Known as the “Mother of Modern Dance”, Isadora Duncan had dedicated her whole life to create dance schools for children and preserve the education of the “whole child”. Her legacy has been passing down from generations to generations and contributing to the intellectual, physical, emotional and spiritual condition of child dancers. Therefore, this paper seeks to explore the influence of her dance philosophy on the way the children are taught dance in today society. Through the research of the history of modern dance, the expression of movements, the concept of teaching dance, and expectations for dancers, Isadora’s legacies has been explored and developed. In the process of investigating, besides watching old videos of Isadora’s repertoires and reading books about her dance movements written by Isadora’s devoted pupils, an interview with one of the author, Dr. Andrea Mantell Seidel, was made in order to gain deeper understanding of Isadora Duncan’s legacies.
These sources are traditional approaches, which offer diverse evaluative perspectives not only from dancers that had been trained directly by Isadora Duncan, but also from dancers in later generations. In addition, even though the interview with Dr. Seidel involves personal experiences and opinions, her provided information is still reliable to a great extent, as she has dedicated her whole life studying and teaching young generations Isadora Duncan’s dance philosophy. Time Frame: The Birth of Modern DanceIn the turn of the 20th century, the term “modern dance” was referred to a pure, expressional or barefoot dance. Modern dance went against the training and terminology of ballet, the unnatural lines of body. More importantly, most dancers felt like modern dance could serve more meaningful intention, about life, the time and the society that they lived in, which is different than the traditional ballet, with tales about princesses and princes, such as Sleeping Beauty, or Swan Lake. For the past 100 years, different modern dance styles and techniques have evolved, in response to the dancer’s personal statement. For the most part, modern dance dedicated itself to experiment, to explore the manipulation of time, space, and effort without any restrictions or limitations.
(Schrader, A sense of Dance 26)In the history of modern dance, Isadora Duncan (1877-1927) and Ruth St.Denis (1878-1968) were known to be the founder of modern dance. However the term “Mother of Modern Dance” was often conferred to Isadora Duncan, due to her great dedication of reclaiming the dance from restrictions of escapism and exhibitinism, reestablishing modern dance as a serious and meaningful art. (Schrader, 26)Isadora Duncan’s Dance PhilosophyWith what have already said, the development of Isadora Duncan’s dances was not an invention, but rather a innovation of the classical principles of motion, beauty and form. The key qualities of Duncan’s movements are described with freedom, flow, and spontaneity. Duncan employs the nature of the universal gestures and common movements, such as simple locomotor movements of walking, running, jumping or skipping, in order to express her own truth of being.
Even though it took her a long time to figure out yet one simple, but true gesture, she danced without hesitation on stage with different impulses from her soul; in other words, she had given the public everything in just a short representation of herself. Isadora Duncan once wrote in her book My Life: “From the first I have only danced my life. As a child I danced the spontaneous joy of growing things. As an adolescent, I danced with joy turning to apprehension of the first realisation of tragic undercurrents; apprehension of the pitiless brutality and crushing progress of life.” However, Duncan’s dance style was very new at the time. Soon enough, there were different criticisms toward her “peculiarity” on her earlier performances on stage, since she did not do “thousands” of pirouettes or kick her legs to the nose, or portraying any specific character.
Isadora Duncan once said that ballet was not pretty and against nature, her philosophy is therefore indicated to the instinctive feeling of the flow, the freedom in touch with “a rhythmic unity that runs through … nature”. (Duncan That universal truth of movements can be clearly seen from her first idea of movement: the rhythm of the waves. This idea was inspired by the sea, where she was given birth and brought up. She noticed the connection between all the great events in her life to the sea, which had drawn her up and down.
The word “sea” is far beyond language. She employed the use of breath rhythm and the principle of the wave in order to connect the dancers’ senses to the organic flow of the motion. As an response, the wave is passing in and throughout the whole body, sometimes it’s subtle like a gentle stream, and sometimes it rises with force like a powerful ocean wave.
From the first idea of the sea, Isadora Duncan had further developed her dance principles and philosophy of movements. Hence, these natural movements, gestures and impulses that Isadora Duncan seeked to, all had one thing in common, which all came from the inner-feeling, emotion, senses of the dancers; and therefore becomes an evident in the movements of children. And yet her attribution to the field of children’s dance education has still been to be fully appreciated.
Isadora Duncan’s influence on the Children’s Dance Education”Let us first teach little children to breathe, to vibrate, to feel, and to become one with the general harmony and movement of nature. Let us first produce a beautiful human being, a dancing child.”In 1904, Isadora Duncan established her first dance school in Grunewald, near Berlin.
It was an integrated school for the “New Dance” (one of the phases of Modern Dance), which was opened to all children from different social classes, even though they particularly were children from lower socio-economic class; these children might also have had different levels of advocating interests in the Arts of Dance. They would all be taught the same integral curriculum because Isadora Duncan believed that these children should be experiencing and sensing their body through natural dance movements as a path of learning “life”. The school invented new concepts of learning which allowed “for life with untrammeled bodies in sandaled feet as well as time to meditate” (Julia Levien, Duncan Dance: A Guide for Young People Ages Six to Sixteen). All she wanted to create, was a non-competitive environment, where the children could fully explore movements in the intellectual, physical, emotional and spiritual condition; learn to merge their soul with their individual forms to find the beauty of goodness; and value their given bodies. In other words, she wanted them to become beautiful human-being, self-respected individual from inside-out. These essences, evidently, were her passion in the creation of arts and of the schools. Especially after the tragic death of her own children, Margot Duncan in 1925, she even became more devoted to the art of teaching for children, and eventually, it became a purpose for her to “survive”, to live, and to dance. “For my school is a school of life and not a school of dancing”Influence the Teaching of Dance for Young Children”The highest intelligence in the freest body.
” Isadora DuncanThe teaching for the dance is significantly important to become a professional dancer, which involves the “endless” training of mind, body and spirit. The children are trained methodically and rigorously for a long pattern in extended period of time. In the process of learning the movements, the goal is to awaken the soul of the children, to get them to explore their own movement style. In class, the children are guided to do breathing exercises, meditate, and visualize to help train the mindset. The class emphasizes the importance of nature through observation and movement through space, improvisation and the study of choreography. Back then, in Julia’s teaching with children, the classwork usually started off with floor work, where the children were instructed to do a fun exercise of scrunching like a ball, to then rose up like a tree growing tall to the sky.
This small exercise was not simply an exercise to provoke the children’s excitement or energy to dance, but also to prepare them to the next floorwork such as rolling, bending, extending legs or locomotive movements across the floor. Followed the floorwork is barrework, where the children were escorted to the barre with the help of advanced dancers to position before going through a disciplined sequence of barre exercise, such as demi pliés, grande pliés or more advanced movements with the high kick of grande battements. As part of the exercise, the standard improvisation is engaged in different exercises to help training, to gain imagination and creativity, since it encourages the children in the discovery of their personal movement styles, through their possible intuitive impulse of the body to the music or frameworks. This is especially crucial since at these young ages, their mind is still very pure, their insight to the world is still fresh, and full of happiness and joy, therefore, their love and passion for dance will come in the most natural way. All the children are also encouraged to sensitize the beautiful experience that they will enter in when they come into the dance floor.
When their mind and soul are fully committed to the dance, they are already on their first step of learning, and becoming Isadora Duncan’s dancers. It is also worth mentioning that in Isadora Duncan’s technique, there is always an opportunity to improvise while learning the choreography. An example is mentioned by Dr.Seidel through an interview about one of the children’s favorite improvisational dance game. In fact, it was called “game”, as it brought the game-like quality to the process, while the children were guided to improvise based on the theme given.
Sometimes, it did not only give an individually improvisational choreography but also, could be made into a group improvisation with the joining in gradually of each dancers. These “games”, therefore, nurtured the children’s natural, simultaneously impulses to invent and to play, both at the same time. They brought joy, delight to the children to dance, and to immerse in the beauty of improvisation and dance, in general. Also, the improvisational exercise could be used to help the children explore the pathway pattern or space with the highlight of locomotive exercises.
Apart from the fundamental portion of Isadora Duncan’s teaching philosophy – the soul and the freedom, the technical exercises from the floor, to center, to the barre and then across the floor are employed to build strength, discipline and endurance. Even though Isadora Duncan had rejected and moved away from ballet, she still used ballet barre but in a completely different approach in order to limber and stretch, to improve the body’s line and center. These barre works usually enhance a longer body line than the usual ballet barre gives. In “Southern Roses”, it is clearly shown that Isadora Duncan had employed some of the barreworks in her choreography. An example is the renowned skipping that stood out in the first watch, which was performed both individually and in group. According to Isadora Duncan’s dance vocabulary, dance skipping is not only a natural, everyday action of a skip, but rather an encounter with space that leads to the association between the earth under and the air from above. Either a delicate staccato or controlled push, the barre exercise of “Leg Swing with Arch” can prepare the beginner dancers or enhance the movement quality for more advanced dancers.
This is a simple exercise that starts with facing and holding the barre and is executed through two measures. First, the dancers swing the leg back quickly with knee bended out, back arched, head and shoulders pushed back, and goes on reléve. The dancers gradually bring the leg down and then bring the knee up in front, and rise up again. This exercise is repeated for six times, and its goal is to challenge the dancers to reach foot to the back of the head. The skip, which was performed in “Southern Roses”, was called swing skip or hop skip. It is the movement of the body from the center with one knee high while skipping up, followed by the hopping and swinging to the back of the opposite foot with knee turned out and lifted high, then, the leg is brought forward with a spring up with pointed foot and knee in the front, and finally, on the hop up in the air, dancers should be arching back with high chest. Vice versa, to continue, the opposite side is followed repeatedly.
This movement was done in pattern for groups, with all the dancers holding hands and skipping forward to the corner of the stage. Through the description of this movement, “Leg swing with Arch” is a suitable exercise to help the dancers understand the importance of coordination and self-confidence in performing the skipping steps, as its focus is on the smoothness, but still with the staccato rhythm of the music, and the strength of the performers. Dancing as Physical and Mental Therapy for Young Children”Plunge your soul in divine unconscious, diving deep within it until it gives to your soul its secret”Isadora DuncanThe teaching of dance and choreography for young children can sometimes turns into a physical and mental therapy, especially going through the most sensitive stage of life – adolescence.
With the physical body, the children goes through basic exercises of leg swings, knee bending, upper body circles, sways, some wave motions, weight shifting, kneeling, sitting, and reclining exercises. Duncan referenced these physical exercises with gymnastic preparation for muscles, before moving on to explore space with locomotive movements. Through this sequence of movements, young dancers are introduced to the fundamental exercises to help strengthen their body, core, and later build up their technical ability. More importantly, throughout the time, they will get to understand their own body, which allow them to move and response simultaneously when the music comes. Everyone, every dancer has their own story, and their own life. Things happen, and are unavoidable.
Dance teachers are not their to get students through their agonizing problem, but rather to teach them to learn how to cope with it through the art of dancing. It becomes even more crucial in younger ages, since their mind is still pure at heart, it is easier to show them the privilege of dancing and the joy of synthesize their own body through movements and music. Once they dance, they may be able to forget about the problem, and escape from the emotional realities. Each dancer has different dance them preference, but somehow, it may relate to their own experience of life. In other words, the one with the most suffering tends to draw herself into dances with darker motivation or intention, as she feels more comfortable in the darkness, to release all her inner feelings. “Southern Roses” is said to be one of the most favorite repertories for younger children and adult dancers. The repertory brings a genuine joy through its movement and music, that is said to be worth experiencing.
Therefore, it may occur to become a special therapy for dancers, to restore their energy, and to release the stuffed mind. That is when, the dancers can truly be themselves, and just dance. Throughout the time, to fully advance the choreography, the dancers have to explicitly show their joy through expansive the movement of the arm, or the connection and embracement of the torso or the upper body. Isadora Duncan as a ChoreographerThe sequence that Isadora Duncan often employs in creating special style of dance begins with the first idea and the music, after that is the thought and emotion, and at last is the movement and the dance. In every dance, besides the hard-working and artistic of the dancers, the choreographer standing behind the curtain, not only brings the most expressive and meaningful choreography, but also the good energy and vital connections between the dancers on stage and off stage.
As being said by Dr. Mantell Seidel, conversation alone was employed and dedicated for many of the rehearsals, just to talk about values, morals, confidence or behavior boundaries was to bring interconnection between each other. Teachers talked, and advised children to engage the relationship between choreographer and dancers, whereas, they also seek to create a fostering teaching environment to connect all the childs, all the dancers with a sense of community, a sense of self and a sense of awareness with organic emotional support. All these elements build mindfulness within each child that, therefore promotes a rapid growth in the child’s physical, intellectual and emotional growth to become a deeper dancer with delight in each opportunity to dance, to learn and to live. Besides, the goal of a choreographer is also to connect the dancers – the piece, with the viewers, the audience. In other words, the dancers and the audience must empathize each other through somatic resonance – a concept of empathy, mirroring or sensing each other, which must involve the participation of both sides. It means, the audience does not only see the movements itself, but also have to see the intention of the choreographer, or at least have to “feel something”, despite the fact that one’s sentiment may vary from one to another.
In the piece “Mother”, as a viewer of this repertory, one must feel the melancholy within the movements about motherhood, with both love and loss. This feeling is shown through the weighing down to floor with a deep plie, which is the bend of the knees, while the dancers hold the upper body from the torso straight and strong. As the weighing down is caused by gravity, the attraction to the earth, that one simple movement is represented as one’s desperate suffering. So, to perform this piece, the dancers must understand the complexity of this relationship, or have to experience it themselves to fully synthesize with the choreography and its intention. Each dancer, hence, has their own story that connect them to the piece, and by giving in and dancing wholeheartedly to the music, to the purpose of the piece, the dancers will become a whole with the character that they are given.
Therefore, as to learn is to dance, the children will be taught more than just technique itself, they will learn how to live and experience too. Expectations for Young DancersTo dance Isadora Duncan choreography, it is essential for dancers to understand the relationship between the dance patterns and the music. The focus on music is not about its mechanism of music itself, but rather the art of listening and being aware of the spontaneous impulsive dance movement that follows.
According to the book Duncan Dance: A Guide for Young People Ages Six to Sixteen by Julia Levien, the choreography can be differentiated by ages in order to match the technical ability and the understanding, sensation for the dance. For example, choreography of “Little Parade” is for eight children from ages five to ten, and “Over the Scarf” is for six children from ages six to eleven. In both of the choreography, certain movements and proper technique are required. However, in “Little Parade”, as for younger dancers, the dance rather asks for strong accent in the progressive music, as if all the dancers are marching on stage, with lots of power and energy. The theme of the dance is very relatable to the age of the children, and at the same time, connect them as an unity, a military troop.
In contrast to “Little Parade”, “Over the Scarf”, dedicated for older dancers, brings a totally different feelings with the use a long silk scarf. As a prop, the scarf is held at opposite side in the center of the space. The scarf is a metaphor for the rise and fall, the flow of Duncan’s fundamental wave movement. The use of prop alone, is not only a new challenge, but also connects to the older dancers’ understanding. With more experience and having the ability to empathize, they get to explore their genuine feelings and emotions. Therefore, with similar dance technical terms, each choreography brings up different feelings for the audience, and at the same time, requires distinguished sensation of the dancers.
Last but not least, more important than anything, the children are expected to be the best of themselves and are trained to always stay in a good manner. This is especially important in young children, that they are expected not only to dance and perform well on stage, but to also to show respect for the teachers, choreographers and themselves. According to Dr. Andrea Mantell Seidel, the children are trained in strict discipline, even just simply sitting down on the floor to wait for their turn “kneel on one knee, sit to that side, lean and rest on hand, bring both knees together, feet out to far side, lean and rest on hand, bring both knees together, feet out to the far side.
” When these patterns eventually becomes habit, it teaches the children how to act like a professional dancer, a mature adult, and that will prepare them for the real world, far from the world full of joy and happiness they are used to see. Conclusion”…School of life, where to dance was to live and each dance brought a deep life lesson that led to a discovery of our deeper selves.” Andrea Mantell SeidelTo some extent, the training of dance around the word nowadays is somewhat different from the era of Isadora Duncan’s original ways of teaching.
Each generation of Isadora Duncan dancers, however, never stops tryings to employ To pursue the “School of life” that Isadora Duncan had always dreamt of, it is also crucial for teachers to understand the children and learn their vocabulary in order to instruct them, and get them in touch with the pure sense of rhythm and music. Total connectivity should not only be within individual and individuals, but also should be within the body through the use of breath, improvisation, and sensation of one self to create a visual representation of the image, and aware of one’s radiant energy. Therefore, the children should be taught to become an engaging but disciplined dancers.
Through the process of researching and understanding about Isadora Duncan’s dance philosophy, other questions have been raised whether or not, if she is still here today with us, her dance legacy would be different to adapt to today’s society or not.