Come Children, Let’s Dance
1924 — Kamerny Theatre, Moscow, USSR
When you see these children dancing I implore you not to view them as little actresses against a backdrop of theatrical scenery. I want you to see them against a backdrop of nature, where they can dance freely on the meadow and among the trees.
I am showing you now only a small group of children, because the house where our school is currently situated has only a small dancing hall, with room for not more than twenty children. But that is not enough. I want to give to the future thousands of happy and healthy children.
[The children danced to Schubert’s Requiem March]
What fine, beautiful children they are, aren’t they? But I want all the children in Russia to be like that. After books, after their studies, I want to say to them ALL: “Come children, let’s dance!” I want every child in Russia to have this naturalness, this joy, this beauty which is rightfully theirs. I am sorry that at present I can give my art and my work only to such a small group.
Have you ever read Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Emile? He says there that a child lives each day an intense and beautiful life, and that we must give the child the possibility of making use of it. I don’t “teach” children. I have no special systems and methods. I don’t say to the child, ‘Hold your hand like this, or put your foot like this.” you have seen for yourselves that every child dances naturally. You saw that their movements are not taught – they grow like plants, they unfold like flowers.
Little children don’t understand versa teaching. Words, for children, are not alive. Children learn through movements; up to the age of ten or twelve they learn more from the soul. But nobody believes in the soul any more, so I say they learn from the spirit, or from intuition. I have observed that even the smallest children understand Beethoven and Schubert. But they could never understand them through words – only through movements. Movements form themselves as natural as plants, with all their feelings. A child’s life changes all the time, changes continually. Every pedagogue who really wants to do so adapt himself to the child, who is like a plant; never static, always growing. The pedagogue should give the child something new every day.
Today you have seen how every child expresses the same dance in a different way. Each while must be approached separately, because every child is different.
I hate muscles, arms and legs. I never tell a child to “hold yourself so; do this.” I do not like physical culture and sports. I do not like the Dalcroze system. I regard all that as sin – a crime against the nature of children. A child needs something very different. It needs naturalness, without pressure, and without influence. There is no need to subject a child to any demands. The child should, by itself, unfold like a plant to the light, to the sun.
Here in our head is knowledge, thought; here in our breast is a motor supplying power for our most wonderful emotions. I say to the child, “Put your hands here on your breast, then lift them high and higher to the stars, to the planets. Embrace the whole world with your arms. Reach out to the universe! You are only a small child, but you stand on the Earth. There is a place for you in the universe.”
Some Communists have told me that all this is “mystical” – that arms outstretched to the stars are “mystical.” But I teach the children to look up above them, to look around, to be conscious of the whole universe: Is that mysticism? No. I have no mysticism. I say to the child, “Look at the world – the whole universe dances together with you, the human being. Man, different from all the other animals holds up his head, while his feet remain on the Earth.
Soon the children will come before you with simple movements, and you must imagine that it is night and that they are looking at the stars. I say to the children, “When you run out into the woods or into the garden, try to keep yourselves free, in harmony with nature. Go and enjoy yourselves – jump, play, laugh and be boisterous.” But I am not of the opinion of some of your pedagogues, that children ought to be left entirely to themselves, screaming and fighting each other like wild Indians. No, the child must learn self-control – to express its feelings harmoniously. That will make it grow stronger than those children who are left to grow up wildly without learning to control themselves. To let a child develop itself through a dynamic dance is difficult, but to make it hold its musical pause – as the children have just done in the Schubert march they danced for you – is still more difficult. I have noticed afterward that they gained more strength from that than from the dynamic dance.
I want very much to know your opinion of my educational system. The greatest compliment to my School would be if every mother in the audience said, “I too would like my child to dance like that.”
I came to Russia to create something big, something grandiose. The word Bolshevik – meaning big, I thought – inflamed me when I heard it in Europe. I imagined that it would be possible to create a school of a thousand children here. All I needed for that was a big place in which to work. And now three years have passed, and I have waited in vain.
When I came to Russia, I did not intend to give public performances. During these three years I have asked those in power to give me a large heated place in winter, and a large arena in summer, where I could teach my art to a thousand children. These children here, that you have just admired, are mostly children of workers and peasants. Are they not beautiful? And does it not prove that they can be cultured and intelligent?
I desire to give the greatest joy and the greatest beauty to the children of the workers – to make them so perfect that they will be envied by the children of the millionaires. You have surely heard the legend of Cornelia, where pearls and diamonds are compared to the natural beauty of children. I would like to have the workers say, when they see thousands of children dancing in a great folks festival: “These are our jewels!”
I am afraid I have tortured you this evening with my lecture. You would have preferred, of course, to see the children dance some more. But as it was our intention to show what we have achieved so far, your slight suffering was necessary, and might even prove to be the foundation for the future school.
Source: Isadora Speaks: Writings & Speeches of Isadora Duncan. Ed. Franklin Rosemont, Chars H. Kerr, 1994, p. 81-84.