Born in Toronto in 1873 as Beulah Maud Durant, Maud Allan’s parents moved to San Francisco when she was a young girl. There, she studied piano and eventually became a piano teacher before moving to Berlin 1895 to study at the Hochschule für Musik. While in Berlin, her brother was accused of murder (he would be hanged in 1898 at San Quentin) and she ended up staying in Europe at his request, with little money of her own. To support herself, she gave English lessons and even illustrated a German book on female sexuality.
Eventually, though she continued with the piano, Allan turned to dance. Her first great dancing success was her version of Oscar Wilde’s Salome, which she renamed The Vision of Salome, with music written for her by Belgian composer Marcel Rémy. The piece debuted in Vienna in 1906, and though she had many other successes, she became associated with the role and was called the Salome Dancer. Self-taught, she was often compared to Isadora Duncan, whom she loathed.
Allan toured for many years around the world, including a stint in the U.S. where she played a part in the silent film The Rugmaker’s Daughter, in which she danced several of her dances. In 1918, Allan became involved in a complicated libel suit in which she sued politician Noel Pemberton Billing, who in an article called “The Cult of the Clitoris” published in his own newspaper, the Imperialist, had implied that she practiced the sexual acts she portrayed in her role as Salome, including lesbianism. Allen, despite her friendship with Prime Minister Herbert Asquith and his wife Margot (who paid Allen’s rent for many years) lost the suit, Billing having successfully painted her as wild and tying her to her brother.
After the trial, Allan’s career dwindled and she lived with her secretary and lover, Verna Aldwich, in the U.K. She eventually moved back to America, first to New York City, where she opened a dance school for poor children and eventually to California, where she died in 1956.