Raymond Duncan

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Raymond Duncan with his wife and son in 1912

Raymond Duncan (November 1, 1874, San Francisco, California – August 14, 1966, Cavalaire-sur-Mer, France) was an American dancer, artist, poet, craftsman, and philosopher, and brother of dancer Isadora Duncan.


Born in San Francisco on November 1, 1874, Raymond Duncan was the third of the four children of Joseph Charles Duncan, a banker, and Mary Isadora Gray, the youngest daughter of Thomas Gray, a California state senator. Their other children were Elizabeth, Augustin, and Isadora, a noted dancer, In 1891, at the age of 17, he developed a theory of movement which he called kinematics, "a remarkable synthesis of the movements of labor and of daily life."[1] He believed that the importance of labor was the development of the worker, not production or earnings.

In 1898 he and his family left America and lived for a time in London, Berlin, Athens, and Paris. In 1900 he met the German poet Gusto Graeser in Paris and was deeply impressed by his ideas of natural and simple life. Duncan's theory of movement led him to work particularly closely with his sister Isadora, a noted dancer. Duncan became particularly fond of Greece; he and his Greek wife, Penelope Sikelianos, lived in a villa outside Athens which was furnished in a historically accurate manner, with many of the furnishings handmade by Raymond, whose craftwork included ceramics, weaving, and carpentry. No one was permitted to enter the villa in modern dress, and they themselves dressed in classical Greek attire both at home and abroad (which caused some consternation in 1907 Berlin).[2]

In 1909 Raymond and Penelope returned to the United States for a series of performances of classical Greek plays, touring Philadelphia, Chicago, Kansas City, San Francisco, Portland, and other cities. The couple also gave lectures and classes on folk music, weaving, dancing, and Greek music. They then spent several months in the Pacific Northwest with the Klamath Indians. While they were visiting New York in early 1910, their son Menalkas Duncan was taken to the Children's Society by the New York City police when he was found on the street wearing classical attire.[3]

In 1911 Duncan and Penelope returned to Paris and founded a school, the Akademia, at 31 Rue de Seine, which offered free courses in their specialty areas of dance, arts, and crafts; they later opened a similar school in London. Both schools were based on the idea of the Platonic Academy and both were "an open house for every new effort in theatre, literature, music and art."[4] Duncan's ultimate goal was a "complete technique of living" which, by synthesizing work, the arts, and physical movement, would result in the further development of man.

Duncan also wrote poetry and plays, newspapers, and editorials expounding his philosophy of "actionalism."

He printed his books on his own printing press using a typeface that he designed himself, including La Parole est dans le désert (1920), Poemes de parole torrentielle (1927), L'Amour à Paris (1932), and Etincelles de mon enclume (1957). Duncan's work on his printing press was featured in an interview at the academy for a 1955 documentary by Orson Welles, Around the World with Orson Welles: St.-Germain-des-Prés.Nouec Vihan

At the age of 73, he proposed creating the city of "New Paris York" at latitude 45N, longitude 36W (in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean) as a symbol of cooperation and inter-cultural communication.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Raymond Duncan Biographical Notes, ca. 1948. In the Raymond Duncan Collection, Syracuse University Special Collections Research Center.
  2. ^ "WOULD LIVE LIKE ANCIENT GREEKS; Raymond Duncan and His Hellenic Wife Create a Sensation in Berlin." New York Times, July 14, 1907, page C1.
  3. ^ "BARE LEGGED BOY SHOCKS A POLICEMAN." "New York Times", January 9, 1910, page 3.
  4. ^ Raymond Duncan Biographical Notes, ca. 1948. In the Raymond Duncan Collection, Syracuse University Special Collections Research Center.
  5. ^ "Duncan's Utopian City Only a Drop in Ocean." Washington Times-Herald, 14 Feb 1948.

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