Isadora Duncan: Touched by Terpsicore

“The dancer’s body is simply the luminous manifestation of the soul.
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 rebirth.” Isadora Duncan

I’ve been fascinated with the 1920s since I was a little kid and delighted in the occasional Chaplin film on cable, so it’s not at all surprising that I’d come across the career of Isadora Duncan.

Duncan is regarded as the creator of Modern Dance (though in dance communities, this is sometimes hotly debated). While Modern Dance performances are clearly similar to ballet in some ways, the Modern Dance movement in the early 1900s was born from a distaste that many dancers had with what they perceived as a rigidity and “unnatural movement” in classical ballet. While there are now several schools of Modern Dance, Duncan’s dance was based on the dance depicted in ancient Hellenic pottery, sculpture, Graeco-Roman mosaics and neo-Classical Renaissance art and sculpture.

If we seek the real source of the dance, if we go to nature, we find that the dance of the future is the dance of the past, the dance of eternity, and has been and always will be the same… The movement of waves, of winds, of the earth is ever the same lasting harmony.” Isadora Duncan

Though she did have formal teachers giving her a background in classical dance, she ultimately rejected much of this training for improvisation and a sort of Neo-Pagan Romanticism. She once famously proclaimed that the Goddess Aphrodite Herself taught Ms Duncan in the art of dance on the beaches of California.

Her parents were once wealthy, but became rather poor shortly after Isadora’s birth, when her father lost his bank; her parents later divorced when she was seven-years-old. The experience of growing up impoverished, she and her mother and sister giving music and dance lessons to support the family, likely bred her Communist ideals, which would later lead her to defect to Russia. In spite of gaining Russian citizenship, she lived her last years in France, as well as a significant portion of her life prior.

“There are likewise 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.” ~Isadora Duncan

Despite being clearly a subversive influence on the world of artistic dance, she never completely fit in with Bohemian crowds, but her free-spiritedness and natural draw to shake up convention kept her from truly assimilating into high society. In some respects, her nature could be seen as Dionysian.

Though posthumously, she’s been idealised by some as a sort of radical femme-inist of the school of “sisters doin’ for themselves” because her dance schools were famously all-girl, early on she sought to include boys amongst her pupils of dance and philosophy, but ultimately, it was financiers who made the decision for her single-sex education in dance, and men trained in a lineage that can be traced back to Isadora Duncan herself, while increasing in number, are still rare; I know of only one male dancer to have ever been directly taught by Duncan herself. While examinations of her personal life definitely show many feminist sympathies (and also a bisexual with at least one noteworthy and passionate affair with another woman), she refrained from identifying her socio-political ideaologies as anything more than Communist, Socialist, or Marxist, which is easily argued to be inherently feminist, if not explicitly, much less radically so. The ultimate downfall of her schools, though, was her idealism; even her school in Moscow at a time of the early days of Russia’s totalitarian form of Communism suffered financially because the state had not yet made a suitable provision for the arts that could keep the school afloat, and Duncan was so firm in her belief that commercial performances cheapened the artistry she taught students to value, that she’d just as soon close a school left in the charge of a star pupil than tolerate her students performing on a commercial stage. In honour of her value of art over money, Duncan legacy dance troupes are largely non-profit.

Love is an illusion; it is the world’s greatest mistake. I ought to know for I’ve been loved as no other woman of my time has been loved. -Isadora Duncan

Her style of dance she always stressed to be very natural in its approach to the movements of the body, and improv is a major element to Duncan’s style of modern dance (though the choreography is often surprisingly intricate). Emotion and the expression of through the whole body with dance is another defining characteristic of Duncan’s style. Unlike ballet, which tends to place greater value on women dancers who are especially light-weight, and often with an unspoken mantra of “the lighter the better”, Duncan dance values any body that can move with the natural grace and convey the emotions integral to a piece; though this often means fans of ballet and some other dance regard Duncan dancers as “fat” and “out-of-shape”, the inherent athleticism in Duncan dance illustrate that Duncan dance not only keeps one in good physical condition, but also that the movements celebrate all shapes and sizes of graceful. Typically performing in bare feet, hops, skips, leaps, and arm movements tend to be regarded as the most basic elements of Duncan dancing, and Grecian-inspired dance costume is clearly preferred by Duncan herself, and those continuing to dance in her lineage.

The only surviving / known film taken of her dancing is not only extremely short, but clearly gives more attention to Isadora’s costume adjustment than her dance, which is shown as little more than a few hops. The circumstances under which this film was shot, I do not know; it’s likely that it was an experiment taken by a friend, or perhaps setting up the equipment took so long she had become tired. This is certainly not representative of the great dancer that shook up the art world and caused a sensation in the Early Twentieth. For more representitive video, there is no shortage of video of dancers of the Isadora Duncan legacy.

Interestingly, for all of Duncan’s glorifications of the Greeks, Aphrodite, Eros, the Moisai, the Khairetes, and all her applause for the wisdom of the Greeks and the inherent natural beauty of her reconstructed Greco-Roman dance, the music she selected, and that is still popular with dancers of the Duncan legacy, is movements by Romantic composers, and often music not written with dance performances in mind. This rather odd choice, all things considered, still lends to a graceful and beautiful interpretation of the music, I can’t help but wish to see Duncan dance performed with reconstructed Greco-Roman music.

Off the stage, Duncan was a flamboyant character, being practically immune to the typical ill effects of scandal, and a well-regarded eccentric. She rejected Christianity for Classical and Neitzchian philosophy, eagerly entertained Romantic Neo-Pagan imagery of her own character, and often read tarot cards for friends, strangers, and herself. Still, for all her fabulous life, it was marked with great tragedy; her marriages ended bitterly, her children died in a tragic automobile accident, her own life cut short when her excessively long scarf she regarded as something of a trademark wrapped around the axle of her Amilcar, choking her, then snapping her neck, then nearly dragging her body down the street just as her lover realised what was wrong. She died at fifty, but not before leaving an indelible impression on not only dance, but all of the arts (having inspired painters and sculptors).



ACIDA′LIA, a surname of Venus (Virg. Aen. i. 720), which according to Servius was derived from the well Acidalius near Orchomenos, in which Venus used to bathe with the Graces; others connect the name with the Greek akides, i. e. cares or troubles.

I was looking through epithets for this post, to see if there was something specific to Boeotia that hasn’t been touched on a thousand times before, and this really struck me. It struck me in the same way that the famous Praxitelian Eros of Thespiai described centuries after it ceased drawing crows from all over the Hellenosphere as “Love as Suffering”.

How often is it that love leaves us troubled and shattered? Conflicted? Paranoid?

This is further why I reject the modern syncretisation of Aphrodite with Eirene, as love seldom brings peace on even a personal level, so whoever first assumed it could bring peace on a global level clearly doesn’t strike me as one who has ever been in love.

Even requited love is not without its heartache, and the Moirai have left us with no shortage of evidence of lovers who die young, lovers who fall out of love with us, lovers who hurt us in all sorts of ways.

…and if not directly, trouble comes indirectly: Relationships with friends are all too often forever changed, the approval or disproval of family members has been the subject of many a thesis, for some of us our work suffers, and for others our art suffers. Love can be a distraction, and some have suggested that a key element to intellectual brilliance is to remain unloved, or to never fall in love.

To far too many people I’ve known, there appears no real evolutionary advantage to our wide range of emotions, and if not for other traits, they imagine our emotions would’ve been so distracting that we’d at least be further down on the food chain. I reject this notion, and suggest that for as troublesome as our emotions are, they have saved us just as much. The only other species that comes close to displaying near the range of emotion as human beings is the elephant, so advanced in its emotional development that it’s the only creature aside from humans that has rituals for its dead, and it will extend this ritual to humans who have lived around them for years — but I digress. Without this wide scope of feeling, our pre-historic ancestors would’ve been less inclined to look out for our young and familial adults, reducing the power and safety of numbers, whereas a lion is no more likely to protect members of her pride than she is to just let them go to a larger animal on the attack. Pigs are lauded as fairly intelligent, but even if in packs, are pretty much out for only their own hides. Even whales don’t go to the lengths to protect their young and others of their species that human beings do. It’s our emotions which save us from outside threats, from each-other, and from ourselves, so clearly the trouble is worth it.


Sorry these weren’t always incredibly obvious for why I decided to post them for each Kharis, but I assure you, I have a good reason for each of them. If any selection confuses, just feel free to ask (serious, people don’t comment enough, and I have no other way to really gauge if people get anything out of these posts).

Meet the Kharites

(Well, that’s what I get for posting so close to actually going to sleep. I spent most of the 9th’s waking hours convinced I had something to do on-line, and it kept escaping me what. This last couple weeks have been fraught with allergy problems and, most recently, a cold. I’ve barely emerged from pyjamas the last three or four days, and for a couple days, I was avoiding my room in an effort to clear my head enough to try and narrow down what might be causing this new crop of allergic symptoms — and this is even while taking, daily, a pill, nasal spray, and anti-histamine eye-drops to control allergies.)

There are eighteen name Kharites: Phaenna and Kleta were worshipped in Sparta. Auxo, Hegemone and Damia were worshipped at Athens. Kharis and Kalleis seem to be alternate names of epithets for Aglaia and Euthymia an epithet of Euphrosyne. Aglaia, Euphrosyne, and Thalia are generally assumed to be the Kharites whose worship originated in Orkhomenos; Athenian vase paintings seem to regard as distinct from the primary three of Orkhomenos from the three attendants of Aphrodite.

In meditation, I’ve only really interacted with three Kharites, and They respond to the names Aglaia, Euphrosyne, and Thalia, so with my limites sources, I take this as a confirmation that my assumptions are correct of their Boeotian names. That doesn’t mean, though, that I believe there are only Three; as best as I can tell, there are others, but since my approach to Hellenism is tribal in practise and reconstructionist in method, I assume that Psykhe, under instruction from Eros, has so thouroughly marked my soul as Philoboeotian that this limits my interaction and need for the other goddesses also carrying the title of Kharis.

Aglaia is the Kharis of beauty, adornment, splendour, and opulence. She’s both like a Moisa of design and aesthetics, and the very essence that gives that special glint to a decorative gilt or an ornament’s sparkle. She’s the flower-girl at a wedding, the dancer covering himself in body glitter, and the hand that guides a teenager in the proper application of eyeliner — and at the same time, She’s the refined eye of a society dame selecting pearls and a fur stole, the fine edge that gave Piet Mondrian his clean lines, and the fine filigree that adorns the antique frame around a baroque painting.

Euphrosynê is the Kharis of merriment and joy. She is the one who gave mortals our first instructions to celebrate the happy moments, no matter how small. She designed the first parades that had fuck all to do with war victories, preferring to lead the delighted masses to weddings and noble births and travelling amusements. She brought the joy and pride to your mother’s eye when you brought home that splendid report card, and She whispered to your father to treat you to ice cream after your first oboe recital. She brings laughter and simple joys, and guides humour. She’s the original Amateur — She does things for the love of doing them, the joy it brings Herself and Those around Her, and finds Happiness to be the greatest calling.

Thalia is the Kharis of grand feasts and festive celebrations. She threw the first birthday party when She danced onto the shores of Kypris, scattering flower petals all the way for Aphrodite to walk upon. She was there at the wedding of William and Kate, for the relevancy of the crown means nothing to her, only the luxury of the party. She’s like a Moisa of parties, and would love nothing more than an en masse revival of the art of the hostess. She’s the urge to treat every guest as an excuse to get out the special occasion china and flatware and the fancy wine, and while She has an especial love for lavish occasions, She’s the reason family matriarchs have the compulsion to feed anybody through the front door for any reason and turn the most meagre left-overs into a feast.

Boeotian Theoi: Kharites

Alright, a bit tired, but I’m going to have something more to write of this later today. For now, so C&P so that I won’t let myself forget.


Pausanias, Description of Greece 9. 35. 1 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
“The Boiotians say that Eteokles [mythical king of Orkhomenos, Boiotia] was the first man to sacrifice to the Kharites. Moreover, they are aware that he established three as the number of the Kharites, but they have no tradition of the names he gave them.
The Lakedaimonians, however, say that the Kharites are two, and that they were instituted by Lakedaimon, son of Taygete, who gave them the names Kleta and Phaenna. These are appropriate names for the Kharites, as are those given by the Athenians, who from of old have worshipped two Kharites, Auxo and Hegemone. Karpo (Fruit) is the name, not of a Kharis, but of a Hora ) . . .
It was from Eteokles of Orkhomenos that we learned the custom of praying to three Kharites.
And Angelion and Tekatios, sons of Dionysos, who made the image of Apollon for Athens, set three Kharites in his hand.
Again, at Athens, before the entrance to the Akropolis, the Kharites are three in number; by their side are celebrated mysteries which must not be divulged to the many.
Pamphos [legendary poet] was the first we know of to sing about the Kharites, but his poetry contains no information either as to their number or about their names.
Homer (he too referes to the Kharites) makes one the wife of Hephaistos, giving her the name Kharis. He also says that Hypnos was a lover of Pasithea, and in the speech of Hypnos there is this verse:–`Verily that he would give me one of the younger Kharites.’ Hence some have suspected that Homer knew of older Kharites as well.
Hesiod in the Theogony says that the Kharites are daughters of Zeus and Eurynome, giving them the names of Euphrosyne, Aglaia and Thalia. The poem of Onomakritos [poet C6th B.C.] agrees with this account.
Antimakhos [poet C5th B.C.], while giving neither the number of the Kharites nor their names, says that they are daughters of Aigle and Helios.
The elegaic poet Hermesianax [poet C4th B.C.] disagrees with his predecessors in that he makes Peitho one of the Kharites.
Who it was who first represented the Kharites naked, whether in sculpture or in painting, I could not discover. During the earlier period, certainly, sculptors and painters alike represented them draped.
At Smyrna, for instance, in the sanctuary of the Nemeses, above the images have been dedicated Kharites of gold, the work of Boupalos; and in the Music Hall in the same city there is a portrait of a Kharis, painted by Apelles.
At Pergamon likewise, in the chamber of Attalos, are other images of the Kharites made by Boupalos; and near what is called the Pythion there is a portrait of Kharites, painted by Pythagoras the Parian.
Sokrates too, son of Sophroniskos, made images of Kharites for the Athenians, which are before the entrance to the Akropolis.
All these are alike draped; but later artists, I do not know the reason, have changed the way of portraying them. Certainly today sculptors and painters represent Kharites naked.”


I) ORKHOMENOS Town in Boiotia

Pindar, Olympian Ode 14. 1 ff (trans. Conway) (Greek lyric C5th B.C.) :
“Whose haunts are by Kephissos’ river, you queens beloved of poets’ song, ruling Orkhomenos, that sunlit city and land of lovely steeds, watch and ward of the ancient Minyan race, hear now my prayer, you Kharites three.”

Pindar, Pythian Ode 12. 26 ff:
“The Kharites’s city [Orkhomenos], home of lovely dances.”

Strabo, Geography 9. 2. 40 (trans. Jones) (Greek geographer C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.):
“Eteokles, one of those who reigned as king at Orkhomenos, who founded a temple of the Kharites, was the first to display both wealth and power; for he honored these goddesses either because he was successful in receiving graces, or in giving them, or both. For necessarily, when he had become naturally inclined to kindly deeds, he began doing honor to these goddesses; and therefore he already possessed this power.”

Pausanias, Description of Greece 9. 35. 1 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.):
“The Boiotians say that Eteokles [king of Orkhomenos, Boiotia] was the first man to sacrifice to the Kharites. Moreover, they are aware that he established three as the number of the Kharites, but they have no tradition of the names he gave them . . .
It was from Eteokles of Orkhomenos that we learned the custom of praying to three Kharites.”

Pausanias, Description of Greece 9. 38. 1 :
“At Orkhomenos [in Boiotia] is a sanctuary of Dionysos, but the oldest is one of the Kharites. They worship the stones most, and say that they fell for Eteokles out of heaven. The artistic images were dedicated in my time, and they too are of stone.”

Nonnus, Dionysiaca 13. 94 ff (trans. Rouse) (Greek epic C5th A.D.) :
“The dancebeaten precinct of the Erotes (Loves), Orkhomenos city of Minyas, which the Kharites never leave.”

Goal for today: Write something more substantial than a C&P.

As an aside, I really wanted to say more about Artemis than I did, simply for the personal challenge. Frankly, as I’ve said before, Artemis doesn’t like me, and it’s really not from a lack of effort on my part, but I’ve pretty much been told that the best way for myself to worship Artemis to to leave Her alone, so I’m kind of dropping Her “week” out of respect to the Goddess in question.