Isadora, dancer and Philhellene

In a summer that has seen record numbers of visitors to Greece, here’s a shout out to some of those who have gone long before…
From Lord Byron and the Duchess of Plaisance to Lawrence Durrell and Henry Miller, there have always been famous Philhellenes who have loved and promoted this country.
About a hundred years ago Americans began to turn their eyes towards a far off land and suddenly, a new wave of prominent visitors brought Ancient Greek history and culture back into the international spotlight. One of the most famous Grecophiles of that time was Isadora Duncan.
From the early 1900s, Raymond Duncan (Isadora’s brother) and his wife, Penelope Sikelianos, spearheaded  a “return to Ancient Greece” lifestyle movement.

Not for the uncommitted, this movement promoted Ancient Greek dress which was doubtless a bit of a sartorial challenge for the corseted ladies of the time. Determined to spread the new fashion, the Duncans taught themselves to weave their own garments on a loom and were soon teaching the skill to eager pupils.

For Isadora, the freedom of  a loose, draped style dress was quickly incorporated into her “freestyle” type of dance and created a minor sensation when toured in the theatres of Europe.

Not content with just dressing the part, soon after their first trip to Greece in 1902 Isadora and Raymond designed and built an unusual house inspired by Mycenaean architecture on Kopanos hill near Mount Hymettus. Here Isadora gathered her first dance students from young Athenian women who followed her teachings with almost religious zeal. The house remains standing today, still housing the Isadora Duncan School of Dance. (a place I have always meant to visit and video!)
Thinking aboout them, the Duncans must have seemed a bit eccentric and radical at the time but what a boost they must have given this country! Even though I have always imagined that Isadora must have been a particularly irritating woman to meet, you have to love her for her desire and commitment to living the Greek dream.

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