chapter  17
Isadora Duncan
Pages 8

Isadora Duncan sought to emancipate the female body and thus change the world. When Duncan began her career as a modern dancer at the turn of the century, she dedicated herself to stripping away the limits on women's expression as artists like so much nineteenth-century clothing. We now see Duncan through the veil of the socially constructed body, on which political and cultural ideologies are both displayed and challenged. Performers like Madonna express the changing and unstable masquerade of femininity, posing a subversive challenge to "woman's place" by slipping into roles and donning images that convey the diversity of conceptions of womanhood. In contrast to manipulating fashion and appearance, however, Duncan sought to reveal an essential body beneath the surface of culture. "She ripped off all the corsets. She let herself go," as one of her admirers put it. Seeking to unify the mind and body, Duncan reinterpreted the ancient Greek balance between ecstasy and harmony to project a universal image for modern womanhood. Duncan's idea was that the free body unlocks all of the doors of freedom as well. With the body at the center of her theory of modernity, Duncan believed hierarchies and social divisions would disappear.