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 Robert Ingersoll, whose works she used to read to us,” Duncan recalled in her autobiography.

When she was 5, her teacher told the class that Santa Claus had provided candies and cakes as a special treat. When Duncan solemnly challenged the assertion, she was made to leave the class. She made a little speech (see quote below), which she called “the first of my famous speeches.” Her mother comforted her by saying, “There is no Santa Claus and there is no God, only your own spirit to help you.”

Duncan was dancing in public by age 6, encouraged by her mother to pursue her precocious talent. Considered the “mother of modern dance,” she pioneered interpretative dance, shedding shoes to dance barefoot, draping herself in loose Greek robes. She found fame and success in Europe and was the most famous dancer of her era.

Never conventional, Duncan gave birth to two “love children” by 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 spoked wheels of a French-made Amilcar convertible in which she was a passenger. (D. 1927)

PHOTO: Duncan c. 1906-12.

Freedom From Religion Foundation