Isadora Duncan  

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Isadora Duncan (May 26, 1877 – September 14, 1927) was an American dancer. Born Dora Angela Duncan in San Francisco, California, she is considered by many to be the mother of modern dance. Although never very popular in the United States, she entertained throughout Europe.


A habitual wearer of flowing scarves which trailed behind her, Duncan's fashion preferences were the cause of her death in a freak automobile accident in Nice, France, on the night of September 14, 1927 at the age of 50. The accident gave rise to Gertrude Stein's mordant remark that "affectations can be dangerous."

Duncan was a passenger in the Amilcar automobile of a handsome young Italian mechanic, Benoît Falchetto, whom she had ironically nicknamed 'Buggatti' [sic]. (The marque of the automobile is open to dispute but the informed opinion is that it was an Amilcar, a 1924 GS model. It was regularly described and filmed as a more glamorous Bugatti). Before getting into the car, she said to a friend, Mary Desti, and some companions, "Adieu, mes amis. Je vais à la gloire!" ("Goodbye, my friends, I am off to glory!") However, according to the diaries of the American novelist Glenway Wescott, who was in Nice at the time and visited Duncan's body in the morgue (his diaries are in the collection of the Beineke Library at Yale University), Desti admitted that she had lied about Duncan's last words. Instead, she told Wescott, the dancer actually said, "Je vais à l'amour" ("I am off to love"), which Desti considered too embarrassing to go down in history as the legend's final utterance, especially since it suggested that Duncan hoped that she and Falchetto were going to her hotel for a sexual assignation. Whatever her actual last words, when Falchetto drove off, Duncan's immense handpainted silk scarf, which was a gift from Desti and was large enough to be wrapped around her body and neck and flutter out of the car, became entangled around one of the vehicle's open-spoked wheels and rear axle. Duncan died on the scene.

As the New York Times noted in its obituary of the dancer on 15 September 1927, "The automobile was going at full speed when the scarf of strong silk began winding around the wheel and with terrific force dragged Miss Duncan, around whom it was securely wrapped, bodily over the side of the car, precipitating her with violence against the cobblestone street. She was dragged for several yards before the chauffeur halted, attracted by her cries in the street. Medical aid was summoned, but it was stated that she had been strangled and killed instantly."

Isadora Duncan was cremated, and her ashes were placed in the columbarium of Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, France.

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