Monday, September 6, 2010

Barefoot or Boots?

Okay, I’m pretty sure Isadora didn’t wear cowboy boots. Although, as far as boots go, they are surprisingly comfortable and serve well as Texas two-step footwear. I do, however, think Isadora would have easily taken to flip-flops, Austin’s multi-purpose shoe of choice. Didn’t her brother Raymond craft handmade, leather sandals for the entire family—and maybe even get arrested for walking his tunic-garbed, sandal-clad child across New York City’s Central Park in the snow? Thankfully, snowfall in Austin is infrequent, and flip-flops and sandals can comfortably be worn most months of the year. I’m still, however, waiting for tunics to catch on.

According to Duncan biographer Peter Kurth, it was during their 1903 pilgrimage to Greece that the Duncan family adopted an ancient Greek mode of dress as their everyday attire. Kurth quotes Duncan as stating, “‘To me it seemed sacrilege to touch the stones of Grecian temples with the high-heeled shoes of a decadent civilization; to sweep with the silk petticoat of the twentieth century the sacred marbles of the Acropolis’” (Kurth, Isadora: A Sensational Life). I did mention in last week’s post Isadora’s ability to make grand verbal gestures, and not just physical ones, right?

Tanagra Figures, Deep Eddy, Austin, TX
Nevertheless, Duncan’s choice to dress “‘like an antique statue’” (Kurth), was an attempt to get closer to what she perceived as the ancient Greeks’ understanding of the beauty and physicality of the human body as an expression of divine creativity and intelligence. Duncan seriously studied the articulation of the body in ancient Greek sculpture, not to copy or imitate it, but to understand, in an experiential way, whether the Greek aesthetic of harmonizing proportions had a corresponding effect on the soul. As a Duncan dance practitioner, I would say that it does.

Duncan’s Tanagra Figures, a movement study linking together several poses or sculptural positions of the body, teaches dancers the line of the body in Duncan technique. The fourth figure in this series calls attention to both the tunic and the sandal and is often instructed as “fix your tunic…look, fix your sandal.”  Duncan not only sanctified dancing with bare feet as valid expression for modern concert dance, but she also validated everyday life as source material for choreographed movement.

Isadora may have rejected the moniker “Barefoot Dancer,” but she freely espoused the “religion of the beauty of the human foot” (Duncan, Art of the Dance). So, Austinites, next time you are shoeless at Barton Springs or Deep Eddy (pictured above), or maybe rolling out your mat to celebrate today’s Free Day of Yoga, stretch your ankles, spread your toes, and imagine what it might have felt like at the turn of the twentieth century to firmly plant the bare sole of your foot upon the earth.