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Women's History Month at the library

Isadora Duncan: Oakland’s unrecognized revolutionary ©Arnold Genthe

Known as the “mother of modern dance,” Isadora Duncan spent her formative years in Oakland. Her story is both relatable and inspiring to today’s Oakland women, but has been overlooked in the city’s history.

In observance of Women’s History Month, the Rockridge Branch of the Oakland Public Library welcomed Duncan dancer Lois Ann Flood for a brief emersion into the world of Isadora.

Before performing eight short Duncan dances set to classical music, Flood explained the artist’s background and the Victorian cultural context in which she created her revolutionary movement method.

Born in 1877 to a struggling single mother with four children, Duncan’s formal school education ended at age 12. Her mother, being highly cultured, although desperately poor, taught her children about literature and music at home. Duncan spent her free time in the natural setting of then-rural Oakland, and in the city’s public libraries.

Drawing upon her youthful experiences with music and inspiration from nature, Duncan rebelled against the rigid traditions of classical ballet. Her dramatic, expressive and lyrical dance technique embraces a childlike freedom of movement. It is performed barefoot and in tunics, influenced by Greek neo-classicism, which was popular in the time period.

Duncan’s choreography has been handed down by master teachers from generation to generation. During a dance, the artists never stop moving in a wavelike motion, like wind through trees or water on the shore, Flood explained. “The movement of all nature also runs through us,” Duncan once wrote.

While Duncan’s legacy is prominent in today’s modern dance companies, her influence has not been celebrated to the extent that it should be, Flood believes. Duncan was also a progressive political activist and a supporter of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, for which she became an outcast in U.S. society.

Flood hopes that the city of Oakland will name a street or public space after Duncan. The U.S. Postal System recently honored the dancer with a commemorative stamp.

“The thing that hooked me was Isadora Duncan’s Oakland roots,” Rockridge Adult Services Librarian Ally Hack said about planning the event. “When I learned more about her as a trailblazer in dance and beyond, it seemed like a perfect fit for Women’s History Month.”

For free educational and cultural programs like these to continue, it is essential that Oakland passes Measure D on the June ballot. Please spread the word and vote YES on D. Visit to learn more or to get involved.

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