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.
new Date().getTime(),event:’gtm.js’});var f=d.getElementsByTagName(s),
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!