photo of Bobbie Dreier '28

Duncan's disciple

Bobbie Dreier '28 learned to dance from the legendary Isadora Duncan, founder of modern dance.

At the age of 10, Dreier, with about 15 other girls, took classes from Duncan from 1916-17. She commuted from her home on Staten Island to Manhattan for Friday lessons in a basement at 40th and Park, leaving school early. "The teacher disapproved of my missing basketball," Dreier says. "But I enjoyed these afternoon lessons."

It was during World War I, and Duncan had recently arrived from Germany with six German girls "whom she whisked away from the dangers of the war," says Dreier. These were the "Isadorables," student performers trained in Duncan's new dance style.

"Isadora and her dancers took our hands and showed us how to do effortless dance: walking, skipping, leaping," she says. "She taught us to notice things about our bodies and showed us how to make use of what our bodies could do.

"Isadora was sweet, charming and gentle. Her quick eyes would see right away if you were experiencing tension. She talked to us with her body and made all movement seem effortless, possible and uninhibited. It was wonderful to see such a magnificent moving person as she was.

"And it was wonderful to be consciously thinking about how you were moving, that you had control of your body, and that you didn't have to waste strength in dancing. It was not uncomfortable, like ballet. We learned to notice unnecessary movement and learned to move unimpeded."

Dreier's most vivid memory of Duncan was her performance at Carnegie Hall the day after Germany defeated France at the Battle of Verdun. She crouched over a French flag with only her head, arms and legs showing. She moved diagonally across the stage, marching "steadily, resolutely," to the "Marseilles." Her whole body was motionless except for the deliberate rise and fall of her legs. "A dark, dismal pall hung over New York," says Dreier. "But this was a remarkable show of support for France, and the audience went wild. Everyone was on their feet screaming and shouting for what seemed like a full 10 minutes. I had never experienced anything that electrifying before."

After the war Duncan returned to Europe. Though Dreier stopped dancing, Duncan's influence was evident in other areas of Dreier's life-in her athletic career at Bryn Mawr College as a field hockey and basketball player, and later as one the original founders of another BMC, Black Mountain College. In Asheville NC, the experimental art school became home to the most creative minds of the '30s, '40s and '50s, including artists Elaine and Willem de Kooning, inventor Buckminster Fuller and poet Charles Olson. (Black Mountain College closed in 1957.) Dreier's husband Theodore wrote the college's bylaws and taught physics and mathematics there from 1933-1949. He later worked for General Electric on power sources for the first nuclear submarine.

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