Isadora Duncan

On this date in 1878, Isadora Duncan was born in San Francisco, the youngest of four children. Her mother, Dora Gray Duncan, a pianist and music teacher, was devout, having been raised in an Irish Catholic family. Dora lost her faith when her marriage disintegrated. Faced with four children to raise alone, "her faith in the Catholic religion revolted violently to definite atheism, and she became a follower of Bob Ingersoll, whose works she used to read to us," Isadora recalled in her autobiography. When Isadora was five, her teacher told the class Santa Claus had provided candies and cakes as a special treat. When Isadora solemnly challenged the assertion, she was physically evicted from the class. She made a little speech (see quote below), which she called "the first of my famous speeches." Isadora's mother comforted her by saying: "There is no Santa Claus and there is no God, only your own spirit to help you." As Isadora sat at her feet, her mother then "read us the lectures of Bob Ingersoll."

Isadora was dancing in public by age six, encouraged by her mother to pursue her unorthodox talent. Considered the "mother of modern dance," Isadora pioneered interpretative dancing, shedding shoes to dance barefoot, draping herself in loose Greek robes. Her dances were inspired by the writings of such freethinkers as Walt Whitman and Nietzsche. Isadora found fame and success in Europe, and was the most famous dancer of her era. Never conventional, Isadora gave birth to two "love children," by two different fathers, neither of whom she married. Her children tragically drowned in 1913 in an accident in France. She died in Nice in another tragic accident, when her free-flowing scarf got caught in the wheels of a sports car. D. 1927.

“I don't believe lies!”

—Isadora Duncan, age five, defying a teacher who insisted there is a Santa Claus. Isadora Duncan: My Life, 1927

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

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