Isadora Duncan, the Mother of Modern Dance, was an American who performed to great acclaim in many different countries in Western Europe, as well the Soviet Union, from the age of 22 until her death at age 50.
Her philosophy of dance moved away from rigid ballet technique and towards what she perceived as natural movement. She wanted to restore dance to a high art form instead of merely entertainment. In her autobiography, My Life, she writes:
“I spent long days and nights in the studio seeking that dance which might be the divine expression of the human spirit through the medium of the body’s movement.”
Duncan’s death was as dramatic as her life. While racing across the countryside near Nice in an open sports car, her fringed scarf caught in the car wheel and snapped her neck.
In 1987, she was inducted into the National Museum of Dance and Hall of Fame.
Her chart expresses a flow of dancing as opposed to the rigidity of traditional ballet. Duncan emphasised an “evolutionary” dance motion, in which each movement gave rise to the next, and so forth. Thus defining the force of freedom. The introductory quote to her autobiography describes her as “the greatest exponent of freedom in every aspect of living and loving. ‘Mad,’ inspired,’ ‘a genius,’ ‘an eccentric’ …”
Starting with the North Node at the top angle of a Small Learning Triangle on the left, her ‘dance’ moves to Mars at the tension release point of an Achievement Triange, then ‘leaps’ to the great height of Jupiter at the green-blue angle of a Search Figure. Finally, with red ‘arms’ outstretched, it reaches the Moon at the release point of another Achievement Triangle and comes down to earth with Uranus at the red-green angle of a Dominant Triangle.
Uranus in Leo in the 5th house of creative self-expression is an excellent example of Duncan who became the innovator of dance movement in the 20th century and also had a dominant presence with her wayward being. (Her autobiography also moves with great energy, in leaps and bounds.) She was an exceptionally strong woman who pre-empted the Feminists by almost a century!
“I see red. I am red!”
Duncan ended her performance in Boston in America with these words. But where she meant it politically – she was a leftist – I mean in literally: I see far too many red aspects in her Radix: 8 red: 3 blue: 3 green. One gets a strong sense of a highly energised person who was constantly on the go: not only on stage, but also in her moving from one city to another. With her excessive Mutable motivation (-15) and far too much air (-26) in her temperament, it’s not surprising that she starts her autobiography with a quote from Nietzsche (also on this blog):
“If my virtue be a dancer’s virtue, and if I have often sprung with both feet into golden-emerald rapture, and if it be my Alpha and Omega, that everything heavy shall become light, every body a dancer and every spirit a bird…”
Fortunately there are many blue aspects in her House chart, which form a Kite, with its tail in the 5th house and heading for the 11th house where her North Node points her in the right direction for her soul’s journey. Her life philosophy was that of dance and she wrote several books in this area.
Isadora Duncan was born in San Francisco, the youngest of four children. Her father was a banker, mining engineer and connoisseur of the arts. Soon after her birth, he was exposed to illegal bank dealings and the family lost everything, including their father. Her mother then earned a living as a seamstress and piano teacher.
From the age of six to ten, Isadora attended school, but she dropped out, finding it constricting. There are no planets in the 3rd or 4th houses of her chart indicating that the traditional learning and values of America were not what her soul sought. In her life, she would become highly self-educated, following her own rather than the principles of others. But then, there are 7 planetary energies on the I-side in her chart.
Four energies in her chart are in the 2nd house: Pluto, the Sun/ Mercury/Venus, all experienced from the age of seven to eleven and all opposed by her very strong Moon on the Possession Axis. In her autobiography, she writes:
“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 no accord, but only constant battle.”
She sums up the opposition between her Sun conjunct Mercury and the Moon brilliantly in this passage:
“…it always has been the experience of my temperament that, no matter how violent the sensation or passion, the brain worked at the same time with a lightning and luxurious rapidity.”
She certainly had a great mind that constantly sought to put her unexpected way of dancing into a life philosophy – with Mars in Aquarius in the 11th house opposed by her unexpected creative self-expression – the already mentioned Uranus in Leo in the 5th house.
Her most precious personal value always was her innovative dancing, often disregarded by theatre managers, “as if the message of my art was too spiritual for their gross, materialistic comprehension of the art of the theatre.” Pluto’s transformative energy enables her to break with convention, She imagined she had traced dance to its roots as a sacred art. This led to her unique style of free and natural movements inspired by the classical Greek arts, folk dances, social dances, nature and natural forces, as well as the new American athleticism which included skipping, running, jumping and leaping.
As her family was very poor, she and her three siblings earned money by teaching children in her neighbourhood her novel approach to dance, she simply “followed [her] fantasy and improvised, teaching any pretty thing that came into [her] head”.
Fantasy, or the imagination, is a 12th-house attribute. She has both the North Node and Saturn in Pisces in the 12th house and would be drawn to express her creativity. Her musically creative mother — Saturn in childhood – played piano for her to dance to from an early age, thus enabling the free expression of her creativity.
With Jupiter in the 9th house, at the blue/green angle of The Search Figure, she always had a desire to travel. Firstly to Chicago, where she auditioned for many theatre companies, finally finding a place in Augustin Daly‘s company in New York City in 1896, But her unique vision of dance had no place in the popular pantomimes of theatre companies. She never was conventional and soon became disillusioned with the form and longed for a different environment with less of a hierarchy, as indicated by the long green aspect between Jupiter and the Sun/Mercury/Venus conjunction.
Her travels in America were but the beginning of a lifetime of moving from one country to another. Feeling unhappy and unappreciated in America, she moved to London in 1898 where she performed in the drawing rooms of the wealthy. She was inspired by the Greek vases and bas-reliefs she had seen in the British Museum. The earnings from these engagements enabled her to rent a studio in which she could develop her dancing and create larger performances for the stage.
From London, she travelled to Paris, where she was inspired by the Louvre and the Exposition Universelle of 1900 – the same year her Age Point entered Leo, pre-empting the forthcoming creativity of the 5th house. In 1902, the AP/Venus sextile paved the way for her to tour with the dancer, Loie Fuller. This took Duncan all over Europe where she mostly danced barefoot and in free-flowing tunics, as opposed standing on her toes – the pointes of ballet – and its corseted tutus
Despite mixed reaction from critics, Duncan became quite popular for her distinctive style and inspired many visual artists, such as Auguste Rodin, amongst others, to create works based on her movement. She soon felt that touring and contracts distracted her from her real mission, namely the creation of beauty and the education of the young. To achieve this, she opened schools to teach young women her more creative way of dancing, now playing the role of Saturn in Pisces, much like her mother had done when she was still a child.
The first school was established in 1904 in Berlin-Grunewald, Germany, the year her Age Point encountered the essence of Uranus and the opposition of Mars in the 11th house – the masculine thinking behind ballet? This school became the birthplace of the “Isadorables’, six of Duncan’s protégées who would continue her legacy. After about a decade in Berlin, Duncan established a school in Paris which was soon closed because of the outbreak of World War I.
The first major shift in her consciousness – the C1 – occurred in 1910 when Duncan met the occultist Aleister Crowley at a party. He wrote a novel called Moonchild (how apt!) with the character Lavinia King based on Duncan. He believed she “has this gift of gesture in a very high degree. Let the reader study her dancing, if possible in private than in public, and learn the superb ‘unconsciousness’ – which is magical consciousness – with which she suits the action to the melody”.
With both her North Node and Saturn in Pisces in the 12th house, the subconscious played a major role in her creative dancing. In her autobiography, she writes:
“If only we could dive down within ourselves and bring up thought as the diver brings up pearls – precious pearls from the closed oysters of silence in the depths of our subconsiousness (sic).”
With 4 planets in her chart on low points – Neptune, Mercury, Jupiter and Mars – she would naturally be drawn to what lies beneath the surface, most powerfully when her Age Point conjoined or aspected these planetary energies.
In 1911, the French fashion designer Paul Poiret rented a mansion and threw lavish parties, including The Feast of Bacchus in 1912 – when her Venus was awarded a great gift as suggested by the Age Point/Venus trine. Wearing a Greek evening gown designed by Poiret, Duncan danced on tables among 300 guests. It was a Bacchanalia indeed with 900 bottles of champagne consumed until the early morning hours.
In 1914, because of WW1, she moved to the United States and transferred her school there. She now had the use of the very modern Century Theatre. Her performances and productions included a staging of Oedipus Rex that involved almost all of Duncan’s extended entourage and friends.
Despite her ongoing activities, Duncan suffered immensely emotionally. She had two children, both out of wedlock. The first (Deirdre) by theatre designer Gordon Craig, and the second (Patrick) by Paris Singer (of Singer sewing machine fame and fortune).
Both children drowned in the care of their nanny in 1913 when their runaway car went into the Seine. This happened when her Age Point was on the cusp of the 7th house and she lost her closest personal relationships.
In her autobiography, Duncan relates that she begged a young Italian stranger, the sculptor Romano Romanelli, to impregnate her because she was desperate for another baby. She gave birth to a son in 1914 who died shortly after birth.
“I believe that in that moment I reached the height of any suffering that can come to me on earth…”
After years of anguish, she asked herself why she shouldn’t be there for all children and consequently legally adopted all six ‘Isadorables’ (who took her last name) in 1919,
With her Moon in Scorpio in the 8th house, her emotional suffering was intense. I have the Moon in the same house and sign and know what emotional turmoil this causes in a life. Duncan sees it as a constant movement between opposites:
“What a pendulum life is – the deeper the agony, the higher the ecstasy – each time the lower sinking in sorrow, the higher tossed in joy.”
1920 was a year of joy, followed by sorrow. First her Age Point fired up her Mars in the area of like-minded people: she met Harold Bauer, a pianist she called her ‘musical twin-soul’ – her Archangel:
“If my Archangel and I had pursued these studies of movement and music further I have no doubt that we might have arrived at the spontaneous creation of movements of such spiritual force as to bring a new revelation to mankind.”
But it was not to be. Her Archangel fell in love with one of her dancers, causing more misery in her life. A few months later, when her Age Point was opposed by Pluto, she realised her innovative movement, her highest personal value, was unappreciated by the world. Then, also in 1920, her consciousness was filled with the torment of a Moon in Scorpio in the 8th house as suggested by the AP/Moon conjunction. Her autobiography covering this period in her life is indeed heart-breaking.
In 1921, her Age Point entered Sagittarius and Duncan had new hope. It was the end of the Russian Revolution and she moved to Moscow where she met the acclaimed poet Sergei Yesenin, 18 years her junior. In 1922, they married – apparently to enable his leaving Russia – and Yesenin accompanied her on a tour of Europe and the United States. This was at the time when her Age Point opposed her Sun, suggesting that Russia and its love of ballet, could not accept her revolutionary thinking when it came to movement on stage. (Yesenin returned to Moscow and in 1925, he committed suicide.)
I believe, because of all these losses, Duncan lost it. By the late 1920s, her career had come to its end. She then became as known for her financial problems, scandalous love life and public drunkenness as for her contributions to the arts. Her tragic end came in Nice when her neck was broken by one of the scarves she had often used in her dances.
One critic called Isadora’s autobiography a “life-enriching masterpiece.” I agree. It’s one of the best I’ve ever read. And of all the women in my series of articles for this blog, Isadora Duncan is the one I admire most for her immense strength of character.
Thanks, Wanda. This has been a great series. I hope this is not the last one!
Iconic and tragic femme fatale