Hortense Kooluris (1914-2007)

Born Hortense Dolan in 1914 into a large family of talented musicians and painters, who were to inspire Christina Stead’s novel The People with the Dogs, Hortense was dancing almost as soon as she could walk. At age six she began training in New York with Elizabeth Duncan, Isadora’s sister. At 15 she was the youngest member of the Irma Duncan dancers, and performed with them from 1930 to 1933 when Irma retired. Among many other places, the company danced from Carnegie Hall to as far away as Havana. Their final performance in Madison Square Gardens was in a program for World Peace with Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony played by the Philadelphia Symphony.

Hortense was a gentle spirit of extraordinary grace and charm. Her personal beauty was celebrated by a number of artists, including the photographer Arnold Genthe, the sculptor Mario Corbel and the painter Nathan Dolinsky; and in later life by her son, photographer Kirby Kooluris, photographer Claudine Laabs and by her daughter, portrait-artist Linda Kooluris Dobbs. In herself Hortense was modest, graceful and unstintingly generous and hospitable. Her sense of humor made her a delightful companion.

From 1933 the young dancer continued as a soloist and teacher, conducting master classes at schools, colleges and universities. She toured with Agnes DeMille’s American Heritage Theater production, “Conversations about the Dance” both on stage and in the PBS program, in which she danced with Gemze DeLappe and the Joffrey Ballet.

To augment her income, Hortense taught ballroom dancing in an Arthur Murray studio in New Jersey. It was there that she met her husband in 1943, Spyros George Kooluris ( September 14, 1914), owner of the successful Suburban restaurant next door. They settled some years later in Short Hills, where Kirby and Linda, their two children, grew up. Married, Hortense remained dedicated to her children and her art, continuing to lecture and perform until she was 84, when an automobile accident put an end to her dancing days. Characteristically, at the time, she was taking classes in tap-dancing and ballet.

Sought after as an exponent and teacher of Duncan dance, she performed and taught in Tokyo, where she partnered the eminent Japanese dancer Kazua Ohno. She danced and lectured in Toronto and at the Sorbonne in Paris. In Athens she performed near the Acropolis , and at age 79 led an outdoor recital in front of the World Trade Center at Lincoln Square, New York. Many of the present-day Duncan stars were trained by Hortense, and give prominence to the fact in their websites.

With her Irma Duncan colleague, Julia Levien, she founded the Centenary Dance Company which gave its first performance in 1977 at the Riverside Theater, New York, celebrating the 100th anniversary of Isadora Duncan’s birth.

In 1982 she served on the Evaluating Committee for Dance of the New Jersey Council on the Arts. Throughout the decade she danced, lectured and taught master classes at Smith College, Douglas College, Rutgers and York University and many other respected schools. In 1990 she became a member of the National Society of Arts and Letters. In the next four years she conducted master classes at New York University. Until her accident, she was often consulted on matters concerning dance and especially the Duncan dance.

Reporters and other visitors to her home were enchanted by the diminutive spectacle of Hortense in her flimsy Grecian costume floating among the trees and roses of her garden like a lovely wood-nymph. “Every time I give up dancing,” she told one of these guests, “something always draws me back.” Whether it was an invitation from a university to conduct master classes, or a summons to perform, she faithfully obeyed the call. A great deal of contemporary interest in the Duncan dance was inspired by Hortense’s devoted work.

Photo credit: Jessica Katz
1991 cover photo for ID memorial Tokyo

Publications

Isadora Duncan: Technique and Choreography. Dance Films Association, Distributer: Virginia Brooks. (Hortense and Julia). 1978. 29 minutes. 48 W. 21st Street, #907, NY, NY 10010 (212) 727-0764.

Memorial Tribute for Hortense Kooluris

The Legacy of the Choreography of Isadora Duncan. Dance Films Association (members only). (Hortense and Julia). 1988. 45 minutes.

Affiliations

Isadora Duncan Commemorative (Centenary) Dance Company — Founder

Isadora Duncan Dancers USA

Rubato Dance Company — Advisor

New Duncan Dancers — Performer (1933—1934)

Videos

Collection Title Date
Catherine Gallant and Dances by Isadora YouTube channel Hortense Kooluris performs Bacchanale 1987
The Collection of Adrienne Ramm Isadora Duncan's 110th Birthday Celebration 1987
Sylvia Gold's YouTube channel Isadora Duncan Centenary Dance Company performs Three Graces
Sylvia Gold's YouTube channel Hortense Kooluris performs Rose Petals
Sylvia Gold's YouTube channel Gemze, Hortense, Julia, and Sylvia perform Cymbals
Sylvia Gold's YouTube channel Isadora Duncan Centenary Dance Company performs Blessed Spirits
Sylvia Gold's YouTube channel Isadora Duncan Centenary Dance Company performs Brahms 7
Sylvia Gold's YouTube channel Hortense and the Isadora Duncan Centenary Dance Company performs Cherubim
Sylvia Gold's YouTube channel Isadora Duncan Centenary Dance Company performs Ave Maria

Related items in the Archives

The Isadora Duncan Archive Collection > Photos > Hortense Kooluris Photos — 1978

The Collection of Catherine Gallant > Photos > Julia and Hortense

The Collection of Mignon Garland > Photos > Irma Duncan's Isadora Duncan Dancers in Cuba

The Collection of Mignon Garland > Photos > Julia, Ruth and Hortense

The Collection of Mignon Garland > Photos > Julia Levien, Hortense Dolan (Kooluris), Mignon Garland — 1942

The Collection of Mignon Garland > Photos > Mignon Garland, Hortense Dolan (Kooluris) and Julia Levien — 1943

The Collection of Mignon Garland > Photos > American Isadora Duncan Dancers — 1930

The Collection of Barbara Kane > Photos > Hortense Kooluris

The Collection of Janaea Rose Lyn (McAlee) > Photos > Memorial Performance Dancers

The Collection of Adrienne Ramm > Photos > Julia and Hortense

The Collection of Christy Cornell-Pape > Programs > Irma Duncan — Isadora Duncan Dancers — Mar 13, 1932

The Collection of Mignon Garland > Programs > Isadora Duncan Dancers in Minneapolis — 1930

The Collection of Mignon Garland > Programs > Duncan Dance Congress Program — Nov 15, 1942

The Collection of Mignon Garland > Programs > Second Duncan Dance Guild Program — 1943

The Collection of Mignon Garland > Programs > The Isadora Duncan Dance Memorial, 1952 — Dec 14, 1952

The Collection of Mignon Garland > Programs > Mignon Garland and Hortense Kooluris Performance — 1971

The Collection of Mignon Garland > Programs > S.F. Duncan Dancers, Workshop Production — Apr 1980

The Collection of Barbara Kane > Programs > Irma Duncan — Apr 23, 1937

The Collection of Barbara Kane > Programs > Riverside Dance Festival — Isadora Duncan Centenary Dance Company — May 26, 1977

The Collection of Barbara Kane > Programs > Isadora Duncan Centenary Dance Company — Oct 23, 1977

The Collection of Barbara Kane > Programs > Duncan Dance Festival — Isadora Duncan Centenary Dance Company — 1978

The Collection of Barbara Kane > Programs > Riverside Dance Festival — Isadora Duncan Centenary Dance Company — Jan 05, 1978

The Collection of Barbara Kane > Programs > Isadora Duncan Centenary Dance Company — Jun 24, 1978

The Collection of Barbara Kane > Programs > Anita Zahn Memorial Celebration — Nov 05, 1995

The Collection of Janaea Rose Lyn (McAlee) > Programs > Roerich Society Leading Dance Personalities — Irma Duncan — Isadora Duncan Dancers — Dec 09, 1931

The Collection of Janaea Rose Lyn (McAlee) > Programs > Isadora Duncan Dance Memorial — Ruth Fletcher, Mary Garland, Hortense Kooluris, Sima Leake, Julia Levien — Dec 14, 1952

The Collection of Mignon Garland > Articles > Duncan Congress, Dance Magazine Article 1943 — 1943

Related references

Gilford, Barbara. "A Link to the Legend of Isadora Duncan," The New York Times, August 2, 1992 (about Hortense Kooluris).

Kisselgoff, Anna. "Dance: Duncan Works Restaged," New York Times, January 7, 1978, p. 13 (need subscription to read entire article).