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Isadora Duncan has loomed large and long in histories of twentieth-century American dance. Hers is one of the few dancers' names that most of us recognize instantly. Until Ann Daly's Done into Dance: Isadora Duncan in America, however, no historian has systematically analyzed Duncan's dancing as a cultural practice - as bodily performance that negotiated turn-of-the-century problems, just as suffrage parades, labor strikes and stump oratory did.
Carving out a career as a dancer in the 1890s, Isadora Duncan rejected the chorus-girl and ballet-girl models then prevalent in commercial theatre. Struggling in America, she left for Europe in 1899; within several years she commanded an international reputation as a dancer of lyric beauty, bodily release and extraordinary musicality. She shed not only ballet technique but corset and tights, too. Duncan returned to the US for several periods where, like her peer Ruth St. Denis, she put new American dance on the cultural map.
Her personal life drew as much attention as her innovative dancing: she enjoyed liaisons with European theatre maverick Gordon Craig and sewing machine magnate Paris Singer; bore a child with each; lost these children in a drowning accident in 1913; and later married the explosive Russian poet Sergei Esenin. Equally sensational was her 1927 death by strangling - her scarf caught in the wheel of an automobile, Duncan's allure during her own time was that of liberation, both bodily and artistic; since her death, she has been canonized as a …