“Let us first teach little children to breathe, to vibrate, to feel, and to become one with the general harmony and movement of nature. Let us first produce a beautiful human being, a dancing child.” - Isadora Duncan, 1909
I taught my first children’s Duncan dance classes since moving to San Diego two weeks ago. Having only taught Duncan to adults and only taught Ballet to children for the last two years, the experience was refreshing, revitalizing, and inspiring. There is no better dance technique for children. There is no more natural form for them to express their creativity. And I only wish that all children were permitted the freedom of expression that Duncan dance allows.
These children only had a small taste of the technique. They were in a summer intensive, with just four hours allotted for Duncan and during the course of which they were expected to learn choreography for a performance. How do you teach enough of a technique in four sessions to help young dancers understand and perform choreography? How do you give them enough of a foundation so the ultimate performance will not simply look like poorly executed Ballet?
I was hesitant. I was uneasy. But my trepidations were eased when I walked into the studio for the second class. The kids were enthusiastic, invigorated, and excited to dance with me again. They remembered the themes we had touched upon in the first class. It was only their second time in the studio with Isadora’s movements, but already their inhibitions and embarrassment seemed to have dissipated. They moved from their solar plexus. They allowed their hips to move forward. They let their hair down and let their heads swing.
Children in our society are taught to hold back from the time they are young. We teach them to sit still in school. We put them in dance studios and refine their natural movements until they can perfectly point their toes and stand with their backs totally straight. But when we give them opportunities to move away from those restrictions — to let go, even momentarily from those confines — and ask them to move differently, more expressively, more freely, even the most mature, restrained, and conciliatory child becomes an unrestrained kid again.
Watching them last week, I finally understood Isadora’s oft-quoted phrase, “You were once wild here. Don’t let them tame you.”
We must teach our children restraint. As a Ballet teacher, I could never overstate the importance of pointed toes, straight backs, and rudimentary repetition. As a Duncan teacher, I require that my students take Ballet classes, so they strengthen their bodies, learn correct lines, and understand the conventions of a dance studio — skills that teach them respect, constraint, and self-discipline in all aspects of their lives. But when we also teach them to use those skills to enhance their creativity, to push themselves beyond the limits we set for them, and to let go of their inhibitions, we see the magic of their youth.