Sep 14, 2017 By: Carrie Rohman
Volume 2, Cycle 3
It was never easy to coax Isadora Duncan into a photographer's studio. Like a wild and wise animal, she fled from those who sought to capture the essence of her—which was motion—by making her stand still.
It is perhaps only the advent of animal studies in the last decade that allows us to return to the often-cited comment above and link it in a serious intellectual manner with Isadora Duncan’s own understanding of her dancing and of the dancing body as she was helping to shape and articulate it in modernism. While recent work on Duncan emphasizes her interest in the machine, her aesthetic commitments are more fully articulated by elucidating the pivotal animal and elemental strains in her work. Duncan recites again and again in her essays that movements ought to be “natural and beautiful like those of the free animals.” In conjunction with this repeated claim, she insists upon the human harnessing of earthly vibrations, the value of nudity and barefootedness, and certain border figures (woman and child) that inform her creatural aesthetic. Understanding Duncan’s bio-aesthetic engagements enriches our assessment of her cultural disruptions, contributions, and legacies.
One fascinating and compressed testimonial to Duncan’s belief in the role of the “natural” for her artistic philosophy reveals itself in her “Notes for a Lecture”:
The Dance and its place in nature; then its relation to Greek tragedy, to art, etc.The freeing of the child’s body. The body controlled by mind and spirit. The effect of music on the growing child; the joining of the child’s life to nature. Every child’s love for music. The educational value of music (quote Plato) The unity of movement in all nature.
The refrain of the natural in this memo underscores the way in which earthly and animal forces were central to Duncan’s technique, philosophies, and choreographic innovations. In rethinking Duncan’s theories about waves and water and considering the fish, birds, reptiles, lions, and other animals that populate her dances and dance writings, I suggest that Duncan undertook the performing of an othered bodiliness that opens the human onto the animal, the earthly, the cosmic. Moreover, Duncan understood art as emerging from the vibrancy of matter itself and the drift or transfer of forces from earth to animal, from animal to human.
While Duncan’s attentions to “nature” and “the natural” have been widely acknowledged, they have been inadequately understood. Theorizing her investment in the creatural reveals that she ultimately stages aesthetics as a trans-species practice rather than as something that makes humans exceptional. Duncan therefore provides an especially compelling case study for the intersection of post-Darwinian modernist aesthetics and the emergence of modern dance in which the “animal” body is rendered on stage. Also at stake in this reading of Duncan is the practice of modern dance as a bodily metamorphosis, a kind of becoming-animal, which might be understood as uniquely creatural or inhuman among the arts.
Scholars in modernist studies have a reinvigorated interest in Duncan’s theories and practice and in her relationship to first-wave feminism. Duncan was known as the “muse” of modernism, a potentially infantilizing characterization that nonetheless highlights her broad impact on art and culture in the period. Her dancing was often a direct reaction against the rigidity and high formality of ballet. Recognizing how the creatural was central to her aesthetic principles situates Duncan’s work in relation to other modernists who were disavowing, confronting, or recuperating animality in the early twentieth century after Darwin’s revisions of human exceptionalism. As I have explained elsewhere, the onset of modernism “coincides with the proliferation of Darwin’s story of human origins, which indicates that the human being can be understood as a highly evolved animal.” Like D. H. Lawrence, Duncan is a modernist figure whose “privileging of the animal” enacts “a transvaluation of humanist species values that disrupts the ‘human’ at its core” (100). Through the critical lens of modernist animal studies, Duncan’s sophisticated understanding of the links between art and the natural world emerge with clarity.
Examining the earthly and creatural in Duncan’s work can also invite a fresh emphasis on her significance within modernist scholarship. Carrie Preston has recently consolidated a carefully situated and historically balanced view of Duncan’s place in aesthetic, feminist, and avant-garde modernism. As Preston points out, the broad call for a “new modernist studies” has not resulted in much attention to performance, dance, or even more traditional theater practices (Modernism’s Mythic Pose, 253n22). In terms of dance particularly, this critical neglect is not only the result of the often-noted “feminization” of dance practices, but, I suggest, may also be related to the alignment with animality that the dancing body inevitably rehearses.
Preston’s work is especially valuable because it rigorously contests a critical tendency to frame Duncan as a “nymph.” This designation indicates the pejorative way in which Duncan is sometimes theorized because of her attention to spirituality, classical typologies, and nature. Like Felicia McCarren’s 2003 Dancing Machines, Preston’s work on Duncan is varied and complex, and Preston does characterize Duncan as an artist interested in both the “natural” and the “technological.” Interestingly, though, Preston’s argument about Duncan is anchored by Duncan’s use of the phrase “motor in the soul,” a phrase that McCarren’s work on motor power in modernism has made central to recent discussions of Duncan in dance history. Preston goes so far as to suggest that “Duncan’s three central movement innovations” are all “associated with the motor in the soul” (Modernism’s Mythic Pose, 146).
I don’t wish to dispute the noteworthiness of the appearance of the motorized in Duncan’s movement vocabulary, choreography, and writing. However, especially when one turns to Duncan’s essays about dance, and to the ways Duncan choreography is currently taught and re-staged, one comes away with the clear sense that it is natural, cosmic, and animal images that truly suffuse her work. Frankly, the motor image is dwarfed by the varied, ecstatic, and incessant images that are not connected to technology as such in Duncan’s theories. Preston herself has pointed to a certain “technophilia” in modernist criticism on film and cinema, and there can be no doubt that this has had a profound, if sometimes unspoken, impact on the way modernist critics approach writers and thinkers of the period who are deemed simplistic in their attention to the “natural” or instinctual. Lawrence’s work, for instance, has been regularly excoriated in the last fifty years for its perceived “primitivism,” though some significant interventions have resuscitated the ecological value of his writings. Preston’s own discussions of “impersonality” in the critically favored version of modernist philosophy, à la T. S. Eliot, point out such biases. Nevertheless, Preston’s work also seems to display a slightly compensatory emphasis on the motor in Duncan’s performance vocabulary, perhaps in order to continue rescuing Duncan from the “natural” strains in her work. This emphasis is understandable given the way that Duncan has been consistently read. However, there seems to be a critical embarrassment—resulting in a critical silence—surrounding Duncan’s notions that one should dance like the “free animals.” Duncan’s repeated focus on earthly and creatural forces compels us to revise the prominence of the motor in the soul and turn our attention to the creature in the soul.
Being “Earthy”: Vibration as Species Drifting
Shifting Duncan’s connections to modernist culture from the machinic toward the animal reframes her aesthetic as valuing and harnessing the creatural. Moreover, Duncan’s ideas about rhythm and the vibratory connect human creativity to supple and innovative biological and cosmological forces. One can hardly overstate the frequency with which, in The Art of the Dance, she discusses the concept of vibration or cosmic rhythm. In the segment “The Philosopher’s Stone of Dancing,” Duncan addresses her primary pedagogical aim in relation to a vibratory force: “So confident am I that the soul can be awakened, can completely possess the body, that when I have taken children into my schools I have aimed above all else to bring to them a consciousness of the power within themselves, of their relationship to the universal rhythm” (Art of the Dance, 52). Duncan elaborates upon the vibratory in her section “Movement is Life,” where she provocatively writes: “When asked for the pedagogic program of my school, I reply: ‘Let us first teach little children to breathe, to vibrate, to feel, and to become one with the general harmony and movement of nature” (77; emphasis added). Breathing and feeling, becoming “harmonious” even, are rather straightforward in terms of our conceptual apparatus, but teaching a child to vibrate? What precisely does Duncan mean here? Ann Daly points out how Duncan’s references to scientific theories of her day might be understood as both sophisticated and intentional (an argument that would apply just as easily to figures like F. T. Marinetti, in fact). But Elizabeth Grosz’s work allows us to recognize that Duncan’s notion of teaching a child to vibrate may be much more than a clever reference to atomic theory and should be understood, rather, as a specific aesthetic statement posing dance as a kind of queer ecology.
Grosz helps to put a finer point on the relation between the vibratory and what she ultimately calls aesthetic emergence. In her linking of Darwinian and Deleuzian concepts of sexual selection, the refrain, aesthetic display and spectacle, Grosz returns again and again to the vibratory. When speculating that sexuality itself is best understood in terms of pleasure rather than heteronormative reproduction, Grosz asserts, “Vibrations, waves, oscillations, resonances affect living bodies, not for any higher purpose but for pleasure alone. Living beings are vibratory beings: vibration is their mode of differentiation, the way they enhance and enjoy the forces of the earth itself” (Chaos, Territory, Art, 33).
Grosz goes on to discuss vibration primarily in terms of music, but she makes it clear that her conclusions about the artistic apply to a broad range of formal modes. She also notes that music, followed closely by dance, seems to be the most intensifying, “contagious,” and “seductive” of the arts (29). Grosz’s understanding of aesthetic emergence is grounded in a Darwinian articulation of attraction and seduction that, she makes clear, does not require an emphasis on heterosexual reproduction but rather on pleasure and the becoming-other of the animal (or plant) body. She explains that during courtship, bodily surplus, display or spectacle, and skills in excess of the practical all figure in to the way an animal creates a vibratory performance. Thus it is “the erotic, indeed perhaps vibratory, force in all organisms . . . that seduces, entices, mesmerizes, that sexualizes the body, metabolizes organs, and prepares and solicits it for courtship. . . . For Darwin, this seems as close to a universal postulate as anything he claims: rhythm, vibration, resonance, is enjoyable and intensifying” (32). Moreover, it is the individual’s vibratory play and framing of elemental forces into aesthetic articulations that we might call the fundamentally inhuman impulse behind all aesthetics.
When Grosz writes the following, we understand much more radically what Duncan might mean about teaching a child to vibrate: “What music and the arts indicate is that (sexual) taste and erotic appeal . . . indicate that those living beings that ‘really live,’ that intensify life—for its own sake, for the sake of intensi[t]y or sensation—bring something new to the world, create something that has no other purpose than to intensify, to experience itself” (39). Vibration, then, in Duncan’s writings, might be understood as the harnessing and displaying—the participatory intensifying—of cosmic forces or possibilities. These participations inevitably link the artist, the dancer, and the child to the forces of the earth, to matter, to “natural” rhythms and animals. In this connection, Duncan’s “universal gesture,” as taught by Lori Belilove of the Isadora Duncan Dance Foundation, involves an acknowledgment of the earth and sky, and the greeting of other beings, including “animal friends.”
We can now revisit Duncan’s “Movement Is Life” to understand its sophisticated aesthetic claims. Duncan writes at another point in that essay:
Man has not invented the harmony of music. It is one of the underlying principles of life. Neither could the harmony of movement be invented: it is essential to draw one’s conception of it from Nature herself, and to seek the rhythm of human movement from the rhythm of water in motion, from the blowing of the winds on the world, in all the earth’s movements, in the motions of animals, fish, birds, reptiles, and even in primitive man, whose body still moved in harmony with nature. (Art of the Dance, 78)
This statement evokes Deleuze’s notion of art as that which drifts between the animal and the human, between the earth and the vibrancy of matter itself. In fact, Jeanne Bresciani, Artistic Director and Director of Education for the Isadora Duncan International Institute, notes that the “Duncan Vibrato” is a fundamental concept in Duncan technique. Bresciani describes this vibration as the aftermath of energy that emerges from the solar plexus and runs through and beyond fingers, toes, and eyelashes, and then through the head, which tilts back (a movement I will discuss below).
In the introductory materials to Duncan’s essays, too, those who knew her connect her legacy with the concept of vibration. Sheldon Cheney’s striking prefatory remarks imagine her life and life’s work as a spreading tremor of the unimagined:
To me there is an epic quality in her life. The picture of the girl-figure emerging out of Victorian times and customs, out there on the very edge of Western civilization, in California, vibrating to some wave of Whitmanesque affirmation, starting eastward with absolute self-confidence, conquering all of America and all of Europe for her idea, by a revelation, a presentation of her dance—in this picture of the march of the spirit of Isadora Duncan across the world, I find a greatness, a stirring elemental implication. (Art of the Dance, 6; my emphasis)
It is important to keep in mind that it is just this “elemental implication”—associated with naïve, naturist affinities—that has often been used to marginalize Duncan’s role in modernist culture.
Tracing Duncan’s ideas about the vibratory indicates how she understood art as harnessing the “freedom” of matter and animality and as linking the vibrancy of human and nonhuman worlds. In fact, Max Eastman describes Duncan’s cultural influence by enumerating the
bare-legged girls, and the poised natural girls with strong muscles and strong free steps wherever they go—the girls that redeem America and make it worth while to have founded a new world. . . . The boys, too, who have a chance to be unafraid of beauty, to be unafraid of the natural life and free aspiration of an intelligent animal walking the earth. (“Isadora Duncan is Dead,” 38).
An additional line of inquiry might emerge over discourses of “freedom” in Duncan’s writings within the context of new materialism. As Jane Bennett notes, “vitalism is the reaction formation to a mechanistic materialism. . . . The machine model of nature, with its figure of inert matter, is no longer even scientific. It has been challenged by systems theory, complexity theory, chaos theory, fluid dynamics, as well as by . . . many earlier biophilosophies of flow.” Even today, Bennett reminds us, human control over nature often trumps “the element of freedom in matter” (Vibrant Matter, 91).
Such a perspective reveals the “earthy” aspects of Duncan’s dancing and theorizing as complex engagements with the inhuman rather than primitive “returns” to some purified nature. In terms of her choreography, this drifting is overtly thematized in a dance such as Duncan’s Water Study: “The dancer both moves through the water and is the water; she appears to be splashing and playing, but her body is a wave and her arms are swirling eddies. For a moment, she leaps out of the water like a fish” (Preston, Modernism’s Mythic Pose, 177). Duncan’s technique in general is also highly directed by animal engagements. Belilove, in her master class, describes the motion of the leg and foot in Duncan’s form of skipping as akin to “reaching like a paw.” In my interview with Belilove, she further expounded that the foot/paw is to be used for “seeing,” as if the dancer were blind. She also noted that according to Sima Borisovana Leake, the Elizabeth Duncan School of training would regularly take dancers to watch horses train and trot, and to watch fish swimming in ponds. While teaching a “Mermaid” sequence, Belilove characterizes the arms as shooting “up like a whale spout,” and she even cues the dancers with a “pshew” noise that imitates this animal sound. Moreover, Belilove chooses to use the term “wings” rather than arms when teaching Duncan’s technique, and she describes the quality of a particular run by evoking the intense focus of an eagle. While Duncan’s theories linking human and inhuman movement are expansive and would not be limited to choreography that explicitly addresses water, paws, or wings, the prominence of these overt images is striking. Noting how practitioners embody Duncan’s choreography as a mesh between species and natural forces provides a new critical purchase on iconic photographic images that show Duncan, for instance, exultant amidst the trees and grasses (fig. 1).
It is important to clarify my caveat against viewing Duncan’s attentions to nature as a simple kind of primitivism. In Grosz’s discussions of Aboriginal Australian painting, she reminds us that
art is not simply the expression of an animal past, a prehistorical allegiance with the evolutionary forces that make one; it is not memorialization, the celebration of a shared past, but above all the transformation of the materials from the past into resources for the future, the sensations unavailable now but to be unleashed in the future on a people ready to perceive and be affected by them. (Chaos, Territory, Art, 103)
This explanation clarifies Duncan’s role as announcing the future of dance, her role in shifting the perception of what dance was, is, and ought to be. These engagements with the prehuman “past” for the sake of the future also provide a strong connection with Lawrence’s work, a connection that, as I argue elsewhere, is even danced in his novels. In Women in Love, Gudrun dances a kind of becoming-cow, enacting one of Lawrence’s most animal examples of the desire to inhabit new concepts and new forms of being that revive the “blood-consciousness” in the human. Birkin also dances a “grotesque step-dance” of self-overcoming in the novel, and engages in a nude becoming-plant after a violent episode with his lover, Hermione. Lawrence scholars have become increasingly interested in the appearance of Duncan-like dances in his writing.
Hard Running: Nudity and the Foot
Duncan’s dancing, her manifesto-like, post-performance commentaries, and her own cultural and performative choices shaped the modernist metamorphosis of dance in the broader transatlantic milieu. In many ways, Duncan’s style and ideas were experienced as an unleashing for which people were precisely unprepared. But those people were also made ready in that experience to witness and imagine the new. As her companion Gordon Craig wrote, “Only just moving—not pirouetting or doing any of these things which we expect to see, . . . she was speaking in her own language, not echoing any ballet master, and so she came to move as no one had ever seen anyone move before.” Ann Daly points out that by World War I, largely because of Duncan, “dance had been transformed from entertainment into ‘Culture,’ at least in New York. Duncan reimagined the form and content of dance as an aesthetic object and convinced an audience of its legitimacy as a ‘high’ art” (Critical Gestures, 248). Duncan also converted the received taxonomies of dance that prized the corseted, strained, balletic body into a framework that valued semi-nudity, bodily weight, barefootedness, and individual female performance. In her essay “The Dance of the Future,” Duncan repeats what can only be characterized as her ur-emphasis on the natural, rhythmic movement “of waves, of winds, of the earth,” “of the free animals and birds” (Art of the Dance, 54). She goes on to discuss the ways in which “civilized man” has lost the ability to move naturally. But she makes it clear that the “return” to the naked body is not a memorialization but is rather an improvisation of nudity for the present (and future) of the reformed human who once again moves and dances:
Man, arrived at the end of civilization, will have to return to nakedness, not to the unconscious nakedness of the savage, but to the conscious and acknowledged nakedness of the mature Man, whose body will be the harmonious expression of his spiritual being.
And the movements of the Man will be natural and beautiful like those of the free animals. (55)
Nudity has been a central concept in animal studies since the publication of Derrida’s essay “The Animal That Therefore I Am,” which opens this way: “In the beginning. I would like to entrust myself to words that, were it possible, would be naked. Naked in the first place—but this is in order to announce already that I plan to speak endlessly of nudity and of the nude in philosophy.” Derrida goes on to recount the now-familiar episode in which he is “caught naked, in silence, by the gaze of an animal, for example, the eyes of a cat” (3–4). Among a number of Derrida’s immediate considerations in these pages is the question of having knowledge of one’s nudity, of nakedness proper. In other words, the animal “doesn’t feel its own nudity. There is no nudity ‘in nature’” (5). The naked human, on the other hand, is characterized by shame. As Rebecca Tuvel puts it, the human case “is that in which the human is not truly naked because it only becomes aware of its nakedness in relation to a feeling of shame, according to which it immediately desires to cover itself up.”
In a much broader sense, Derrida’s focus on nudity is meant to emphasize human vulnerability, finitude, mortality, and exposure. All of these are states that we share with nonhuman animals. As Cora Diamond maintains, recognizing these affinities helps us view other animals as fellow creatures, so that we respond “to animals as our fellows in mortality, in life on this earth.” In this light, Duncan’s work can be viewed as the performance or staging of human nudity without that event being overtaken by feelings of shame. In fact, Kimberly Engdahl Coates reminds us of the “[u]nashamed” Duncan, who danced in a transparent tunic and while pregnant. And if we follow the logic of such an event as breaking open a “new” sense of the possibilities of dance, we see that modern dance, as such, might be understood as staging human animality through performance in a way that is historically specific. Thus the “truly” naked human animal, for Duncan, figures centrally in her modernist becoming of the future of dance.
Duncan’s commitment to barefootedness puts a finer point on the questions of animality, exposure, and the development of a modern dance aesthetic in the early twentieth century. Performing barefooted was one of Duncan’s hallmark “revolutions” in Western dance, and she insisted upon its value in her writings. She opens “The Dance of the Future” by recalling a woman who once asked her why she danced with bare feet. Immediately linking the future of dance practice with evolutionary “wisdom,” Duncan cites Darwin and Haeckel as her sources, claiming that “the expression and intelligence of the human foot is one of the greatest triumphs of the evolution of man” (Art of Dance, 54). This claim is fascinating in its willfully unconventional posturing, for in fact it is the hand that is traditionally linked to man’s putative “progression” in the evolutionary narrative that places him at the forefront of bio-developmental power. Of course, Duncan protests too much in her effort to elevate the foot over the hand. But I want to suggest that her commitment to barefootedness is a philosophical position meaningfully linked to animality and to an anti-handedness that shapes some of the broader critical arcs of twentieth-century dance.
Human hands and thumbs are often used to represent a substantive evolutionary division between the human and the animal. In Ciferae: A Bestiary in Five Fingers, Tom Tyler contextualizes what Stanley Cavell calls “the romance of the hand and its apposable thumb” by reminding us of the long-standing claim that opposable thumbs are unique to humanity, evidence of “human exceptionalism, of an expedient, handy humanism.” Moreover, Cary Wolfe, in his ongoing attention to Martin Heidegger’s affair with the hand (and Derrida’s troubling of that affair), reminds us just how profound this mythology is. Wolfe explains that for Heidegger “the meaning of the hand, properly understood, is determined not by biological or utilitarian function,” such as grasping or clutching, “but by its expression of the Geschlecht or species being of humanity, which, in opposition to the rest of creation, rests on the human possession of speech and thought.” The human hand, handedness, handiness, these are all figures for the elevated status of the human in its evolutionary “distance” from the animal. That animal is perceived as mute and tool-less, “poor in world,” in Heidegger’s term, and without the handed capacity for world-making.
It is against this backdrop of handedness that I want to place Duncan’s valorization of the foot. And despite her one attempt to claim footedness as an evolutionary sign of “progress,” what her broad writings call for is a linking of animality to the foot in a way that recuperates or revivifies not a progressively evolving humanity but a persistent animality in the living in general. Duncan insisted upon the “scandalous” centrality of bare feet in her dance practice, and there is a double-edged or squared emphasis here on materiality and animality because of the foot. No one is discomfited by a bare hand, but a bare foot makes it difficult to maintain the humanist disavowal of animality. In Duncan’s choreography, the bare foot in its particularity is emphasized in her early work Tanagra Figures, which Preston explains is based on a British Museum collection of famous terra cotta figures: “As the dancer shifts her weight between poses . . . both hands move to her shoulder as if pinning her tunic, and she bends to the ground to take a handful of dirt” (157). Belilove emphasizes a presentation of the foot that is “not coy,” as the active knee does not cross in upon that of the standing leg. Rather, the bare foot in this “Botticelli leg” pose, or the “Tanagra foot,” is gently placed with toes angling away from the body, in a kind of humble presentation or offering of the bare foot during performance.
If the Duncan dancer is animated as are the free animals, the birds, and the waves, if the dancer is animated by a recapitulation of earthly or natural forces, then the dancer is most dancerly as a creature rather than a “human.” In that case, the bare foot functions as the sign or mark of animality for the Duncan dancer, and perhaps thereafter for all modern dancers. Duncan was constantly insisting that her art was civilized, the highest and most cultured form of “the dance.” She had to insist upon this in order to make her desired changes in dance practice, but also to counteract the central place of animality in her aesthetic vision. Similarly, just as she decried “savage” African dances, her appearances in bare feet put animality itself back on the table, so to speak. Taking off the ballet shoe and performing with “animal” feet signaled the onset of a modern dance practice that took the body, the body’s weight, the body’s vulnerability and mortality seriously, in a way that ballet practice never could. My framework thus argues for reading Duncan’s radicalism in dance not as a rarified product of human advancement, genius, or handiwork, but rather as a bold commitment to the porous distinctions between humans and nonhumans.
We can read Duncan’s commitment to barefootedness in any number of more literal ways. The bare foot opens up the possibility for contact with the earth itself, while the balletic foot, condemned to “torture,” in Duncan’s words, and always shod, remains civilized and cut off from earthly pulsations. Moreover, as any modern dancer knows, the bare foot gets dirty, refusing the disavowal of matter or the organic. One has a fuller sense of the “scandal” of dancing barefoot with all this in mind. Such a podology reverses the typical processes of abjection and instead values a dirty and “base” creatural connection to matter and the organic. Recalibrating our view of Duncan’s aesthetics along these lines resonates with the provisional emergence of an “inhuman humanities” within modernist studies, to use Grosz’s phrase. Grosz asks, “What would a humanities, a knowledge of and for the human, look like if we placed the animal in its rightful place, not only before the human but also within and after the human?”
The centrality of the bare foot in Duncan’s work is recapitulated in Edna St. Vincent Millay’s poetic tribute to the Duncan Dancers, “Sonnet XXI.” Written in 1923, the poem reveals not only how contemporaneous audiences experienced the use of the bare foot in Duncan’s choreography, but also how other artists in the early twentieth century experienced and responded to this choreographic element. The poem further solidifies the connection between barefootedness and an earthly organicism:
How healthily their feet upon the floor
Strike down! These are no spirits, but a band
Of children, surely, leaping hand in hand
Into the air in groups of three and four,
Wearing their silken rags as if they wore
Leaves only and light grasses, or a strand
Of black elusive seaweed oozing sand,
And running hard as if along a shore.
I know how lost forever, and at length
How still these lovely tossing limbs shall lie,
And the bright laughter and the panting breath;
And yet, before such beauty and such strength,
Once more, as always when the dance is high,
I am rebuked that I believe in death.
The syntax, cadence, and punctuation of the first full sentence all emphasize the phrase “strike down!” Even the unusually large space after “down!” suggests that hearing the dancers’ feet hit the ground is the cardinal element of the viewer’s experience. And lest we overlook this fact, it is not a visual image of dance that opens the poem, but an auditory one. Indeed, it is a vibratory one. The reader is made to witness the rhythmic cadence of the dancers’ feet, and the opening image calls to mind a kind of animal stampede. The poet further emphasizes the mortal weight of the dancers’ footfall by using the term “healthily” and by claiming immediately that these are “no spirits.” She goes on to re-conjure the image further down with the line “running hard as if along a shore.” No light skipping or wispy glissades here, but hard running. Also noteworthy is the way in which the dancers’ tunics become leaves and grasses here (perhaps Millay was evoking Whitman?), or the surprisingly organic “strand / Of black elusive seaweed oozing sand.” Millay’s speaker seems to celebrate the bare- and sure-footed, panting women in precise contrast to the way that Eliot’s Prufrock fears the women with bare arms who come and go (Millay’s poem was published three years after Eliot’s). Millay refracts Prufrock’s anxiety over the “sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown” into reverence for the black and oozing organicism of unbounded women who are affiliated with the sea. In this case, the “new women” that Duncan trained and inspired are valued for their vital life-force, in a recuperation of what might be called feminist animality for the modernist subject.
Bordering the Human: Animal, Child, Woman
In the collection Human, All Too Human, Diana Fuss discusses three “border identities” for humanism: animal, thing, child. In her introduction, she reminds us of the age-old alliance between children and animals, beings whose liminal status troubles the “integrity of the human.” She notes further that the child has been variously “idealized, demonized, eroticized, patronized, and publicized,” and the same can easily be said of the animal. Duncan dedicated much of her life to the instruction of children. As is well known, she opened her experimental schools of dance, to varying success, in Germany, in France, and in Russia. She believed in a dance revolution that would result in “free” and “natural” movements rather than automatic mimicry, and that would begin by harnessing the movements of the untrained child.
Duncan’s essay “Youth and the Dance” helps situate the role of the child and of the childlike in her theoretical taxonomy. She opens this essay by claiming the following: “The child is gloriously full of life. He leaps endlessly, filled with the intoxication of movement. He is a young animal, growing in the midst of a joyous exaltation, drawing in with the intensity of all his being the forces for his future life” (the use of the male pronoun seems mostly conventional; Duncan trained a few boys, but mostly girls) (Art of the Dance, 97). We can imagine that she meant these statements to describe all children in an untrained state. Duncan’s description of the child resonates with a vibratory bio-aesthetics. The child is more animal than human, a creature exalting in intensities and forces that are harnessed for the future or the new.
Duncan repeatedly aligns the child with the woman in her written work: “[Poets] have mostly written of little children dancing, or of maidens dancing, or of one woman dancing” (73). She continues to evoke the voice of poets whom she imagines asking the following of “Woman”: “Dance us the sweetness of life and its meanings, dance for us the movements of birds, the waters, waving trees, floating clouds. . . . ‘Give us again the sweetness and beauty of the true dance, give us again the joy of seeing the simple unconscious pure body of woman’” (73; emphasis added).
As scholars in animal studies have recently pointed out, the Freudian unconscious can be read as a figure for animality. Duncan’s own invocation of Bacchic dances and Dionysian movement, which Franko has theorized as “a moment of new departure for the material body,” partially frames her engagement with discourses of animality in modernism and in dance (20). Thus we see the triangulation of animal, child, woman surface repeatedly in her writings. Her essay “Terpsichore” reiterates the centrality of a Deleuzian and Darwinian aesthetic in which music once again serves as a bedrock for our understanding of inhuman artistic emergence:
All movement on earth is governed by the law of gravitation, by attraction and repulsion, resistance and yielding; it is that which makes up the rhythm of the dance.
To discover this rhythm, we must listen to the pulsations of the earth. The great composers—Bach, Beethoven, Wagner—have in their works combined with absolute perfection terrestrial and human rhythm” (Art of the Dance, 90; emphasis added).
In an invective against ballet, Duncan discusses the “undulating line” that she sees as emblematic of Attic poses on vases, claiming she has almost never seen a Greek representation of dance “in which the foot is raised to a line perpendicular to the body. Even on the vases with figures expressing Bacchic frenzy, this movement is unknown” (91). Bacchic frenzy is then explicitly allied with animality through a specific physiological gesture:
One of the commonest figures in the Bacchic dances is that with the head turned backward. In this movement one senses immediately the Bacchic frenzy possessing the entire body. The motive underlying this gesture is in all nature. The animals, in Bacchic movement, turn back the head: in tropic countries, at night, the elephants turn their heads; dogs baying at the moon, lions, tigers. It is the universal Dionysiac movement. (91)
This Dionysian movement is featured most prominently in two of Duncan’s dances, the Bacchanal (set to selections from Gluck’s Don Juan) and the Scherzo from Chopin’s Symphony No. 9 in C Major, titled Homage to Dionysius.
As Bresciani explains, the Scherzo stages a hunting scene, and in addition to the classic Dionysian movement with the head straight back, dancers also incorporate a movement in which the head is angled to the side and held back. Bresciani notes that Maria Theresa Duncan called this variation “the gazelle.”
Duncan was photographed by her brother Raymond in 1903, in Greece, in this Dionysian position (fig. 4). The two dances mentioned above often feature the dancers jumping in this position as well.
A photo of Irma Duncan (one of Isadora’s adopted daughters) gives us another striking image of this Bacchic baying (fig. 5).
The open mouth is crucially “animal” in this backward gesture with the head. And “backward” has many meanings in this case. As Georges Bataille suggests, the mouth “is the beginning or, if one prefers, the prow of animals; in the most characteristic cases, it is the most living part, in other words, the most terrifying for neighboring animals.” According to Bataille, the mouth and certain “profound physical impulses” have lost prominence among civilized humans, thus “the narrow constipation of a strictly human attitude, the magisterial look of the face with a closed mouth, as beautiful as a safe” (59–60). Nevertheless, “on important occasions human life is still bestially concentrated in the mouth.” Bataille qualifies this baying gesture as a kind of becoming-animal in the human who screams: “it is easy to observe that the overwhelmed individual throws back his head while frenetically stretching his neck in such a way that the mouth becomes, as much as possible, an extension of the spinal column, in other words, in the position it normally occupies in the constitution of animals. As if explosive impulses were to spurt directly out of the body through the mouth, in the form of screams” (59). Belilove confirms that the mouth is open and relaxed, not pursed, in this “Ecstatic position,” in order to emphasize release and surrender.
The photograph of Irma (fig. 5) eerily emphasizes the kind of excessive and affective animality Bataille catalogues because her mouth seems blurred in a way that magnifies this “most living part” and also evokes abandon and terror. Moreover, the “explosion” of impulses seems to mirror another of Duncan’s theories about dance, that it should cultivate movement that is continuous rather than abrupt or compartmentalized. In the “Terpsichore” segment on Bacchic frenzy, she notes that in the figures on Greek vases “one senses that the movement goes on: there is in this movement an eternal element—one which follows the undulating line of the great forces of Nature, on which I have based all the movements of my dance” (Art of the Dance, 91). The “Bacchic” movement of affect seems coterminous here with the pulsating movement of the body.
Linking these insights with Duncan’s commentary on the female body suggests how the “border identities” of animal, child and woman seem to overlap in their inhuman instantiation of aesthetic forces in her ideology. In “The Dancer and Nature,” Duncan suggests that women will attain knowledge of beauty not through analysis and conceptual regimens, but rather through the lived body:
Shall she find this knowledge in the gymnasium examining her muscles, in the museum regarding the sculptured forms, or by the continual contemplation of beautiful objects, and the reflection of them in the mind? These are all ways, but the chief thing is, she must live this beauty, and her body must be the living exponent of it. (67)
These comments reject a notion of artistic comprehension as primarily conceptual and instead implicitly align the aesthetic with the reverberating body. Reviving dance as an art (thus resuscitating it from its “fallen” reputation), Duncan argues, will bring about a specifically “feminine” aesthetic practice. “I believe,” she claims, “here is a wonderful undiscovered inheritance for coming womanhood, the old dance which is to become the new. She shall be sculpture not in clay or marble but in her own body which she shall endeavor to bring to the highest state of plastic beauty” (68).
This “highest” state of plastic beauty is specifically modern dance, and this modern dance is often expressly opposed to the restricted and prescribed movement vocabularies of ballet. In fact, in the taxonomy I have developed here, ballet becomes the reified humanist framework in which the vibratory is lost, choked out, dissipated. Duncan repeatedly writes diatribes against ballet, both in her autobiography and in her essays. The following excerpt from “The Dancer and Nature” further clarifies her position:
First draw me the form of a woman as it is in Nature. And now draw me the form of a woman in a modern corset and the satin slippers used by our modern dancers. Now do you not see that the movement that would conform to one figure would be perfectly impossible for the other? To the first all the rhythmic movements that run through Nature would be possible. . . . To the second figure these movements would be impossible on account of the rhythm being broken, and stopped at the extremities. (69)
Interestingly, the corset is aligned with ballet slippers: both become instruments of repression and restriction that halt the movement of the vibratory through—and, it would seem, beyond—the woman’s body. Ballet is often associated with the conventional and mechanical in Duncan’s discussions. She calls ballet movements “sterile” because “they are unnatural,” and emphasizes how ballet practice deforms women’s bodies (56). Duncan also evokes Nietzsche in “Movement is Life,” noting the philosopher’s repeated emphasis on dancing: “Nietzsche has said that he cannot believe in a god that cannot dance. He has also said, ‘Let that day be considered lost on which we have not danced.’” She goes on to suggest that Nietzsche’s kind of dance is not ballet: “But he did not mean the execution of pirouettes. He meant the exaltation of life in movement” (77).
Near the end of her book Chaos, Territory, Art, Grosz claims that the way “human subjects become inscribed with animal-becomings, the movements, gestures, and habits of animal existence” in aesthetics occurs not just in the visual arts but “above all in dance and music” (102). Isadora Duncan’s work should be understood in this context. In the 2014 Isadora Duncan Dance Company performance of Dance of the Furies, as the dancers lie flat on their stomachs with hands reaching forward and clenched like talons, they raise their chests up from the floor, twist and whip their heads from side to side with a piercing look, right and left, in what can only be described as the most intense creatural specularity. Belilove’s dancers confirm what Bresciani asserts: “To do this work without the consciousness of the creature . . . I find very boring[,] . . . very banal, there’s no aliveness. It’s the creature that gives us aliveness.” Duncan’s refrains about the natural and the animal signal an aesthetic vision that eschews the symbolism of “human” conceptualization and turns rather on the “great undulating movement” of the inhuman (Art of the Dance, 68).
If dance as a practice of visceral, embodied transformation is particularly creatural among the arts, and if modernism is a charged site of animality’s “homecoming” in cultural, artistic and psychic discourses after Darwin, then modernism’s animal dances offer an important assemblage for critical examination. In this connection, understanding art as having its roots in inhuman forces provides a new critical purchase on Duncan’s work and links her contributions to those of modernist writers such as Lawrence. The accession of vibratory energy connecting living beings with cosmic capacities allows us to see Duncan’s very creatural reformation of “high” dance and Lawrence’s images of dancing as related lines of flight away from a traditional humanism in modernism. Thus modern dance’s emergent experimentations with the possibilities of the body need to be recast as innovations having animal forces at their core. The way Duncan revolutionized dance must be recognized as embracing the vibrating animality of the human body and of human experience: in this sense modern dance in the twentieth century represents the eruption of the animal into Western dance practice.
I am grateful to Steven Belletto and Kimberly Engdahl Coates for generously providing feedback on this essay in draft form and to my former student Larisa Schuckle for undertaking early research related to this article. I thank the anonymous reviewers at Modernism/modernity for their thoughtful suggestions. Research for this essay was supported by a Faculty Research Grant from Lafayette College (2011) and a Mellon Grant, “Choreography and the Curriculum” (2014), for which I am most appreciative.
 Max Eastman, “Isadora Duncan is Dead,” in Isadora Duncan: Twenty-Four Studies by Arnold Genthe (New York: Mitchell Kennerley, 1929), 37–40, 39.
 Isadora Duncan, “The Dance of the Future,” in Art of the Dance, ed. Sheldon Cheney (New York: Theatre Arts, 1969), 54-63, 55; originally published in 1909.
 I am using the term creatural throughout this essay, following David Herman’s recent explanation for and adoption of a shift from the term creaturely. Opposing Eric Santner’s notion of a creatureliness that circulates around human exceptionalism, Herman identifies a strain of discourses that Anat Pick adopts and suggests the new term: “The slight semantic shift from creaturely to creatural . . . is meant to indicate [an] alignment with the second of these two strands of discourse, in which the status of being a creature, subject to the requirements of the surrounding environment, the vicissitudes of time, and the vulnerabilities of the body, emphasizes the fundamental continuity between humans and other animals” (David Herman, “Literature beyond the Human,” introduction to Creatural Fictions: Human-Animal Relationships in Twentieth- and Twenty-First-Century Literature, ed. Herman [New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016], 1– 3).
 I first used the term bio-aesthetic in a 2014 publication to signal a cross-species concept of the aesthetic impulse (Carrie Rohman, “No Higher Life: Bio-aesthetics in J. M. Coetzee’s Disgrace,” Modern Fiction Studies 60, no. 3 : 562–78). My usage of this term counters trends in “neuroaesthetics” that regard all artistic capacities as exclusively human.
 Isadora Duncan, “Notes for a Lecture,” Irma Duncan Papers, archived at the New York Public Library for Performing Arts, f131.
 I emphasize Duncan’s writings in this essay as a means to elucidate her engagements with animality and the inhuman. Duncan spent a great deal of time writing about her practice, in part because her own “revolutionary” ideas and performance style created such a disruption in perceived notions of formal dance. While it is important to keep the dancing body itself in view, as much as possible, in discussions of dance, it is also important to value the intellectual production of a figure such as Duncan. In fact, it is necessary to take seriously what Duncan wrote about the body and the body in motion and not just value what she did with her body in motion. Max Eastman insisted upon this emphasis when he claimed that Duncan was “not only a supreme artist endowed by nature with momentous power and the exquisite gift of retaining it—she was also a mind and moral force” (Eastman, “Isadora Duncan is Dead,” 37). Moreover, since Duncan was never filmed, analyzing her actual performances proves especially challenging. Given the lack of a Duncan film archive, it seems particularly important to value her ideas and writings alongside her choreographic legacies.
 As my argument will make clear, I am linking ballet to a symbolic and “all too human” body while suggesting that modern dance performs the “animal” or organic body in a way that was unprecedented for “high” Western aesthetics before the twentieth century.
 As Carrie J. Preston reminds us at the outset of her chapter on Duncan, the sculptor Laredo Taft suggested Duncan was “all nine muses in one,” and many other artists, including Auguste Rodin and Abraham Walkowitz, created images of her. Preston also suggests that Duncan performed feminism in important ways (Modernism’s Mythic Pose: Gender Genre, Solo Performance [New York: Oxford University Press, 2011], 144–90, 292n2).
 Carrie Rohman, Stalking the Subject: Modernism and the Animal (New York: Columbia University Press, 2009), 22.
 For instance, Elizabeth Dempster has claimed that “Duncan’s vision of the dance of the future presumes an unproblematic return to a body of untainted naturalness and to an essential purity which she believed was fundamental to women” (Dempster, “Women Writing the Body: Let’s Watch a Little How She Dances,” in Grafts: Feminist Cultural Criticism, ed. Susan Sheridan [London: Verso, 1988], 35–54, 51). Dempster also suggests that Duncan’s vision of dance may be “complicit with the concept of ‘natural’ sexual difference,” which Dempster views as extremely problematic (51). Other important critics such as Mark Franko have occasionally relied upon the view of Duncan as “essentialist” in her equation of woman and nature (Franko, Dancing Modernism / Performing Politics [Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995]; see especially 1–24). It may be interesting to reconsider the image of the nymph once a species analysis of Duncan’s work is in place.
 See Felicia McCarren, Dancing Machines: Choreographies of the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2003).
 See Preston’s discussions of Miriam Hansen and Michael North’s work (Modernism’s Mythic Pose, 59–60).
 See for instance Margo Norris, Beasts of the Modern Imagination: Darwin, Nietzsche, Kafka, Ernst and Lawrence (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1985); Jeffrey Mathes McCarthy, Green Modernism: Nature and the English Novel, 1900 to 1930 (New York: Palgrave, 2015).
 For instance, a collection of essays edited by Alexandra Carter and Rachel Fensham includes an array of insightful analyses of the “natural” in early twentieth-century dance, yet despite various attentions to Duncan in the book, there is no discussion of animality in Duncan’s discourses (Dancing Naturally: Nature, Neo-Classicism and Modernity in Early Twentieth-Century Dance [New York: Palgrave, 2011]).
 I want to clarify that I do not view this essay as a “corrective” to Preston’s important work or to McCarren’s scholarly insights. Rather, I see it as complementing the rehabilitation of a complex and critically important Isadora Duncan for modernist, feminist, and performance studies.
 See Ann Daly, Critical Gestures: Writings on Dance and Culture (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2002), 246–62.
 See Elizabeth Grosz, Chaos, Territory, Art: Deleuze and the Framing of the Earth (New York: Columbia University Press, 2008). Una Chaudhuri elaborates Morton’s notion of such an ecology as one that “proposes a post-Romantic view of nature that vigorously deconstructs the nature/culture binary of traditional environmental thought and assumes an interdependency among life forms, rejecting the view of organisms as bounded, holistic entities” (“Queering the Green Man, Reframing the Garden: Marina Zurkow’s Mesocosm [Northumberland UK] and the Theatre of Species,” Scapegoat: Architecture/Landscape/Political Economy 2, Materialism (2012): 6–8, 7). Moreover, the “vibratory” in Duncan’s work is fruitfully connected to Jane Bennett’s work on vibrant matter. In fact, when Bennett describes a vital materialism as articulating “the elusive idea of a materiality that is itself heterogeneous, itself a differential of intensities” where “there is no point of pure stillness, no indivisible atom that is not itself aquiver with virtual force,” we ought to think of Isadora Duncan and of Eastman’s characterization of her as an elusive animal, which serves as the epigraph to this essay (Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things [Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2009], 57).
 I took a master class in Duncan technique with Lori Belilove of the Isadora Duncan Dance Foundation (IDDF) at Franklin and Marshall College, February 26, 2014. Belilove is founder and Artistic Director of the Foundation and is considered a premier performer and teacher of Duncan’s choreographies. She studied with Anna and Irma Duncan and with second-generation Duncan dancers such as Julia Levien. All references to her teaching refer to this class.
 Duncan often noted that her interest in Greek culture was driven by the Greeks’ valuing of nature.
 The Institute was co-founded in 1977 by Maria-Theresa Duncan and Kay Bardsley.
 Jeanne Bresciani, telephone interview with the author, January 26, 2014. All quotations from Bresciani refer to this interview.
 D. H. Lawrence, Women in Love, ed. David Farmer, Lindeth Vasey and John Worthen (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), 168. The title of the 1996 book D. H. Lawrence: Future Primitive reinforces the overlap between Duncan and Lawrence’s negotiation of past and future along the lines of Grosz’s antimemorialization, as well (Dolores LaChapelle, D. H. Lawrence: Future Primitive [Denton: University of North Texas Press, 1996]).
 See Mark Kinkead-Weekes, “Dance in Yeats, Lawrence, Eliot, and Williams,” in D. H. Lawrence: Literature, History, Culture, ed. Michael Bell, Keith Cushman, Takeo Iida, and Hiro Tateishi (Tokyo: Kokusho-KankoKai Press, 2005), 236–58; Elgin W. Mellown, “Music and Dance in D. H. Lawrence,” Journal of Modern Literature 21, no. 1 (1997): 49–60; Carrie Rohman, “Dancing with Deleuze: Modernism and the Imperceptible Animal,” Understanding Deleuze, Understanding Modernism, ed. S. E. Gontarski, Paul Ardoin, Laci Mattison (London: Bloomsbury, 2014), 169–81.
 On Duncan’s postperformance commentaries, see Preston, Modernism’s Mythic Pose, especially 172.
 Gordon Craig, “Memories of Isadora Duncan,” Irma Duncan Papers, archived at New York Public Library for Performing Arts, f176.
 Jacques Derrida, “The Animal That Therefore I Am (More to Follow),” in The Animal That Therefore I Am, ed. Marie-Louise Mallet, trans. David Wills (New York: Fordham University Press, 2008), 1–51, 1.
 Rebecca Tuvel, “Veil of Shame”: Derrida, Sarah Bartmann and Animality,” Journal for Critical Animal Studies 9, nos. 1–2 (2011): 209–29, 216.
 Cora Diamond, The Realistic Spirit: Wittgenstein, Philosophy, and the Mind (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1991), 329.
 Kimberly Engdahl Coates, “Performing Feminism, Transmitting Affect: Isadora Duncan, Virginia Woolf, and the Politics of Movement,” in Interdisciplinary/Multidisciplinary Woolf: Selected Papers from the Twenty-second Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf, ed. Ann Martin and Kathryn Holland (Clemson, SC: Clemson University Press, 2013), 183–89, 185.
 Tom Tyler, Ciferae: A Bestiary in Five Fingers (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012), 229, 243.
 Cary Wolfe, What is Posthumanism? (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010), .
 Martin Heidegger, The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics: World, Finitude, Solitude, trans. William McNeill and Nicholas Walker (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995), 185, 193, 196, 271.
 Isadora Duncan, My Life (New York: Liveright, 1927), 166.
 Elizabeth Grosz, Becoming Undone: Darwinian Reflections on Life, Politics, and Art (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011), 13.
 Edna St. Vincent Millay, “Sonnet XXI,” Harp-Weaver and Other Poems (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1923), 73.
 T. S. Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” in Collected Poems 1909–1962 (London: Faber and Faber, 1963), 13–22, 17.
 Diana Fuss, Human, All Too Human (London: Routledge, 1996), 5.
 See Preston, Modernism’s Mythic Pose, especially her discussion in chap. one of the female solo (26–57).
 Nicole Shukin, Animal Capital: Rendering Life in Biopolitical Times (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009).
 This title was used in the Isadora Duncan Dance Company (IDDC) performance, Franklin and Marshall College, Lancaster, PA, February 27, 2014. Bresciani often uses the title “Ode to Dionysius” when restaging this excerpt. The Dionysian movement is also featured in the dance Moment Musical, set to Chopin.
 Georges Bataille, Visions of Excess: Selected Writings, 1927–1939, ed. Allan Stoekl, trans. Stoekl with Carl R. Lovitt and Donald M. Leslie, Jr. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1985), 59.
 For a broad discussion of the centrality of animality to Nietzsche’s oeuvre, see Vanessa Lemm, Nietzsche’s Animal Philosophy: Culture, Politics, and the Animality of the Human Being (New York: Fordham University Press, 2009).