Isadora Duncan, precocious dancer, defender of free love and victim of tragedies

She was an extremely unconventional woman. She herself says that she likes to follow her intimate impulses, without any practical meaning. During her fifty-year life, marked by the urgent need to dance and by constant penury, she fought for female emancipation, had endless lovers and three children by different fathers who died in dramatic circumstances.

precocious talent

The life of Isadora Duncan (1878-1927) is like a movie script, perfectly woven by the threads of fate and with a tragic end. In his memoirs, he says that he learned to dance by watching the waves, and that when he was just six years old, he organized his first dance school, offering lessons to neighborhood children in his native San Francisco. The game soon became a business, and many high society Californian families sought his services. At the age of ten, she left school to devote herself entirely to dancing.

He grew up in an environment steeped in artistic sensibility. His mother, Mary Dora, soon divorced from Joseph Charles Duncan, talked to her children about drama, poetry and mythology. The extended family lived as a small traveling company: the mother supported her children by playing the piano; one of his brothers recited Shakespeare; another lectured; and she and her sister Elizabeth danced.

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But Isadora wanted to succeed on the best stages, and not only in the salons of bourgeois houses. That’s why they replaced San Francisco with Chicago and New York. However, she feels that her art is not appreciated enough in America and convinces the Duncan clan to leave for London.

in search of glory

Isadora arrived in Europe with the new century. Danced before the English nobility and Parisian artists. In Berlin she joined the company of the dancer Loi Fuller on tour in Munich and Vienna, until finally in Budapest she signed the first contract to dance alone on a big stage. And he did it with stunning success.

His fame began to grow and many theaters opened their doors to him. She rejected academic ballet and devoted herself to creating her own poetic and utterly personal art, inspired by ancient Greece, whose culture she developed a passion for during her visits to the British Museum. I wanted to free dance from lace, tutus and corset figures and give expression to the soul and freedom to art.


Isadora Duncan stood out with her free movements.

Third parties

She danced with free and flowing movements, covering her body only with transparent veils. She is often considered a flamboyant character, and not just because she always wears bathrobes and sandals. She defended the right of women to love freely and have children with whomever they want.

After a passionate affair with actor and set designer Edward Gordon Craig, with whom she has a daughter, her dreams begin to come true. In 1905, Isadora established a dance school in Grünewald, Germany, financed entirely by herself, which welcomed working-class girls, but her constant touring was not enough to cover the endless expenses.

American millionaire Paris Singer, heir to the sewing machine empire, appeared with an offer of financial assistance. The romance with Singer was very intense and introduced her to a life of great luxury that even made her change her clothes to haute couture dresses. They had a son, but she never wanted to marry him.

a foregone conclusion

A heavy blow of fate changed the course of his life. In 1913, her children Deirdre and Patrick drowned in a terrible accident when the car they were traveling in plunged into the Seine. She fell into a deep depression.

She embarks on a sad journey that ends in Italy, where she meets a young man by whom she becomes pregnant. She gave birth in Paris on the same day World War I broke out, but the child died a few hours after birth. The world was falling apart again. If Isadora was born to dance, now she danced to survive in an attempt to find peace and solace in art.


Isadora Duncan.

Third parties

She settled in the Soviet Union at the invitation of Lenin, and her return to the United States was scandalous. At 44 and accompanied by her young husband, the poet Sergei Yesenin, Isadora turned to an intense nightlife bathed in bootleg alcohol. A few years after their separation, she lived her last and fatal conquest in Nice, which brought her, in a Bugatti cabriolet, to a romantic end: her long shawl became entangled in one of the car’s wheels; she died strangled by silk.

his autobiography My life it was published in 1929, two years after his death. Collect his adventures, his introductions to noble and royal households, and his connections with such characters as Rodin, Stanislavsky, Eleonora Douse, and D’Annunzio.

four steps in love

Isadora Duncan had countless idylls, but she always considered herself faithful to her great loves:

Oscar Berigi.


oscar cares

The first love

In Budapest, at the turn of the century, she had her first passionate relationship with this then young actor who played the role of Romeo. The relationship ended when the dancer went on tour in Austria.

Gordon Craig.


Edward Gordon Craig

the man of her life

In 1904, while dancing in Berlin, she felt an irresistible physical attraction to a spectator who then appeared in her dressing room. Actor, director, scenographer and theorist, he turned out to be a theater genius. A boundless passionate and intellectual love is born between them. Two years later they had a daughter, Deirdre, but Isadora, who opposed the marriage, preferred to keep both of them independent.

Parisian singer.


Parisian singer

The lover and patron

She named him Lohengrin because he came as a hero from legend to the princess’s aid. Singer financed his school for long periods and saved it from ruin countless times. In 1910, their son Patrick was born and their love lasted for several years until he abandoned her out of jealousy. They met again in Paris on the fateful day of the death of Isadora’s two children.

Duncan and Yesenin.


Sergey Yesenin

the hellish connection

She married the Russian poet so he could leave the USSR. She was 44 years old and he was 26. Life as a couple became hell. He suffered from mental disorders. In 1925, Yesenin returned to the Soviet Union and committed suicide.

This text is part of an article published in issue 445 of the journal History and life. Do you have something to contribute? Write to

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