The Art of The Dance
Isadora Duncan & Sheldon W Cheney [Ed.]
Theatre Arts, Inc./ Helen Hacket, Inc. NY (1928)
This Page Last Modified on Nov. 2, 2007
"Isadora--My Friend" by Mary Fanton Roberts
Isadora's own ideal of what the future might bring for the world she once wrote for a program … "Oh, she is coming, the dancer of the future; the free spirit, who will inhabit the body of new women; more glorious than any woman that has yet been; more beautiful than the Egyptian, than any woman that has yet been; more beautiful than the Egyptian, than the Greek, the Early Italian, than all women of past centuries--the highest intelligence in the freest body!" P29
"I SEE AMERICA DANCING" 1927.(First published in the New York Herald-Tribune, Oct. 2, 1927)
Coming to Europe, I had three great Masters, the three great precursors of the Dance of our century -- Beethoven, Nietzsche and Wagner. Beethoven created the Dance in mighty rhythm, Wagner in sculptural form, Nietzsche in Spirit. Nietzsche created the dancing philosopher. P48
"THE PHILOSOPHIER'S STONE OF DANCING" 1920.
There are ... three kinds of dancers: first, those who consider dancing
as a sort of gymnastic drill, made up of impersonal and graceful arabesques;
second, those who by concentrating their minds, lead the body into the
rhythm of a desired emotion, expressing a remembered feeling or experience.
And finally, there are those who convert the body into a luminous fluidity,
surrendering it to the inspiration of the soul.P51
So confident am I that the soul can be awakened, can completely possess
the body, that when I have taken children into my schools I have aimed
above all else to bring to them a consciousness of this power within themselves,
of their relationship to the universal rhythm, to evoke from them the ecstasy,
the beauty of this realization. P52
The only power that can satisfactorily guide the child's body is the inspiration of the soul. P53
"THE PARTHENON" 1903 or 1904.
I knew I had found my dance, and it was a Prayer. P65
"THE DANCER AND NATURE" Probably 1905.
How shall one name that movement which is in accord with the most beautiful human form? … I would name it the Dance. Woman is to learn beauty of form and movement through the dance. Pp67-68
The fountain-head for the art of the dance will be the study of the movements of Nature. P68
I see dance motifs in all things about me. All true dance movements possible
to the human body exist primarily in Nature. P69
Nature always has been and must be the great source of all art; and that
there is a complete separation of the dancer's movement from the movement
of Nature… P70
"WHAT DANCING SHOULD BE" 1905 or 1906
Beauty is the soul and the law of the Universe, and all that is in accordance
with this soul and these laws is Beauty. P71-72
The dance and sculpture are the two arts most closely united, and the foundation of both is Nature. The sculptor and the dancer both have to seek in Nature the most beautiful forms, and the movements which inevitably express the spirit of those forms. P72
What dancing should be--how many poets, how many philosophers, how many
scientists of Germany have written beautiful lines on this subject! And
they have mostly written of little children dancing, or of maidens dancing,
or of one woman dancing, And when one reads such lines, it is like a call
from the depths of their poet-souls: … Women must hear and answer it. P73
"A CHILD DANCING" Aug. 22, 1906 First published in Frankfurter Zeitung on Aug. 26, 1906
"The child must not be taught to make movements, but her soul, as
it grows to maturity must be guided and instructed; in other words, the
body must be taught to express itself by means of the motions which are
natural to it. We do not allow the child to make a single movement unless
it knows why it makes it. I do not mean to say that the meaning of every
motion must be explained to the child in words, but that the motion must
be of such a nature that the child feels the reason for it in every fibre.
In this way the will become versed in the simple language of gestures."P75
"MOVEMENT IS LIFE" Probably 1909
Dancing expresses in a different language, different from nature, the beauty
of the body; and the body grows more beautiful with dancing. P78
Nature must be the source of all art, and dance must make use of nature's forces in harmony and rhythm. P79
"BEAUTY AND EXERCISE" 1914
The culture of the form and movement of the body is practiced today in
two ways: by gymnastics and by dancing. Both should go together, for without
gymnastics, without the healthy and methodical development of the body,
the real dance is unattainable. Gymnastics should form the basis of all
physical education; the body must be given plenty of light and air; its
development must be carried out methodically; the whole vital strength
of the body must be brought to its full expansion. This is the business
of the professor of gymnastics. Then comes dancing. Into a body that has
been harmoniously developed and brought to its highest degree of energy,
the spirit of dancing enters. Movement and culture of his body form the
aim of the gymnast; for the dancer they are only the means. Thus, the body
itself must be forgotten, for it is only a harmonious and well adapted
instrument whose movements express not only the movements of the body,
as in gymnastics, but also the thoughts and feelings of a soul. P83
"THE DANCE IN RELATION TO TRAGEDY" Revised in 1927
The Dance of the past reached its highest point when it formed the Chorus of Greek tragedy. At the sublime moment of the tragedy, when sorrow and suffering were most acute, the Chorus would appear. Then the soul of the audience, harrowed to the point of agony, was restored to harmony by the elemental rhythms of song and movement. The Chorus gave to the audience the fortitude to support those moments that otherwise would have been too terrible for human endurance.
This is the highest aim and object of dancing. To take its legitimate place in tragedy with music and poetry, to be the intermediary between the tragedy and the audience, creating complete harmony between them. P84
"EDUCATION AND THE DANCE"
The school of the should have two aims or visions. One of these is of the
earth and the other is of production. P88
What must we do to bring Terpsichore back amongst us again? We must recover: 1. The ideal beauty of the human form; and 2. The movement which is the expression of this form.
All my research and study in the field of the dance have been founded on
these two principles. P90
"THE DANCE OF THE GREEKS"
The only way to accomplish a re-birth of the dance is to restore it to its original place. To know the true place of the dance it is necessary to study history.
The oldest of the dances that were an art were those of Asia, and of Egypt--which
influenced the Greek dance. But those earlier dances were not of our race;
it is to Greece that we must turn, because all our dancing goes back to
In our own times we have no music created for the dance. It is thought
that the dance is unworthy of beautiful music, and it is therefore deprived
of it. The great geniuses of music alone have had rhythm in their work.
That is why I have danced to the rhythms of Bach and of Gluck, of Beethoven
and of Chopin, of Schubert and of Wagner, because practically they alone
have understood and have expressed the rhythm of the human body. P95
After many years of study I have arrived at this conclusion: the natural rhythm of the human body and the rhythm of contemporary music are in complete disaccord; the simplest gesture fails to find in these notes a line which it can follow. But to the rhythm of the words of a Greek Chorus one dances easily. Just in hearing them one sees unfolding a frieze of sculptured figures in movement. The music of the Greeks must have accorded with the rhythms of these words. Ah, if it only could be recovered! P96
To unite the arts around the Chorus, to give back to the dance its place as the Chorus, that is the ideal. When I have danced I have tried always to be the Chorus: I have been the Chorus of young girls hailing the return of the fleet, I have been the Chorus dancing the Pyrrhic Dance, or the Bacchie; I have never once danced a solo. The dance, again joined with poetry and with music, must become once more the tragic Chorus. That is its only and its true end. That is the only way for it to become again an art.
My the artists unite and accomplish this miracle of love! P96
"YOUTH AND THE DANCE"
For understanding of the dance, the activities of the child should be directed
into the channels natural to the tastes and capacities of childhood, It
is not necessary to ask of him great effort: let him breathe joyously,
give free rein to his natural animation, having care only for the harmonious
growth of his body. Above all do not force on him movements toward which
his nature rebels, but only lead his sprit and his body into accord with
the most noble movements and the most spiritual expressions of mankind.
Then the body becomes a spirit whose gestures are its language, and the
young soul opens out to light, beauty and everlasting love. P97
Let the child dance as a child: don't impose on him the attitudes and the
gestures of an epoch which had nothing in common with simple living and
true humanity--of the ballets of Louis XIV. Pp97-98
The true dance is an expression of serenity; it is controlled by the profound
rhythm of inner emotion. Emotion does not reach the moment of frenzy out
of a spurt of action; it broods first, it sleeps like the life in the seed,
and it unfolds with a gentle slowness. The Greeks understood the continuing
beauty of a movement that mounted, that spread, that ended with a promise
of re-birth. The Dance--it is the rhythm of all that dies in order to live
again; it is the eternal rising of the sun. P99
"THE GREAT SOURCE"
For me the dance is not only the art that gives expression to the human
soul through movement, but also the foundation of a complete conception
of life, more free, more harmonious, more natural. It is not, as is too
generally believed, a composition of steps, arbitrary and growing out of
mechanical combinations--which even if they serve well as technical exercises
cannot pretend that they constitute an art. This is the means, not the
To seek in Nature the most beautiful forms and to discover the movement
which expresses the soul of those forms, that is the task of the dancer.
Like the sculptor, with whom he has so much in common, the dancer should
draw his inspiration from Nature alone. P102
The dance, in my opinion, has for its purpose the expression of the most noble and the most profound feelings of the human soul: those which rise from the gods in us, Apollo, Pan, Bacchus, Aphrodite. The dance must implant in our lives a harmony that is glowing and pulsing. P103
"RICHARD WAGNER" 1921
For the work of Wagner flows through every drop of blood in every artist
of the world, and his mighty rhythm, has become part of every heart-beat
of each one of us. For Wagner is more than an artist: he is the glorious
far-seeing prophet, liberator of the art of the future. It is he who will
give birth to the new union of the arts, the re-birth of the theatre, tragedy
and the dance as one.
He was the first to conceive of the dance as born of music. This is my
conception of the dance also, and for it I strive in the work of my school
For in the depths of every musical theme of Wagner, dances will be found:
monumental sculpture, movement which only demands release and life. P105
"A LETTER TO THE PUPILS" 1918 or 1919
Plunge your soul in divine unconscious Giving deep within it, until it
gives to your soul its Secret. That is how I have always tried to express
music. My soul should become one with it, and the dance born from that
"MOSCOW IMPRESSIONS" 1921-1927
Relegated to the past is the old ideal of youth, with its limited prize of monogamistic love and its narrow ideal of family life as the goal of existence. The future love will be not "my family" but ""all humanity," not "my children" but "all children," not "my country" but "all people." P110
Movement is a language as powerful and expressive as words. I could not explain my lessons in words to these children, but I spoke to them by the language of movements, and they, by their responsive movement, showed me that they understood. P113
"REFLECTION , AFTER MOSCOW" 1927
Always great artists have had this dream: to create their art for all humanity, for the people. Unfortunately, for those of our time this dream cannot become reality, because in every country where it might be realized, they have before them always the same public--that which is able to pay the demanded price for good seats. All the students and the poorer people--those whose spirit urges them toward the beautiful--are deprived almost entirely of the artist's work; or else, if occasionally they do enjoy it, they are obliged to sit in "nigger heaven," where usually the acoustics are very bad and the view of the stage distorted. P116
No government recognized the value of my school, or the beauty of my idea.
Even my pupils after a while were so transformed by the training I gave
them that they came to consider themselves talented artists, so that they
forgot their mission and left the group, to follow impresarios who were
ready to exploit them and to take them on recital tours through all the
People have never understood my true aim. They have thought that I wished
to form a troupe of dancers to perform in the theatre. Certainly nothing
was farther from my thoughts. Far from wishing to develop theatre dancers,
I have only hoped to train in my school numbers of children who through
dance, music, poetry and song would express the feelings of the people,
with grace and beauty. P117
The pedagogues have rarely understood the necessity of training the body of the child. German and Swedish gymnastics have in view only the development of the muscles; they neglect the proper correlation of spirit and body. I have taken as a foundation for my teaching that a child should never be given a movement that would not at the same time be an expression of the soul. A child ought to dance as naturally as a plant grows. An inner force ought to come to the surface and find expression. But in modern gymnastics it is the other way round: a force from the outside directs the movements under control fo the will. Every animal in nature moves in harmony with the universal rhythm. It is only the child of man that finds itself controlled by unnatural movements. P119
"DANCING IN RELATION TO RELIGION AND LOVE" 1927
Since the earliest days of man's civilization, since the first temple that
he constructed, there has always been a God, a central figure in the temple.
The pose of this God is also an expression of his being and might be called
a dance. P121
It must always be kept in mind that there are two classes of dancing: the sacred and the profane. By profane, I do not mean sinful, but simply that dancing which expresses the physical being and the joy of the senses, whereas sacred dancing expresses the aspirations of the spirit to transform itself into a higher sphere than the terrestrial. P122
A child can understand many things through the movement of its body which
would be impossible for it to comprehend by the medium of the written or
spoken word. May profound secrets of the outer and inner meanings of Nature
and natural forces can be given to the child through the dance. P124
People ask me, do you consider love-making an art and I would answer that
not only love but every part of life should be practiced as an art. For
we are no longer in the state of the primitive savage, but the whole expression
of our life must be created through culture and the transformation of intuition
and instinct into art. P127
"FRAGMENTS AND THOUGHTS"
My dancing is to me an instinctive thing born with me. … I have danced before the public. You call me a barefoot dancer. To me you might as well say a bare-headed or bare-handed dancer. I took off my clothes to dance because I felt the rhythm and freedom of my body better that way. In all ages when the dance was an art, the feet were left free as well as the rest of the body; also, whenever the dance has had an influence on the other arts--as in the beautiful bas-reliefs of dancing figures of the Greeks, and the lovely dancing figures of the Italians. Even when a painter or sculptor draws or models a dancing figure today, he generally portrays it with light draperies and without shoes.
If you would think of this a bit you would see that the conception of a dancing figure as being in light drapery and without shoes is not mine especially, but simply the ideal dancing figure as thought of by all times. Then you would cease to use the title "barefoot dancer," which I confess Idetest. P129
[Foreword for Crunewald School prospetus 1906]
To rediscover the beautiful, rhythmical motions of the human body, to call back to life again that ideal movement which should be in harmony with the highest physical type, and to awaken once more an art which h has slept for tow thousand years--these are the serious aims of the school. P132
In dancing simply as dancing I am not interested. To me dancing must be the expression of life, not merely a series of gymnastic ticks or pretty movements. That is why I dislike the ordinary ballet dancing, which constrains people to adopt unnatural attitudes and cramps the free expression of their emotions. P 135
Often I thought to myself, what a mistake to call me a dancer-- I am the
magnetic center to convey the emotional expression of the Orchestra. From
my soul sprang fiery rays to connect me with my trembling vibrating Orchestra. P 138
[A letter published in the Progres d' Athenes in 1920]
In taking my soul back to the mystic sources of their rapture, I have , on my own part, found again the secret of Beauty that resides in that Holy of Holies. Out of that has come my dancing, neither Greek nor antique, but the spontaneous expression of my soul lifted up by beauty.
… I have never worn antique costumes or rich ones, because the dance is for me the expression of the body reflecting the soul in ecstasy.
Neither by gestures and attitudes nor by costumes and cunning draperies, but only in terms of the human body can the dance convey its message to humanity. Pp139-140
It is possible to dance in two ways:
One can throw oneself into the spirit of the dance, and dance the thing itself: Dionysus.
Or one can contemplate the spirit of the dance--and dance as one who relates
a story: Apollo. P140
All promise for the future I see in a great school where children will
learn to dance, to sing. to live for the Wisdom and the Beauty of the world. P140
That the child should understand Nature, it must dance according to Nature's rhythm. The great event of this era will be the awakening of the Dance as a noble art, sister to Music. The dance for two thousand years has been an art imprisoned. All my life I have been trying to break its chains, to open the gates and give it back its freedom. Once liberated, the dance will be the great inspirational force among the arts: sculpture, painting, architecture will find new wings, and tragedy will live again. P141
[A letter to a French Government official, appealing for a school.]
Schools have been established, in accordance with my ideas, in every country.
… Unfortunately these schools have adopted the letter of my teaching but
not its spirit.
They copy the movements--but ignore the secret of the inner impulse. P141
To dance is to live. What I want is a school of life, for man's greatest
riches are in his soul, in his imagination. There may be a life after this
one, but I know not what we shall have there. This is what I do know: our
riches here on earth are in our will, our inner life. P141
What is the first law for all art? … I think simply this: "Look at Nature, study Nature, understand Nature--and then try to express Nature."
… "The dance is the movements of the human body in harmony with the movements of the earth; and if it does not accord with those movement, it is false."
That is the first law for the study of the dance: study the movement of
[ An interview given to a French newspaper]
The dance is not a diversion but a religion, an expression of life. I teach
that to the young children in my school; I know nothing about those who
make a mere amusement of the dance. Life is the root and art is the flower. P 142
My life has known but two motives--Love and Art. And often Love destroyed Art--and often the imperious call of Art put a tragic end to Love--for these two have known no accord but constant battle. P143
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