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Isadora Duncan

“All the movements of the earth follow the lines of wave motion. Both sound and light travel in waves. The flight of a bird and the movements of all animals follow lines like undulating waves.” -Isadora Duncan

Isadora Duncan (1877-1927) was an American pioneer of dance and is an important figure in both the arts and history. Known as the “Mother of Modern Dance,” Isadora Duncan was a self-styled revolutionary whose influence spread from American to Europe and Russia, creating a sensation everywhere she performed. Her style of dancing eschewed the rigidity of ballet and she championed the notion of free-spiritedness coupled with the high ideals of ancient Greece: beauty, philosophy, and humanity. She brought into being a totally new way to dance, and it is this unique gift of Isadora Duncan that the Isadora Duncan Dance Foundation wishes to preserve, present, and protect.

“Isadora Duncan was not the first to look for a simpler, more natural way of dancing. She was not the first to free the dancing woman’s body from corsets and toe shoes and picture-book idealizations. But she was probably the first to do it all so publicly–to take upon herself the task ofembodying this revolution, and to speak of it, and teach it to children.” – Marcia B. Siegel

Dancer, adventurer, and ardent defender of the free spirit, Isadora Duncan is one of the most enduring influences on contemporary culture and can be credited with inventing what came to be known as Modern Dance. With free-flowing costumes, bare feet, and loose hair, she took to the stage inspired by the ancient Greeks, the music of classical composers, the wind and the sea. Isadora elevated the dance to a high place among the arts, returning the discipline to its roots as a sacred art. Duncan shed the restrictive corsets of the Victorian era and broke away from the vocabulary of the ballet. Stepping out of the dance studio with a vision of the dance of the future, Isadora embraced artists, philosophers, and writers as her teachers and guides.

According to Isadora, the development of her dance was a natural phenomenon – not an invention, but a rediscovery of the classical principles of beauty, motion, and form. Her dances were born of the impulse to embrace life’s bittersweet challenges, meeting destiny and fate head-on in her own whirlwind journey, filled with both tragedy and ecstasy. She was determined to “dance a different dance,” telling her own life story through abstract, universal expressions of the human condition.

“I spent long days and nights in the studio seeking that dance which might be the divine expression of the human spirit. For hours I would stand quite still, my two hands folded between by breasts, covering the solar plexus. When I concentrated all my force to this one center, I found that thereafter when I listened to music, the rays and vibrations of the music streamed to this one fount of light within me.” – Isadora Duncan

Shocking some audience members and inspiring others, Isadora posed a challenge to the prevailing orthodoxies of her time. Isadora was a champion in the struggle for women‘s rights. Many saw a glorious vision for the future in Isadora’s choreography. Her influence upon the development of progressive ideas and culture from her time to our own has yet to be measured. She has inspired artists, thinkers, and idealists everywhere.

“The dancer of the future will be one whose body and soul have grown so harmoniously together, that the natural language of that soul will have become the movement of the body. She will dance not in the form of nymph, nor fairy, nor coquette, but in the form of woman in her greatest and purest expression. From all parts of her body shall shine radiant intelligence, bringing to the world the message of the thoughts and aspirations of thousands of women. She shall dance the freedom of woman.” – Isadora Duncan

Isadora Duncan Lesson

Join RDT’s Executive / Artistic Director Linda C Smith for a classical modern class based on the teachings of Isadora Duncan. Originally taught via zoom for BYU’s dance department.

Lesson 1

Find the energy in the Solar PlexusEXPLORE FOCUS: Personal, Social, Universal Space

  • Cross arms covering chest Focus on “personal” space. Concentrate on your breath.
  • Inhale and expand arms. Focus on “Social Space.”  
  • Inhale and lift arms to high V shape. “Universal Space”

Motivate each change of focus by activating the solar plexus.

Lesson 2

Explore the movement from VALSE BRILLIANT

“Isadora recognized that dance rhythms are created by gravity’s pull and the body’s response to that magnetism.” “All the movements of the earth follow the lines of wave motion. Both sound and light travel in waves.”

  • Explore swinging motion: Explore a natural swinging motion in the arms then slow it down and extend the “recovery”…Wave motion.
  • Slush’s – forward, side, side, back
    • Under-curves: From 1th position, plie and slide one foot forward then straighten both legs. Repeat going sideward, sideward then backward.
    • Add Arms in swinging motion. Be sure to involve the solar plexus.
    • Add the lift of a leg pulling in the opposite direction of arm swing. Suspend at the top of the action to feel the WAVE MOTION in the energy.
  • Opening of Valse arms and travel 
    • Slow drop in 2nd and shift weight to one side. Reverse shifting to the other side.
    • Add arms in slow swing.  
    • Add the curve of the back. 
    •  Shift and let gravity pull you into taking a few small steps. Reverse. Think about the focus. Remember the three spaces: inner, social, universal space
  • Hip and arm toss: Visualize “tossing” a baby bird into the air. Wave goodbye to it. Repeat but let the action take you into the air using a hop.
  • Make a sequence such as: Zig-zag pattern. Two plain, two with a hop. Try this traveling pattern
    • Hop and toss that bird into the air,  step, step, step (wave goodbye to the imaginary bird)
    •  REPEAT adding a turn  on the step, step step action.
    • Perform the pattern in a large  circle.
    • Add turn after three sets: Hug yourself and open your arms and suspend.
  • Skip Pattern 
    • Hands press: Imagine you are making “handprints” in the sand.  Press hands downward on one side , then the other.
    • SKIPS:  Heavy, weighted skips using pressing of arms in opposition.
    • Toss flower petals into the air and run.  
    • Gather and Toss the rose petals as you hop and then run
    • Make a pattern: two skips with arms pressing on one side, toss petals and run 
  • Try this gesture conversation:
    • Right Hand gesture, Left hand gesture, skitter backward open the arms
    • Repeat bigger and arms get higher
    • Repeat bigger and arms get higher

(Do pattern facing a partner)

  • Travel toward each other using a triplet and gesture toward your partner with the right hand then the left hand as if you are asking a question.Skitter backward (away from each other) Arms open
  • PATTERN: Do pattern three times: Each repetition increases in space and energy. End with Skip, Skip, toss flower petals and run pattern
  • Combine all the above patterns in a sequence.

LISTEN TO THE MUSIC: Valse Brilliant music …discuss


Lesson 3

Explore the concepts of Duncan’s PRELUDE

PREPARATION: walk casually around the room. 



  • Pear shaped run with under-curve low to high arms. 
  • Lift arms using energy from Solar Plexus. Curve upper back. 
  • Dive and run as if being pulled toward the diagonal. 
  • Slow the run until you stop the travel but keep the energy and focus traveling.

LISTEN TO THE PRELUDE MUSIC and use the phrasing to guide the action.

Line of Action: 

I: Lift the arms. Curve the back and do a pear shaped run, using “wave motion.” Stop the run but feel the continuous flow of energy

II: Listen, see, remember, and travel to another area of the stage. Repeat. 

RDT appreciates the generous funding provided by the Utah Legislature and the Utah Board of Education that help make our Arts-in-Education Programs possible in Utah’s Public Schools.

What People are Saying

The diversity of the dancers really spoke to my students! It was great to see boys and girls dancing, and different races. The high level of engagement was so refreshing and got students excited about thecontent.
This activity was valuable because it helped students make connections between dance, rhythm, healthy lifestyles, and expression. The students were impressed by the talent of the dancers and it was motivating to them.
Opportunities for art and expression are so limited at school but so essential and valuable for all students, especially those who struggle to learn through traditional methods. My Kindergarteners have been dancing since you left!
This was so engaging. I looked around the auditorium and every student was watching. Not one person was talking or distracted
This activity is valuable to teachers and students because it gives them a creative outlet. We need movement in the classroom to engage, energize and deepen student learning.
I got great ideas on how to incorporate movement into math and science lessons.
I loved how you made movement and exercise relatable to the students. The dancers were full of energy and there was very little down time so students stayed engaged.
Our children were captivated by the performance. They listened to you and they were learning without knowing. They usually giggle when bodies are shown and talked about. But the way you presented it was so tastefully done, they now do poses and movement around the room and outside. You brokesome barriers and they took that permission and literally ran with it!