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Death of a Dancer

The death of the beautiful dancer Isadora Duncan is one of the many legends surrounding the Bugatti name.

American-born Duncan was not only among the most prominent dancers of her time, but is to this day regarded as the progenitor of modern dance. It was mainly in Europe that she developed her idiosyncratic style of dance, the ex-pat shocking her audience with barefoot interpretations of great ballet classics and with costumes that exposed her arms and legs. Openly rebelling against bourgeois conventions, non-conformist Duncan supported women’s emancipation and other feminist causes.

Her notorious death is not exactly a pet topic for Bugatti historians. Some Bugattistas even go so far as to question whether the fateful car in which the dancer met her demise was in fact a Bugatti – maybe it was an Amilcar. Yet this latter version is certainly false, since Isadora Duncan’s ardour was reserved for a single brand of automobile: Bugatti.

As legend has it, she desired to buy one but could not afford it. At this time, most of her bills were being settled by wealthy benefactors, including her former lover Paris Singer, heir to the sewing-machine empire. Then the dancer met a young auto mechanic who sold Bugatti cars and she asked him if he would join her for a test drive in what was either the Bugatti Type 35 or 37. It is possible that her interest in the young man went beyond a mere spin in the automobile – despite her being 50 years of age and thus considerably older than her escort. According to oral tradition, her last words were: “Farewell, my friends, I am off to glory!” As the car drove off, she threw a long silk scarf around her neck, which entangled in one of the car’s open-spoked wheels. The heavy embroidered silk pulled instantly taut and snapped the dancer’s neck. This misfortune took place in Nice on September 14, 1927. In 1968 a motion picture portraying the life of the legendary dancer featured Vanessa Redgrave in the title role. Redgrave, who trained six months for Isadora, won the award for Best Actress at the 1969 Cannes Film Festival.

Isadora Duncan (1878–1927)

Isadora Duncan (1878–1927)