Picks and Pans Review: Isadora Duncan

updated 12/03/1984 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/03/1984 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Walter Terry

In these two books (published in the '60s and now reissued in paperback), Terry, long the dean of dance critics, warmly chronicles the tempestuous lives of the founding mothers of American dance: Isadora Duncan and Ruth St. Denis. The books complement each other, underlining the parallels and differences in the two women's careers. Both were instinctive dancers with little formal training, both began in vaudeville and later found acceptance and fame in Europe. Each discovered her unique style by studying an ancient culture-Greece in Duncan's case, Egypt in St. Denis'. Each defined beauty in her own way, with no regard for classical dance forms. Duncan was lyrical and spontaneous; St. Denis was ritualistic and meticulous. (Ultimately St. Denis had the more direct effect on what would become "modern" dance, largely through the Denishawn schools across the country.) On the personal side, St. Denis' enduring if stormy marriage and partnership with fellow innovator Ted Shawn was in marked contrast to the bacchanalia that was Duncan's life. The book on St. Denis seems more fleshed out, since Terry knew her well and tapped their long association for such arcana as a description of her brief stint as a bicycle marathoner, on a vehicle given to her by the ever-lustful tycoon Stanford White. (In St. Denis' case, his lust remained unrequited.) Both books are prone to plodding. These dancers radiated passion and panache. A little of those qualities was needed here. (Dodd, Mead, paper, $8.95)

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