suddenly no longer was. Perhaps a conflict existed in her that she was not a true bacchanal, and that motherhood blighted her artistic self-how could she been seen as the earth mother, if she despised the process of birth? Birth is violent, sudden and wholly reaffirming as having power over every part of the cerebral self. It takes you over and becomes you, you are a slave to it, and perhaps Isadora was more spoiled than she thought-not quite the person she projected, quite ignorant of this use of the body which she did not foresee as being her weakness. Her true use, but otherwise, Isadora was a modern woman, faulty, questioning, curious, vain, self-obsessed, and a true artist. Eccentric, crazy, impulsive, but deep down an average woman.
Isadora was blessed in death, in a way, for she would not have liked getting old and being resentful and unhappy, for she was joy and repeated often in her book that she was like life sprung from marble, innocent and pure, when no sin was gleaned from exposing the body, dancing in bacchanal joy, or expressing oneself, and conventions did not exist. We all have to thank her, not be her, fortunately, and most women would prefer to sit at home, have babies and never set out on a journey and be obliged to follow-through on so lusty an attempt to uphold our own actions by radiant convictions, and true to all save one, she did, gloriously. But all of the things in Pandora’s box did exist, they just were never allowed to escape, until Pandora opened that box and released them. In another way, the analogy could exist for the life of Isadora Duncan to sum up all of the tragedy and passion of the Greek mythology, oddly. Her life conjures all of these great losses, glories, visions, magic and largess, without her own realization ever. She never mentions the similarity once, so either she is a very great writer, or a very great moral and lesson to us, that life can copy art to destruction, and history does repeat itself. We can all learn from Isadora, and much more about life than about dance.
She was also advanced in her thinking, and as today, many men still have a problem with a woman’s intelligence, so they did then. This gave many people reason to dislike her, but she did not seek to rationalize her feelings, she just accepted them. She dealt with, on a larger scale than most of us, with great men, their endeavors to bed her, wed her, and heave her out upon the street, seeking to demoralize her in the offing. She was forced to acquiesce to their demands much as we are in the workplace, home, or wherever we find them, and she dealt with these issues, too. The difference is, she would have to find a new life, we a new job or new mate. Consequently, oftentimes she was moved to explain herself to others, who were not as forward-thinking as she, that love can be hate, turned around, and vice versa. She felt she loved more deeply than most, and yet she only talks about her hate with revulsion or with naivete, feeling we will not be able to distinguish the two, but at the time of this writing, this woman knows both. There is a side to her book which is self-serving and purposeful, for she does not tell all. She forgets that there are readers sometimes and goes off into lala land, but then the true Isadora is surmised as existing somewhere just beneath the surface of the book, and we can all guess, most of the time, where her true feelings lie. She felt that she did not hate, but rather loved America, too much, she finally said, as a sort of apology to people who felt her behavior was less than grateful, but knowing her, she probably believed this to be true, for much of what she repeated, if often enough, she believed. Like the lover who she said, is rude to you, not because they hate you, but because they love you too much. She felt that psychologists could explain this feeling better than she, but she felt her work in the world was American, born here, raised here, nurtured here, and time would find was representative of her native influences. It has. She believed in being poor in cash and being rich in humanity and she put her money where her mouth was, repeatedly. She was an ambassador of good feelings, inspiration and philosophy of art. She was a professor of dance. Though she may have been desperate at times, maybe mostly, she was not any different than the rest of us, so despite her claims to reassure herself, and to go on in battle, and she needed to continue, there is nothing that is different here in personality, except the choices she made and the path she chose, and the variables that exist in any life, could have happened to any one of us. But perhaps that is what is so important about this book, as we realize the great are only human, like us.
She did believe in the theater, a home to great art, for great art, is necessary, but not all the additional artifice of man, or the expense. She felt great art comes from the human spirit and needs no externals, “just the beauty that flows from the inspired human soul, and the body that is its symbol, and if my Art has taught you anything here, I hope it has taught you that.” Her life was no frills. Heavy losses, great joy, and travel, soul searching and at least part of it deflating, where she is bass, like the rest of us, all of her experiences she thinks are for nought, compared to the loss of her childen, and her escape from that inner sanctum, where she lives, penalizing herself for something that was really just an accident. Finally, her death, which is not described in her book, but which we cannot help but read into the pages of this book and after, are left thinking, that it was a complete life, lived in a condensed fashion, and we wish we could tell her that it was okay to have lived it the way she did and to console her. She believed her children were there, calling to her frequently, and that she could join them in another life, for that was her view of life really, recycling. In my book of constellation, Isadora will take the place of Orion, or Andromeda, always appearing in the night sky, with her children in tow on her chariot, ready to do battle.
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A photo from the U.S. Archives which demonstrates very clearly Isadora Duncan’s, and other modern dancers, influence on ballet. You can’t say “choreography” without saying “dancers” or “ballet” as they converge, effect each other, and dancers dance, to some extent, what they want to or what the can.
This is a pretty rare photo, but now, we can see that perhaps Anna Pavlova did not really hate Isadora Duncan after-all, but instead was influenced by her, tried to channel or feel what Isadora felt, what modern dance was, or her choreographer was interested in it for this piece. We see it finally because she danced it. She agreed to do it. That makes it important to ballet. What a dancer agrees to do (and does not agree to do) ultimately defines them to their audience, defines their art, and history, especially when you are discussing Anna Pavlova.
But in relation to any dancer, they will be seen to be a certain kind of dancer, expected to perform certain roles, become skilled at those and roles like them. Obviously Pavlova went back to classical roles and swore off modern dance. At least for her life, this was not what she was good at, excelled at. One needs to know oneself and one’s limitations, but that comes with experience. Expansion can mean growing into an acceptance of what your roles could and should be in dance, or it can come to mean limiting yourself to perfection of one type of dancing. Being an expert at one thing certainly raises the level of expertise required for that genre. It increases your ability to dance those roles.
Most importantly, if you are determined to dance certain roles, certain ballets, certain parts, then you need to learn those parts, become expert at them, so that no matter your deficiencies, people will say, “but she/he dances those parts better, even if she/he is not this or that. But if you do not specialize, then perhaps you will never be good enough at one thing to qualify even for that. If Pavlova had not been skilled in ballet, had that not been her passion, we would not have been fortunate to have come to understand her legacy a little better, and while she had the option to become more skilled, at a later age, in other forms of dance, she did not do a 180 and perform modern, or try to find herself in it.
Even with poorer choreography than Diaghilev could provide, she continued to astound audiences with her versatility and drama, as a ballet dancer. She truly was an ambassador of ballet. Something must also be said about modern dance here, the characteristics of it, the difference between it and ballet, are wide. Isadora Duncan could have suddenly said, I want to be a ballet dancer. But she did not. There was unquestionable an attitude and freedom in her approach to dancing, her naturalness, her languor and beauty (she was a very beautiful woman), her form and development in modern dance, which gave her an advantage in performing her roles, her choreography, and she danced to a different drummer, literally, different music.
She was right and Pavlova was right. Two experts, a long time ago, who felt that you had to make up your mind, pick a side, choose, two purists. I do not think choreographers today understand dance very well, for they are not able to separate or merge the two dance styles (usually). They are greedy, and dancers are too, so no one is perfect today in ballet, because they try to do too much. Be the star on every stage. And yet, even with the most sought after choreographers, some dancers just do not enjoy that success. Great ballet dancers fail at exploring new styles, new techniques, and they are simply not the best.
But, by taking on roles that minimize, instead of maximize, their abilities as ballet dancers, instead of having new ballet roles made for them, their performances are not what they could be. At thirty to forty years of age, these dancers should be reaching a point where they are true artists, and yet the barre for true artistry is lowered. There are some artists, such as Natalia Osipova, Darcy Bussell, Tamara Rojas, etc., who have remained dedicated to their art and may possibly reach a point, historically, where their body of work is respected and exceeds more publicized dancers, simply because they knew their limitations and they stayed within the parameters of their expertise longer, trying to reach a point where they were consummate in their art. It is not today that they will be judged, but tomorrow, and in the annals of history, where we are not yet and cannot say whom will leave what.
How will they all be credited? More is needed for women to make a mark, when before them is opportunity to travel, to reach out, to grow, to direct, choreograph, produce. What will their choices be? Will they stray from the path of their strength, give up, or will they take the torch, the flame and finally bring something monumental back to ballet, the genre that gave them their careers, their fame? Or will they dabble in other forms of dance, leaving mediocrity in their wake, when they could have developed classical ballet, and ballet, a big step further in order to safeguard it as Vaganova did.
So when you are in class, or studying ballet, pick a side, and win or lose, cling to that vision. For is you are true to your vision, you are working not only toward what you believe in, and love, but you are setting a precedence for what will be your strongest form of dance in the future. What do you want that to be? Don’t let rejection, or all of the opinions of others set your path. For the path you choose will probably be the one that survives with you, the one you will know best, and will propagate. If there is one you prefer, no matter what others say, follow the choice you will be able to live with and embrace.
“Life is the root; art the flower.”
Though this may seem a little disconnected from my first speeches about the importance of Isadora Duncan, halfway through her autobiography, I felt compelled to sit down and write again about her vis a vis my impressions of her book. Fortunately, I will not lead the reader of this on a page by page review of the book, and I can’t, sorry to say, even if I tried, for she did begin to drag a bit, or maybe it was me. But, little by little, she left me thinking each time I put the book down, looking eagerly for the mood to take me so that I might pick it back up again in the spirit she wrote it, and read on.
She does rub off on you. Isadora Duncan was a very unique woman. I found out I admire her greatly and can see, why she elicited from bystanders such a response. No movie could really convey all that was monumental in that historic and eventful life, such is the nature of a movie, an essence-one perspective, and to dwell too much on the fascinating personage she was, or her lack of training as a writer would be to judge and diminish what I really feel is a great book. I am drawn in and repeatedly drawn back to find out what incredible journey will next unfold. No life of shorter duration could possibly have been lived with such perspicacity. I will let those who wish to read about her, do, and those who do not presently find themselves interested in or able to, don’t. I will say that some of the names of those famous and infamous she encounters include painters, philosophers, dancers, impresarios, musicians and venerable, one of my particular favorites was Pavlova, and Stanislavsky.
Also, I will mention in Russia, she found acceptance and her descriptions left out much detail that I would have liked to have known more about, heard more of, but these extraneous sentiments that flitter through the pages of her memoirs seem to be like tastes of delicacies that have motivated the life we are reading about, her book, were prompted by the doing of the writing of her book, and were influential to her. Her accounts of her lovers, loves and pain are concise and matter of fact. She was not a hateful person, did not have time, I believe to waste her energy on the pastime. Her portrayals at first seem vapid, and gawking, too much like an engenue in reverence to those she wishes to impress, and later, her perspective of their greatness diminishes, or is replaced by the observations of an equal, wiser and more experienced artist in her own right. There is no doubt that Isadora was a great artist, and influenced the world of dance, and not just modern dance-ballet. At once she is passionate about the people of Russia, how business seems to leave the conflux of her ideas and is replaced by her thankfulness of their deep appreciation of great art and finally a place for her (possibly) is considered. For us westerners, it is as if a closed door of great strength and impenetrability is flung wide open and its rich desserts apparent at last; the mystery solved, for they welcomed her with open arms into a glittering world of the paparazzi, the rich and decadent world that was art in the beginning of the last century, ecstatic to embrace new ideals, and Isadora’s impressions are nearly surreal in their intensity. She seemed and acted as if in a dreamlike state and was overwhelmed.
From this first visit came the momentum to finally open her school and to pass down the 500 or more specific exercises that were to form her actual technique, and as well certain facts about her motherly instincts, the blessing came with the droves of children who applied for admission to her school upon the announcement of its opening in Berlin. She took in many orphans into that school and invested her accumulated fortune in it. One idea passed onto the next in her life, impulsiveness was one secret of her success, and she accomplished so much in so short a time-she lived just fifty years. I am fifty this year-me and the James Bond movies. She never let the knock of opportunity go unanswered, even if it was whimsical, unconventional, mythical, fantastical or animalistic. She was truly led by her id, and aware of her power as time went on.
It will disappoint readers to find, if expecting debaucherie and promiscuity. None really, so far. But she did seem to come into her womanhood later in life. She had great self-control and as she aged, she found less and less in men her inferior to rouse her desire, and fewer men of her own equal not intimidated by her charisma and intelligence available, or willing to commit to her brand of life. Her descriptions of her impressions of experiences, childbirth, and her first child deserve a second read, and are sadly omitted from any self-help/guidance books I have seen passed along by mothers, and her perceptions are fitting if not couched in euphemistic terms. So much in fact, that to say she is frank would be a disservice to her. She is honest, I believe, and I can barely read her discussion of her feelings toward her lost children, without true empathy. Of motherhood, she says,” The baby was astonishing; formed like a Cupid, with blue eyes and long brown hair, that afterwards fell out and gave place to golden curls. And, miracle of miracles,that mouth sought my breast and bit with toothless gums, and pulled and drank the milk that gushed forth. What mother has ever told the feeling when the babe’s mouth bites at her nipple, and the milk gushes forth from her breast? This cruel biting mouth, like the mouth of a lover, and our lover’s mouth, in turn, reminding us of the babe. Oh, women, what is the good of us learning to become lawyers, painters, or sculptors, when this miracle exists? Now I knew this tremendous love, surpassing the love of man. I was stretched and bleeding, torn and helpless, while the little being sucked and howled. Life, life, life! Give me life! Oh, where was my Art? My Art or any Art? What did I care for Art? I felt I was a God, superior to any artist.” And she said she was not a writer. There is more, lots more, where that came from. Words from a soul which felt life so intensely, and could express it, that I am almost scared to continue, expecting tears at the end.
But that is just the book and really does not give her enough credit. She wrote other little books apparently and now I feel it is my duty to seek them all out and read every word. Not just the books, but the exercises, the choreography, her words, her guidance. I am not convinced that she is ably represented by her followers, who try as they might to capture her presence and her spirit in their copies, cannot possibly convey what Isadora managed to, upon those who witnessed her. No wonder imitations paled and fell by the wayside-no one could recapture her. She applauds gymnastics as the first preparation for the dance and compares styles of it, denouncing some and upholding others, but she states that this is merely the basis on which a body grows healthy, and I think she means by exercise in general (and ready for more specific teachings in dance and steps and the interlinking of music in those steps is explained in pretty good detail). Then she refers to the mind becoming the art and the body a sculpture with which expression and feeling alone can bring to perfection, through art, living and nature-rather Pygmalionesque- but I won’t explain any more details here, and will continue reading hopefully providing a few more impressions at the end. Keep on Dancing!
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But Isadora did not die, though she took into her dance, her pain and her sorrow from her life. But she was an artist long before that time, and thereafter. Hence good choreography, to future generations of dancers, is more important a legacy, to leave behind , than dancing. Isadora left no films of dancing behind. There is only one short film, pictures, and drawings, and many descriptions of her dancing. Her relatives taught her dances to others and those dancers have formed companies to memorialize her choreography. My teacher once told me, it was less her actual movements and more her essence, her freedom and her liveliness, that we incorporate into modern dance-the acceptance, finally, that the mechanical precision that is ballet, which Isadora was against. The freedom to express oneself, as in acting, and to let that lead us into dancing, to expressing, and to blending with and being part of nature. Isadora also believed that dance was religious, and if it was not, it was merchandise. The art has always held that there are always dancers, but not enough good choreographers, not all of whom have been successful at dancing. Perhaps, then, there is just as much importance that could be placed on the failure to win a competition of dance, in the sense that one is not able to perfectly copy, the variations in question, less likely to become a perfect representation of the idyll of a form of dance than another-and more likely to be original, than could be made in support of it and winning.
Her life told of a woman who despite her very best efforts found the need to escape life, even love, to pursue art and to create-to think she would be any different when not making art is not even fathomable to me, as those articles suggest she should have done. If she had lived her life any differently, and her art was more commercial, her actions more conventional, her art would not have been possible. In an age where World War I, was fought, the age of industrialism began, German expressionism found its way up and out of a country torn by these new ideas, into the rest of Europe and in America, where Isadora was considered revolutionary, and artists, musicians, philosophers, and actors of the era flocked to her salons, where her school was welcomed and survived, Isadora brought the form of dance into the 21st century-she revolutionized it. Those great minds were not sure that dance was important enough to hold a position among the important arts-Isadora convinced them that hers was the body electric. Artist, yes, politician, no, but in her dance, as in their writings, and art and music, they expressed their collective desire for change, Isadora represented those changes in freedom of form, dress, and action, especially for women, whom men would have left on their pedestal, to remain for generations to come. Isadora did not just bring dance into the revolution, she brought herself, willing to give her life, to be part of and to support that change and those freedoms for other women. She made the ultimate sacrifice for this freedom-her children. God gave his son and Isadora gave her only two children, whom she loved.
I am sure Isadora said a lot of things, but I have tried to find anything she said outside of her book, unsuccessfully. It is if by divine right, and wrong, I know what she would have approved of, and what she would not. She did not approve of marriage, and the notion that women were chattel. She could not have stayed isolated in the home, where women were bound, to rear children, to cook, sew and clean. She would not have felt sympathy for women who took that vestige upon themselves and then complained about it later. She not only felt equal to men, she knew that men responded to her dancing, that language, and that if communication were impossible with a man on one level, it was wholly possible on another. Her words and beliefs are little known to us, but in a time without technological advances, she was drawn, studied, watched, written about, and copied more than any other dancer in history-to this day! She was the first really modern women. She was like Athena, Aphrodite and Hera, and all the greek and Roman goddesses rolled into one. She chose to emulate the chaste superiority of classical figures, instead of the weak, wishy-washy women of more current history. She went back in history to find her sources of strength and encouragement, when women were figureheads on their own and not at the side of a man, and yet in living her life, she found this a very difficult philosophy to put into place. While she could segregate this in her art, she was not able to put it into practice entirely in her love-life, where she always found pain, abandonment, and people who fell short of her expectations. So she turned to her religion, her dance, and there she found fortitude. These are not lesser ideals, but rather greater ones, she practiced what she preached, completely. Her ideas and actions caught fire and blew in the wind to the four corners of the earth and modern dance and the modern woman was built-just like that, by observation, and carried on by other artists who continued on in her image.
Most composers of the time did not like to do ballets at all because they did not consider them art, rather music for stories for the masses and political, commercial-ballet was a popular art form at the time, compared to ET, Star Wars, and the circus, art for the masses, and almost all of the dances that young classical dancers dance have to do even now, deal with death, unrequited love and sometimes victimization of women. Dancers today do not always understand these dances, that are history, exhibit socio-political levels, such as serfdom and aristocracy, and the showcasing of the talents of the poor, not being able to rise up to be the queen, but to die instead, where the love of her rapture is eternal. These are not ideals I want my daughter to copy, even though they are beautiful-they are old, misunderstood and not appreciated. Shakespeare and opera are the same, but it is as if we are trying to carry on these traditions without understanding them. Even then, Isadora knew they did not express her angst, her feelings or her hopes for the future. She knew that what lay ahead would emanate from herself, her soul, and not the soul of some old composer or choreographer. She danced to new music, the music of other minds, not commercial music. If not for the supporters of that music, much of it would have been lost as well. Many of the great ballets are political, and express viewpoints that today are not in the mainstream and we spend all these decades, imbuing our daughters with the right to vote, be educated, run corporations, the world, only to send them back centuries to be courtesan dancers and flexible women-what power do women have in dance, if after one century, the foremost achiever in that field, for women, is to be denounced on the basis of a statement she made concerning the appropriateness of training for exclusively one purpose? YAGP is not about great art, great artists, or great dancers, it’s about money and separating parents from it, and well, whatever positive things might happen for themselves, their friends and consequentially, ballet. Isadora’s was a businesswoman, too-one of America’s first prominent ones. She was not trying to sell old culture, she was trying to sell something completely different-the freedom of women and dancers, and she proved that it could be done.
When I was in high school, and could afford to pay for dance classes, I wen to the local ballet studio, and asked about beginning dance classes. The receptionist asked if I had any previous dance training. I said, I had danced since I was young, but I did not have any ballet training. She said I needed to go to the community college and take some ballet, or get some from somewhere, before I could take there. She said they had only one adult ballet class and it met on Friday evening, and in order to do well in that class, I would need basic ballet principles. I was very disappointed, but not for long. I went to the community college and registered as a special high school student in order to take their dance classes. They offered ballet (Patricia Burke) and modern (Patricia Fox). I registered for both, after having talked to the head of the department (Patricia Fox) and explaining my problem. She said that I would show improvement with 4 classes per week. Each class met 2x each week. At first, it was very, very difficult. There was class, warm-ups, etiquette, clothing, center/barre, center/adagio, floor/allegro, winding down, actual dancing, music, history, and pain. But, after the end of the summer semester, I went back to the dance company school and registered for the Friday evening class, as well as the Fall semester at the college.
I had friends, who were pregnant, dead, in jail-or on their way, drinking and doing drugs, raped, fighting, and finding other myriad ways of venting their rebellious and youthful, feelings. In modern dance, and ballet, I found two different role models in myself, one natural and self-loving, strong and free, the other obedient and disciplined, beautiful and resilient. Each parent was in myself and within the principles of each discipline that was being passed down by these two teachers, and within these different, but similar structures was a sort of yin and yang of the body and the mind. My spirit grew and was strengthened, helping me to avoid the dilemmas that had frustrated me before, and the pitfalls of youth. Dancing helped me to become more disciplined and to believe in myself and what my body and my mind were capable of achieving-who says dancers are not smart? I pointed in one, flexed in the other, was parallel in one and turned out in the other, one was natural, one was formed, but both were to me, an idealistic life of self-expression, strength and beauty, but only one would take me in, accept me, and mold me, allowing me the freedom to dance-modern dance. Or so I thought. Had I applied to and attended the North Carolina School of the Arts, then, I might have become a great ballerina, for in the next two years, I was able to master all of the ballet and modern dance which was put before me, and my ballet teacher was a dancer with the Royal Ballet, and she believed in my ability to do anything. The teacher at the dance company school, Josephine Schwartz, would also come to invite me to other ballet classes, and to encourage me. I remember when she said I had perfect balance and suggested that I enroll in the Summer Intensive the following year. It was that summer that I felt that dance was my alter ego, and I began to express myself through it. I would say that my strength was my strength, and my ability to express myself naturally, some people just do not have or are not interesting to look at. First comes form they say, until they kill the dancer that is within the self, expecting her to find it again, when technique meets expression later on, while modern dance nourishes both the expression in the dancer and the technique of the dancer from the start.
But, I was creative in other ways as well, and dance taught me to give credence to those abilities as well. Having achieved on my own what I set out to in dance, I pursued my drawing and painting with the same verve, my causes and support, and acting in theater productions, all at the same time. I found numerous ways in which I could create, express myself and dance was not the limit of my imagination, but rather the imagination extended from it and began. It was the seed. I found that alone, it did not fulfill me completely, I wanted to draw, print, paint, speak, move, act, sing! I did. I even found that the discipline required in dance, the improvement of the self, was like therapy and within that classroom, in my body and mind, other seeds were being sown, voices were riding up in other disciplines, which called to me to investigate them, and I did. Even when I went to New York for college, I carried my portfolio, my Chinese book (Speak Chinese), my clothing and jewelry, my potions and lotions, my dance bag, my books and journals, art supplies, coats and sweaters, socks and boots, and a book of where to dance in NY. Within a few years, I had danced everywhere in NY, ballet and modern, I had stacks of gallery cards, and many Chinese artifacts, many more books, more and different clothing, dancewear and journals. I had many more ideas, drawings, paintings, prints and hopes. I had music manuscripts and was learning to sing opera. I danced in clubs and socialized. I knew the Zuckermans, and had attended many ballets at Lincoln Center, seen many plays and musicals, met many interesting people and worked to support myself, primarily. I went one day for the position of a receptionist at the Merce Cunningham Studio, after submitting my resume, and Merce Cunningham asked me to attend his classes and possibly to dance with him. Merce Cunningham was not at the top of my list, but I realize now that I turned down the position, because I was more moved by creating art than dancing. I was too academic, and I was afraid that committing to dance classes and a life of dancing was not for me. I was a dancer, I had to dance, but I had to draw and paint and communicate in some other, more tangible way, what I felt to be important, and that because I had been given so many gifts, I could choose a more practical way to communicate, more direct. I continued to dance at Martha Graham, where I also met her-she still taught at that time, Eric Hawkins, and many other studios as well as at NYU. But most of my time was taken up by drawing, painting, making art, and my other classes, as well as social relationships with film students, art students, dancers, communications majors and writers. I was very involved in music events in college, dancing, and going out to see these many interesting places and people. I spent every weekend day walking and going to art galleries, and this was the most inspiring thing of all to me. The culture on exhibit, everywhere you go, in a great city, the ability to have, right at your fingertips, the great masters alongside the new. But dance was the seed of all that and more. Youth is a period of physical self-searching and age is a period of indexing and analyzing what you have learned and all that your life has meant. The agony is, becoming lost on that trail or having things not work out as planned. This can be a real setback for some people. Love is for people like us, just as much of an experience, and necessary, for artists, for from their great pain frequently comes great work. But, in the artist’s life, there is not always the understanding desired in love, the soulmate, which is sought. Frequently, there are demands made in a relationship which bring into question the very purpose of one’s existence, and even while I have reared my children with and without mates, I have never found the perfect union, where I was encouraged or supported truly in my work, but have had to take on the cloak of motherhood, sole supporter, and ego booster to a man, who while he was following his own muse, never took the time to really encourage me to do the same. Hence, only while I was alone, even with my child, was I able to take time away from the relationship, or the caring of others, to work on myself. Now I do not dance, I do not draw, I write. Many opportunities have passed me by as a result of age, my beauty is not longer the flag it once was, but I do still have my soul and the freedom to express myself in many ways. I have time ahead of me to do those things which I want to do, and hopefully, my health.
Isadora Duncan, was, however, one means by which I found my own path of enlightenment, and I prayed. A lot. But, God pointed me to dance when I was lost. Dance is the way I discovered that I had something to say, that there were ways of learning languages, unlike the common everyday patois, that there were reasons for learning to do things, that there is no gain without pain. Who would think that by the body, a temple unto itself, one could emerge, like an explosion, where after such discipline and self-searching, one could become, almost magically, capable of expressing that same energy and zeal in every aspect of one’s life. A stronger animal, a survivor. Suddenly, I got more meaning out of everything else. I was suddenly able to make the cheerleading squad-I did not stay-but I made it with that one jump. I could suddenly devote myself to drawing for hours, find that place in my mind, in art, to create, close my eyes at a symphony and he ar the music. Feel it. I could dance, up and down the streets, at the bu stop, in the stores, everywhere I could move. Even in my bed I was pointing and stretching, never dormant. I could act, and put myself fully into a role. In fact, acting alone was not enough, theater and politics was a waste of time and boring, so I would move, even as I was instructed to do something else. I could multi-task, as long as one of those tasks was dancing. Business became creative for me as well, much as it did for Isadora, going from door to door, determined that my ideals were worthy and my beliefs were important and groundbreaking, if only someone would listen. It gave me the confidence in myself that I needed, in other areas, maybe more important, to me. I drew with a newfound conviction, and spoke my thoughts even if they were not appealing to everyone in the room, or understood. I was not afraid of failure, I knew that failure was the means to success, to trying and trying again, by dance.
I am not sure ballet dancers, alone, understand the need to express their own feelings artistically, and it is certainly discouraged if one is taking only ballet. Ballet has not reached the level of a national pastime, like football, or baseball, and even sports events are not as well attended as they once were. But I do not think people tire of dance, watching bodies in motion always seems to inspire other bodies to motion. Anything that promotes motion I am all for, even ballet, unless by doing so, it naturally and deliberately is a business undertaking disguised as a non-profit, as so many arts-related undertakings are these days. But, when so much emphasis is on the technique, and not the artistry, and self-expression, children get confused and are tricked into thinking that ballet is the only form of dance that is capable of perfection, true beauty and harmony. The message is very clear that if you undertake the study of ballet at a Russian school, you have a better chance of being accepted, for you will be doing things “right.” Parents do too. It is not harmful to learn ballet. But to excel at ballet, one must be of a certain form and ability. Also, one is certainly going to be put to the test of one’s abilities, whether physically possible or not. At least 80 percent of ballet dancers have injuries. Most of these children begin ballet to appear in recitals, learn to dance, have fun with their friends, gain confidence. But in order to dance the great ballets, a dancer has to have a high level of technique-and Russians believe in doing it properly, and so do other methods, but they do not begin serious study before age ten usually because the mind is not mature enough to understand the theory behind it. Many parents train their children in gymnastics or other forms of dance before commencing ballet. This is seen as practical by many teachers, but there are dancers that are harmed in their dancing careers this way, by ruining the muscles needed for strength and endurance in ballet. But I believe it really comes down to those expressly formed for dance and those who are not. However, I do not think that anyone should be discouraged in dance, but rather all should be encouraged, do you never know who will be the dancer and all benefit who try.
Nearly all of the dancers at YAGP, including winners, do not fit the true mold of Russian dancers starting out, having not been selected by body type and groomed, the way only Russians, do. And many of the winners of YAGP are trained by Russians or in the Vaganova method, and so YAGP is also about Russian ballet method and not Cecchetti, Bournonville, or Balanchine. Some very good dance studios do not participate in YAGP-in fact most studios do not. I think this is because no matter how many other judges, two of them are always going to be Russian. It is probably too late for many of the dancers eying the competition to get the specific Russian training they would need to win this competition, but it is not too late for them to dance or dance ballet specifically. Russian studios are supported by these people and vice versa. Remember when Balanchine said he could train elephants to dance? Well, they are, but even then, only some dancers do it well enough, or consistently well enough, and improve, to get the attention of the teachers, even for performances or competitions. The other students get left behind, not encouraged in ballet, and pay the fees necessary for the studios to survive. If more studios taught forms of modern dance, then students, who were not gifted in ballet, would move into other kinds of dance, but I do not think ballet studios, in general, have strong modern dance components. One reason is, they do not believe in it. It is not their passion. That is why, I think it necessary to have schools in which all children can have the opportunity to learn the forms of dance and other arts. I think if many of these teachers pooled their resources, they would have very fine dance schools and programs, instead of fighting and disagreeing, offering not one Nutcracker but 50 nutcrackers per season, mainly for the families who attend classes there. Surely, there must be some other fare, and performances they can do.
Art seems somewhat lost these days, and there are many really good dancers, but most of them were never in YAGP. These days someone has a cool idea, a quick fix, a batterie of incredible gymnastic feats and they call it “art,” and to me, that is what I see at YAGP. That’s sort of impressing but it is not what Isadora Duncan was calling art. Art is within the self to achieve and come out, in any form, not just dance, but in the physical expression of ideas and feelings. Some dance, some paint, some make mobiles, buildings, create companies, promote causes, or represent other artists. Anything can be creative and everyone (nearly) is, but it is not enough to say, if you have flexibility, that you are an artist. That is what our children should learn so that if they do not feel they are able to express themselves in one language, they do not feel all is lost, but rather that they can achieve anything and dance is a pretty good language to start. This is not stressed in competitions, such as YAGP, but rather technique is eyed closely and one dancer is given a medal for apparently having the traits of a dancer, but who is to say who will become the better dancer? Or that merely the ability to copy someone else’s choreography, to better effect, is worthy of a medal? Especially when those dancers are in class everyday and everyone around them knows their strengths and weaknesses better than the judges. It is silly.
There was no bandaid for the pain of having one parent, or having another parent who did not desire to see me, or to know me, while other children had theirs, and siblings, too. I assumed. Sometimes all that was going on in my head made it difficult to concentrate on schoolwork, and though I have learned to channel my feelings somewhat more constructively, they have always been my master. I am impulsive. I was also gullible, and not a coward, maybe dumb. I had no fear of being kicked out of school. I created escapes in my mind, every hour of the day had a different room, a different path to go by, to avoid the school hierarchy, and learning anything they sought to teach me en masse, I figured we all had to be dummies if they were teaching us the same things. There was no opportunity for reward, sincerity or achievement. I only picked up in high school and graduated, because I had finally figured out where I wanted to be was New York, and I had to have the grades, and a plan to get there, but one of the vehicles was dance. But, reading the last article, I suddenly remembered that film. I remember her dancing and her life and much of my own life suddenly made complete sense. I was vindicated for there again was my secret role model. if only I had remembered her before this life happened so long ago.She could be the inspiration for many of us in this day and age, if only we could all see that film.
Anyone who does not remember her choreography, imitating nature and the forces of nature, casting off point shoes and the strict regimen of ballet, and setting out to do something different-to express herself-does not have a clear enough picture of Isadora Duncan to revile her publicly. YAGP, above all else, was created by a woman, who saw a need for dancers to receive scholarships and assistance, who would otherwise not be accounted for (probably) in the dance world. Isadora also had her own school, where at least the hand kissing was peremptorily done and over with, whereas at our own schools, this hand kissing is done each and every day, and all through the career of the dance student, in the form of more and more investment in not only classes, but donations and in furthering the ideals of the dance studio and its performances, whether or not your child in particular will succeed.
Perhaps I always thought women were more powerful than they actually turned out to be in real life because of my late night heroines. Isadora Duncan was definitely one of them. She said, “I can do this.” And she just did it. In school, I would have been doing pretty much the same thing as Isadora, and I too, found that boring at times. Forced to sit in Ms. Broadbent’s class (why is it that teachers often fit their names?), doing math, completely lost in fractions, and sneaking off to the bathroom to ruminate on why vitamins make your urine green. I would go to the window overlooking the asphalt playground, seemingly several stories high, and swill in the chilly clear air. The sun shone, and on cloudy days, I always eyed that closed window, and its sheet of gray, remembering its opening to brighter days, perhaps a passage, as in Narnia. Perhaps this is the way Isadora felt. Not only dance, but Isadora’s way way of life also was a means of expressing herself, her grief, her boredom, the pat lifestyle, that for women of those days was imminent and required. She acted like a man to her critics, but we now know she simply did not learn to depend fully on men for her ideas, her actions and her substance. Though an artist of great ability, Van Gogh took his own ear, Cezanne wasted a life recounting the nuance of light and shade of the same scenes and still-lifes, Frida Kahlo expressed turmoil, sadness, loss, and jealousy through her work, not always depicting these things, but consequentially as a vehicle for her feelings. Are all artists to be condemned for their lives being second to their art? Other unquestionably great artists of this period and before (and after) searched for a new way of expressing the angst and beauty of a world changing fast due to industrialization, communication and new thinking. Isadora was just one of many artists, but in the world of dance, she was not the only one either. She was just the most famous one, the most interesting one, and the most stunning. I am certain that if we were able to view more films of her dancing, we would see what the general populace saw and why she hit a note with them, what they found so formidable and inspiring about her performances, would also be able to be seen by us, if not fully understood, and in context of the times.
Today, in Russia, fighting of a violent level has occurred concerning the actions and beliefs of one faction in the world of ballet, whether to move forward, create new choreography, open the world of Russian dance to foreigners, or whether to remain the same, with the exacting standards only maintained in Russia and China (perhaps), where ballet is considered such a vital part of its cultural identity that no change or interloper should be allowed to set forth ideals that might threaten the very integrity and sanctity of its history. Change is imminent. The artists of Russia, in the past, who have sought change, have left Russia, and who we have had the privilege to learn from and to appreciate, have been responsible for keeping ballet alive and strong in the United States in part. It is also due to their abilities in this medium, that our own dancers have been seen not to have the same technique. These artists have become great stars here, due to their virtuosity and training. Without them and their great contributions, such as teaching and performing, choreography, and even YAGP, we would not have that level of training available for our children, but it should not become the only training or philosophy of ballet in this country. This would have deprived us of choice, and forced us into a regimen of ballet where only one methodology was unanimously upheld as the best. Great dancers have emerged in this country without strict Russian training. There is a place for everything. There are many great dance companies in the world and they are not only Russian. Even though YAGP has judges from other schools, there is much politicking of the founders of the competition, with Russian schools here in the states, and attendance oat these schools has increased since YAGP, due to students who come there to be taught specifically with hopes of winning. It would not be fair to expect Russian teachers to teach something other than what they were taught and to have anything other than high standards, but other teachers also have high standards, and it is a sad day in America, when those teachers are not being promoted because they do not undertake to win YAGP. The public might be conflicted and kept ignorant of the fact that there are other equally good dance schools, teachers and ideals-in ballet.
I understand the strength it takes to have an idea, and carry that idea over into something meaningful. Who knows whether it will be successful or not, whether it demands too much of children and parents, but we have always been a nation of people who were open to new ideas, impulsive as we may seem, many of these ideas, including YAGP, or a film about Isadora Duncan, or modern dancers, would not have been possible without us. Despite the fact that many foreigners criticize us, they hearken to our shores to make a salary, where they feel they will be appreciated and where they may succeed. If they did not feel that we were friendly and open to them, they would not come. The American people have accomplished and supported great things, and it would fall to us whether to be supportive of YAGP and to what extent we will believe the diatribe of the classical dance competition. I do not think these people expected to form relationships, to have students whom they felt were spoiled and lazy, and ones that were determined and poor. Just like in Russia. I do not think the violence in Russia stemmed from a group of people who expelled change, but rather with one person who expressed retribution violently, like any insane person might be expected to do. I do not think we can judge anything at all by that.
I did not understand life when I first saw the film about Isadora, danced a few steps in the living room, with no one watching, seeking to meld with her free spirit, and taking steps of my own. But I did learn something. To dance. I remember her flowing hair, bare feet and gossamer gowns, styled after the ancient Greeks, music-she believed in the natural body, being able to move freely, unfettered by corsets, whalebone and suffering for art. Her short and violent life, her pain of losing her children, and her wild roaring twenties exploration of the chaotic new-found freedom for women, was not her contribution in dance. That was a contribution to humanity-to women. Life is short. That film was all Vanessa Redgrave’s interpretation of Isadora’s minute on the planet, wasn’t it? Not really the whole truth or the whole story. It is very hard to get a true picture of someone without the pictures, the memories, the history and even sometimes the future, especially viewing it as though they had not been a part of it. People cannot make true that which they want to believe, and much of history is written of a poison pen. But we do have our imaginations. She was. She was not. How would history have been different without her? Who knows. But dance would have been different. Independent women would not have had the example she made to follow. So, I ordered her biography today and I am going to read it posty hasty. What was said about her after her life, was in some sense, more important to dance-what was discovered, how it is being interpreted, and how her influence has continued and is still visible to today even in the great ballet dancers. Dancers, not aware of her feelings about ballet, owe their thanks to her for being able to dance ballet as well as modern dance and to dance at all openly and freely, in public, half dressed, without fear of reprisal. We owe her our thanks for the blending of ballet and modern dance forms into what is currently expressed as contemporary ballet. We owe her our thanks for the ability to learn both and not be confined to mere interpretations of historical ballets and “acceptable” forms of dancing. Expansion of the kinds of movement acceptable in dance. Costume. Music. Choice. Thinking and decision-making-women choreographers. All of it was done by Isadora first.
I re-posted the links to several articles about YAGP and one author used Isadora Duncan as a reference to support his view that YAGP was limiting dancers, and another condemned him for that use, and smeared Isadora Duncan as an example of bad living and gross weakness. It is actually pretty funny that people write about things they do not even know about and manage to publish them in major newspapers. What happened to fact checking? Thinking? For without Isadora Duncan, it is likely that dance, all kinds, in America, would have long ago been placed on a back shelf, for classical dance simply would not have adapted to the 21st century as it finally has, despite ballet theorists who, just as guiltily condemn modern dance or any movement not stemming from the practicum of ballet, and it would not have been possible for ballet or the teachings of it, to be a vehicle to communicate new feelings or ideas. Who knows what YAGP’s accomplishments to dance will be in the future, whether great ballerinas or danseur nobles will emerge from it, but it is worth it, to have the opportunity to see all of these dancers and artists emerge on the stage, exciting not to know what to expect, and one positive is that is available for all to see, either online or live for $5 or thereabouts, and to rise to the challenge or form their own opinions about it. George Balanchine, Agnes DeMille and other choreographers would not have seen the need for new balletic choreoghraphy in a world without modern dance and dancers. Martha Graham would have never been. Isadora Duncan is a part of dance history-all of it, whether a few fans of YAGP recognize this or fail to. Whether we want to see artists on the stage who have bullied us into thinking they are the best or not, one cannot deny their determination or energy. Perhaps these dancers will grow into artists knowing now that people care enough to write about, watch them, and become involved in ballet. It is supportive of ballet and dancing. Dance will go on as a medium for expressing feelings, telling stories, old and new, and for freedom by both men and women to move their bodies to whatever music they choose and to live their lives independently.
While this is a blog (only) and I primarily use it to vent, I can say with certainty that some people may find inspiration everywhere or somewhere specific, that the rest of us do not agree with, but that inspiration, and that by Isadora Duncan, has been vital to the changes of the the dance. I am pretty sure that the next time I heard about Isadora Duncan was in a beginning level modern dance class in high school/college. We had to read a book called “The Dancer Prepares” by James Penrod (and a few other books), and Isadora Duncan was the first relevant pioneer of modern dance mentioned in the book. Modern dancers did not seek to express their own feelings completely, but often looked to incorporate other steps or views into their dancing. American Indian, various tribal, folk dancing and eastern influences were just a few of the dance forms explored by them. James Penrod, is still on the faculty at UCI, as a revered professor. His book refers to modern dance as “dance developed in the last one hundred years.” I think its history is constantly underway, rolling along, and like a stone has gathered no moss, frankly, ignoring the principles of dance established by great modern dance innovators, so that now the only true form of modern dance accessible to students is in college. So few are its progenitors. But other kinds of freeform dance are popular because of the freedom to explore it underlined. The fact that modern dance did have a technique associated with it seems to have been forgotten by most, and this is clearly evident in the YAGP competition which loosely categorizes all modern dance as “contemporary” because it is a ballet competition. Many of the dancers in it have studied ballet for less than two years and may not win on the basis of their strong ballet technique, but may be recognized as having potential based on their contemporary contribution. So, in its way, it seeks to recognize the best dancers in a free form style as well, or those that show some kind of potential to be professionals. Perhaps the author of that first article was expecting “modern” dance at a ballet competition, but those of us with dancing students know that contemporary ballet is a different animal altogether. But, Isadora Duncan’s primary contribution was to begin that search with an open exploration of movement, a sort of birth of movement without technique, finding ways in which the body moved beautifully without the dogma of ballet intertwined. YAGP currently does not recognize or seek to inspire other types of dancers, except those with balletic training, but other competitions do. Without naming a technique, many of Isadora’s “natural” steps became the foundation for what is termed as modern dance technique, set by later dancers and choreographers, basically a study of accepted form of natural movement that we repeat every day without even being aware of it, i.e, Twyla Tharp, and specific movement and preparation for doing those movements. So to criticize that foundation is in a sense to criticize nature, human physiognomy, all modern dance forms, and any modern dances/choreography-silly. To condemn YAGP for its presentation of any and all dancers, no matter the winners and no matter the judges, and no matter the rules, is also contrary to supporting dance today.
Penrod’s book was published a long time ago and is currently in its 4th edition. It is still widely used, only 104 pp and should be read by dancers. He outlines in one chapter the framers of the idioms of modern dance and explains that its history is rich and varied, and even if only dominating the dance scene for a relatively short period of time, it has outlasted, but is also incorporated into, hip hop, and other forms of dance. He writes,” it broke from the traditions and disciplines of the stiff formality of the ballet of the nineteenth century. At the beginning, modern dance was a way of life, an expression of the freedom of the spirit, unfettered by outdated traditions and worn-out beliefs. Modern dance was in its adolescence at the time of the women’s suffrage movement, Prohibition, World War I, and new movements in art. One such movement was called expressionism (my favorite period-more about that later). Expressionism, which originated in painting, is a subjective expression of the artist’s personal reaction to events or objects through distortion, abstraction, or symbolism. It was a dominating influence on modern dance.” Whether you like it or not, at every YAGP event, you witness Isadora Duncan’s contribution to dance, and most likely, applaud it. Obviously, not all Russians approve of our freedom in dance, our choice, our creativity or various methods of achieving ability, as compared to their own philosophies and education, but apparently enough of them do not feel fulfilled by what is available to them in Russia, to come over here and make their own contributions. I, for one, feel grateful for this, as my daughter’s primary teacher is Russian. While my daughter started late, did not fit squarely into the mold of student dancers in Russia, she loves to dance and works very hard to learn about ballet. Oddly, only her Russian teachers have encouraged her in ballet. They have been supportive, even protective, of her abilities and assets, her health and demeanor. They have not criticized her feet, or her flexibility. They alone, have been willing to take her on, urged her to greater abilities and strength by constant practice and dedication. They have corrected her and rallied her. They alone have said she can dance, have taught her variations and given her parts. And yet, other schools, and teachers, have told her that she was too old to begin dancing, not flexible enough (though they offered no classes to that end), or that she was not good enough to perform with their other dancers. Since this is not Russia and these productions, not the Bolshoi’s, this is ridiculous and exclusive. So important to them are their own self images, what they feel other dance professionals will expect of them, that they lose dancers over time, in favor of dancers who began early enough that they usually have flexibility, or are performance children, ones who have been taught to perform, that they forget that even in Russia, the children start training only at ten, dance in public or for teachers regularly, and that any dancer, willing to learn may become a great dancer. Granted, in Russia, they are all carefully inspected for certain characteristics, and it is evident in watching YouTube videos of them that they all look just alike in early classes, but later, when their body types change, and they grow, they are replaced by dancers more favorable to the future choreographers who will be judging them for performances and roles. They are taught to act as one unit, begin point right away, follow the teachings of Vaganova entirely, by interpretation largely, and yet uniformly for the most part. Theirs is a system.
It has even become clear to Russian dancers, who come here, and teachers, that while our children are treated and groomed very differently here, perhaps great things are possible even if these other criteria are not identical to Russian children’s, and that perhaps the baby will not be thrown out with the bath water, as it is sure happened to them in Russia. Perhaps they all end up in the same place with the same training, eventually, or close. The end result in Russian upper classes, however, is very different, with different grown-up bodies, different coloring, style, strengths and features, albeit the training is amazing, only a certain number of those children graduate or are accepted to either the Bolshoi or the Kirov. The rest have to manage on their own to achieve contracts with companies in Russia or elsewhere. How many Russians must feel that to have lost that opportunity to dance in Russia, might have been down to not fitting into the required mold of Russian ballet, not having the right political standing or advantages, so to escape oppression and to pursue what they know and love, they leave Russia and come to our country? Unquestionably, they were not weak, they were not washed-out, they were not allowed to or given the chance to succeed in their own country. They were not accepted. So they came here with their talents. I am honored and welcome them and their gifts, to this country, where I hope they will make great inroads and achievements possible in dance, for our children and for ourselves. I do not think that YAGP is the culmination of those achievements, where more inroads are necessary to revive and encourage dancers of classical ballet and true modern dance.
This piece, so far, is an example of expressionism in writing. The title, associates a modern dance term with its opposite of a turned-out position (in ballet) and in which is an automatic contradiction, for of course, in ballet, there is no parallel. Or is there? Also a pun….It is, as well, written from a subjective point of view (my own), and also uses other literary tricks to help my viewers visualize my point of view. It is the subjective expression of my personal reaction to a film and articles about Isadora Duncan, the requirements and exacting atmosphere of ballet, and dance competitions in general. Anything can be expressionism, unless it is something else….If anyone objects to this mode, then they probably would not appreciated Isadora Duncan, YAGP, Russian ballet history and consequence, and yet these authors, actors and filmmakers all used expressionism to communicate their personal opinions or feelings, subjectively. Ironic, isn’t it?
Dance is, in the words of someone, I do not remember who, is a form of communication to be used when words alone, music or art (should be included) do not effectively express feelings. Dancers, like other artists seek to express their feelings, not just use their instruments for the repetitive performance of known existing works. Dancers also have other ideas besides dancing. I think the most influential aspect of Isadora Duncan’s movement, in this circle, her contribution, actually, was the lack of one. The antithesis of ballet, yes, but apart from that, something not even akin to ballet, and yet, not impossible for ballet dancers to learn, eventually: to be free to express themselves with that very technique and love of form that was taught, in completely different way! Yes, there are some choreographed dances of Isadora’s extant, but I am not even sure Isadora herself would approve of the repeating of those, for she felt that hers were original interpretations, all, and that other dancers who copied her were not feeling the grass, or the movement of water, or the leaves, but simply copying her-badly. Maybe that is the way Petipa would feel about dancers doing variations in YAGP-that they were not ready, graceful, or accurate and therefore they should go back to the classroom and let the professionals go public with these imitations.
Isadora was very precise about how she wanted the dances done at the time and did not improvise on stage. She danced on tours, for hours at a time, and repeated the same choreography each time. She practiced each morning and danced at other times during each day. Her school was acclaimed and some forward-thinking parents sent their children there to learn the new way. Not all of them liked it. Elsa Lanchester, the wife of British film actor, Charles Laughton, was one, who did not care for her remembered experiences there and would probably agree with that writer of the second article, but chiefly she felt that as a child, it was boring, and she from a socialist family, that was more forward thinking. She felt that Isadora relegated her art form to a more aristocratic and noble position than it deserved. Isadora’s curriculum emphasized the free spirit and open interpretation of movement and absolutely no ballet. She used the symphonies of Mozart and Wagner, et al, which was also not the norm. Today, there are many kinds of music which dancers are free to choose from for their pieces. Balanchine would also put a great emphasis on new music created specifically for dance and not ballet classics. This brought in a range of music theretofore unheard of, allowing dancers to have substantial freedom of selection and expression, and movement, even technique. Balanchine closely guarded his choreographed pieces and did not improvise on stage either. Isadora’s life did not mirror her work ethic, where she was zealous and protective of her art. She held her own life out on her sleeve, where all must know it, not unlike actors and actresses or celebrities today, who rue their fame when calamity affects their lives and the world must see their pain, their private business held up for the world to see and judge them by. Once upon a time, privacy was easier to fortify. But what Isadora discovered is that, even isolated, the press is going to write things about you that are not true. You cannot give credence to mere criticism, or let it influence your actions, if you believe in what you are doing. Your art has to retain its position of importance to have any integrity. Whatever we have to say about Isadora Duncan, she was devoted to her art.
Although Isadora chiefly looked to the Greece, the antiquities, and neo-classicism for her influences, nature, other movement innovators, acceptable because Isadora paved the way for self-expression, looked elsewhere for their unique interpretations of dance. But Isadora was also influenced by the artists and musicians and thinkers of the time, the world at large, progress and even politics and idle thinkers. She was aware of opinion about her, and though she defended herself against it, she continued to believe in her goals. She felt self-doubt, guilt and all of the other feelings that the rest of us would feel, but despite that, she went on, strong in her belief of herself. Isadora was the first really famous choreographer and progenitor of modern dance and her message spread around the world, much as Pavlova was a brilliant publicist, Isadora, in her own way, brought attention to dance and ideas. Therefore, I think it safe to say that dance has a long history of women being able to make statements, find their statements accepted by a wider audience, and therefore we have benefited from this as a population. Without Isadora Duncan, Maria Tallchief might not have been accepted on the stage, or Katherine Denham, or today Misty Copeland. Even Larissa Saveliev and Irina Dvorovenko and Aleksandra Efimova might have to agree that Isadora Duncan paved the way for them to be both talented and smart, finding an opening for an opportunity and exploiting it, and the United States ballet market! Today, many older American ballerinas have finally found their teaching desired, their opinions important and their lives’ histories a learning tool for millions of young dancers. Without their differences in choices, experiences and histories, how would any of these women come into being later in their lives, when it is finally acceptable to have a history, a past, and they may have felt they should not make a contribution, because the world was not open-minded enough to hear their stories, understand their lives, or forgive them their mistakes (if you can call life a mistake), and to learn from their greatness. Perhaps, when she died, Isadora, was not yet finished with what she could have later contributed, perhaps there was more, but she never got to live it, or speak it, or dance it. But her contribution in dance, of the extreme circumstances and experiences life sometimes grants us, to learn from and to grow from, may never impede the great ones from persevering, and this should be a lesson to us all. Take a look at all of the women in dance (just in America for starters) who must be thankful that they are certainly no worse than Isadora for being human, having great spirits and for overcoming overwhelming odds and being successful.
Once upon a time, this would not have been possible here, or in Russia, where they the three listed were from. But Gelsey Kirkland, Suzanne Farrell, Cynthia Gregory, Martine Van Hamel and countless others of our own making (mostly) have recently stepped forward in a world only lately accepting of women pedagogues in the highest sense. Not since Isadora, has a woman so confoundedly and openly challenged the pretexts of a male dominated world and field, until now, and singularly gained the influence and prestige that was awarded Isadora. Dance remains a catapult for women to attain strength and demonstrate ingenuity not only in dance, but in business, publicity and marketing-even fashion. Isadora was way ahead of her time. Many other female artists in that middle history have gotten short-shrift for their efforts and progress. Our daughters are lucky to have them as examples of strong women, and so are our sons! Pavlova would have been proud of them, Isadora would have cheered them. I salute them, as strong, intelligent women, like Pavlova and Isadora. Both were important to ballet and the world as we know it. All these histories are apparent today and Isadora’s influence made possible the freedom in dance by which, even competitions such as YAGP, would not be possible without. So, ironically, there does seem to be a parallel position.
“Awww….everyone knows diaries are just full of crap anyway.”
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.