Native Californian Susan Cashion began her love for dance at an early age, but blossomed during her college years at UCLA where she received the first of four degrees in 1965 (BA, Dance). A trained contemporary dancer, Susan began to explore Latin American dance and culture. As the recipient of two Fulbright Scholarships (to México and Chile) her dance focus shifted. In 1969, Susan co-founded a Mexican folk dance group with artist Ramón Morones. Their brainchild, Los Lupeños de San José, was a catalyst for the folklórico movement in the San Francisco Bay Area and spawned numerous dance and music ensembles over the years. In 1972 Susan began teaching in the Dance Division of Stanford University where she founded and directed the Ballet Folklórico de Stanford. In 1976 Susan received her Masters in Dance (UCLA) and subsequently attained her second Masters in Anthropology (Stanford, 1982) and her PhD in Education (Stanford, 1983). During her 35 years at Stanford, Susan spent her free time studying under master instructors in México (Rafael Zamarripa, Elias Guerra, Jaime Buentello, Daniel Andrade, Andres Saenz, Mario Cabrera), Cuba (Manolo Vazquez), and Brazil (Raimundo dos Santos). Susan’s research trips took her to many other countries and she especially reveled in the semesters she taught in Santiago, Chile which gave her a chance to delve into Chilean folk dance. As a choreographer, she spanned musical theater, contemporary, and ethnic dance genres. As an educator, she looked for opportunities to broaden the horizons of her students by exposing them to new dance forms, guest instructors, and creative thinking. The awards, recognitions, grants, and special honors in Susan’s career are too numerous to list.
In her own words – an excerpt from Susan Cashion’s Artistic Statement
“I have been a choreographer almost all my adult life. I went to UCLA during a time when the core classes for dance majors included both technique and choreography. To take a modern dance class in pure technique was unheard of. My first teacher was Dr. Alma Hawkins, a visionary of dance in higher education. The objective was always to be a creative artist and find your own voice and philosophy. Dance was considered a fine art form, not a division of physical education. Thus, my approach to choreography is as an art form that can communicate my point of view to others.
So much of my dance work is in Mexican folklórico, a staged rendering of Mexican regional, ritual, and social dance forms. Those from whom I learned Mexican dance were trained in painting and sculpting and they had an understanding of how to use the art principles of form, content, space, dynamics, color, and contrast to enrich their dance creations. Seeing their works on stage influenced and deepened my artistic sensibility for displaying cultural dance forms of México.
I want my work to be seen as an art piece that is well crafted, beautifully staged, and centers on a specific theme or story line. I strive for a kinesthetic impact by filling the stage with motion. Entertainment in the best sense of the word is always my aim. But education and a deepening of understanding about the subject matter are of equal value.”
As a tribute to our founder, here is a mosaic of statements from her peers, friends, and students.
- Yvonne Daniel
- Margit David and Boyd Arnold
- Diane Frank
- Bubba Gong
- Carla Leite
- Halifu Osumare
- Catherine Evleshin
Yvonne Daniel, Ph.D.
Professor Emerita of Dance and Afro-American Studies, Smith College
“Susie was my inspiration- despite our two harsh disagreements in forty three years of friendship. As my teacher at Cal State Hayward, she encouraged my choreography and performance interests and gently pulled me away from classical piano. After reading my second research paper ever, “The Black Influence within Mexican Regional Dance,” she told me she hoped to one day see me teaching a parallel course to her Mexican Regional Dance course on Afro-Caribbean Dance and that, in fact, happened at Mills College three years later. When we were in doctoral studies at the same time, she finished and I didn’t. I had such hurdles that I often stopped, but she wouldn’t let me be. She always told me the benefits, not so much of the degree, but of the world of knowledge, the thousands of provocative books, the many other researchers’ discoveries and conclusions, and the wondrous experiences of working with graduate students and their challenging projects that I would have access to. She invited me often to the Dance Dept. to share my Haitian and Cuban dance research with her students and she influenced my joining Stanford University’s faculty in Black Performance as invited Coordinator of the Katherine Dunham Bicentennial Symposium in 1988-89. She showed me how I was needed and what I had to offer– to students and to the field of dance. I wouldn’t be who I have become without her steady faith and active encouragement. I miss her terribly.”
Margit David and Boyd Arnold
Close friends and longtime neighbors
“When Susie bought her house, it was a package deal. It came with a shared driveway along with our family for her up close and personal neighbors. Over the years we lived the saying “since we’re neighbors, let’s be be friends.” We enjoyed the music we could hear coming from her patio, shared spontaneous dinner invitations and morning chats over coffee and so often we would come home to find an arrangement of colorful flowers from her beautiful garden. Our beloved neighbor and dear friend will live on as a blessing in our lives.”
Stanford University Lecturer, Modern Dancer, Choreographer
“Twenty years of Susie memories live in Roble Dance Studio. Class was an invitation to join and build a community; the class began and ended in a circle of equals. Susie’s clear gaze into someone’s eyes, her direct smile, her movements, were a conversation, infused with warmth, radiating connection—laughing, teasing, coaxing, demanding that you give yourself. She stunned me with her sheer performance chops, her passionate intensity, and her flirtatiousness when she danced with Marco Romero. Equally stunning: the contraband tequila that showed up on the Dias De Los Muertos alters she built in the studio corner.
She had an enduring love affair with Mexican, Latin, and South American people and culture. All of her work flew in the face of my cool post-modern aesthetic sensibility—thank goodness! I re-discovered—through Susie, without apology, suffused with pride—the kind of passionate life drive that makes us dance.”
Director of Dance at Foothill College, Founder & Artistic Director of the Foothill Repertory Dance Company
“I do not know where to begin or how to capture the Spirit of SUSIE! I only know that to me, she is and always will be SUSIE SUSIE SUSIE! because her generosity of spirit and her dedication and devotion to DANCE was so BIG. As my friend, mentor, colleague, teacher…her love and light will continue to guide me, inspire me. She transformed generations of dancers and her dances will stay in my heart for always.
Susie and I met during my undergraduate years at Stanford. Like many good Chinese American sons…I was originally intended to be a PRE-MED Major…and through encouragement and belief and faith and serendipity…I forged a road less traveled and can say it was my dear friend Susie, who eventually brought me back to Stanford to complete my Graduate Degree in Dance.
My memory of Susie: this crop of bright copper hair, billowing skirt and crisp staccato heels…a contagious laugh and a passionate life. Every year we would meet for a catch up lunch and we would talk for hours about our teaching, our students, our lives, our dances. We served on several Boards and Foundations together for we shared dreams of nurturing artistic visions and providing support to struggling dancers, artists, educators. Her dedication and commitment to excellence and to a spirit of diversity live in my teaching and instill my dances with purpose. She inspired me to my highest teaching ideals.
When I think of SUSIE…I will remember and cherish the memories of our youthful idealism and dreams we forged together at Stanford and beyond the farm. I will remember her warm embrace of me and her encouragement of my individuality and truth. I will remember the laughter, the music, the food, the fun times we shared. She was present at every on e of my concerts at Foothill College…always my biggest supporter and CRITIC! She encouraged me to reach higher, further, deeper. But most importantly…she gave me the greatest gift of all…her love and friendship over three decades!”
Carla Leite, Ph.D.
Brazilian dance artist, teacher at the Federal University of Bahia, Brazil
“Querida Susie – you’ve spread seeds in many different countries, many cities, just all over—and they’ve grown into beautiful trees and flowers and these will be our remembrances of you; you have been, and will be, at our sides, embellishing our paths with gentle fragrances and the brightest of light. Um abraço apertado.”
Halifu Osumare, Ph.D.
Professor African American and African Studies, UC Davis
“I worked with Dr. Susan Cashion at Stanford University from 1981 to 1994, with my position bridging the Stanford black community and the Dance Division that was at that time under Athletics. I had a joint appointed with the Committee on Black Performing Arts and the Stanford Dance Division. Susie was always supportive of this important liaison. She not only worked with the Ballet Folklórico Chicano movement and Latin American dance, but also dance of the African Diaspora. Two of her largest self-generated Stanford projects in this arena was: In 1992, Danza Contemporanea de Cuba, the primary Cuban contemporary dance school that blends modern dance and Afro-Cuban folkloric dance styles, and in 1993 Los Muñequitos de Mantanza, an internationally-recognized Cuban rumba folkloric company. Both projects of the Stanford Dance Division attracted large segments of the Cuban and African Diaspora populations of the Bay Area, including the late Cuban master drummer Francisco Aguabella from San Francisco. These projects took a lot of time working through the international diplomatic paperwork that was required at that time for any interaction with Cuban artists. Susie always showed her commitment and tenacity for creating these cultural dance exchanges.
One other major project reflective of Susan Cashion’s support for African-derived dance was the Stanford May 1989 Katherine Dunham Residency. To bring Madame Katherine Dunham (1909-2006) to Stanford, as the first dancer to bring Afro-Caribbean dance styles into modern dance and to offer a model of the dancer-scholar as early as the late 1930s, was a major project that took two years of planning. I was the Chair of a university-wide committee that represented Anthropology, the Committee on Black Performing Arts, the City of East Palo Alto, and of course the Stanford Dance Division, represented by Susan Cashion. Susie worked tirelessly to help develop that one-month residency that included a four-member Dunham entourage, with dance classes, lectures, an exhibit of Dunham’s books and costumes, community classes in East Palo Alto, and a huge Lecture Demonstration of Dunham Technique at Memorial Auditorium. Susie worked with me every step along the way, and the dance classes could not have happened without her enduring support.Very few university dance departments are truly diverse with an understanding that western dance forms—ballet, modern, and jazz—are on the “family circle” of dance cultures with all other forms that are usually relegated to “ethnic dance” or “world dance” forms on the periphery. Susan Cashion was a pioneer in cultural diversity in dance in higher education. In both curriculum and faculty, she actively supported inclusiveness in the Stanford Dance Division. Susie, herself, actively taught modern dance, Mexican Folk Dance, and Latin American forms. Our early 1980s annual dance concerts of the Dance Division, called “Moving Together,” always reflected this inclusiveness and respect for all forms of dance. Susan Cashion was instrumental inestablishing the discourse and curriculum of the Stanford Dance Division being unique in university dance.”
Professor, Portland State University (retired)
“In 1985, after hearing of Susie’s work, I met her in Brazil where we shared a workshop. I had lived and traveled in several Latin American countries, researching dance and festival culture. She said, “You must go to Cuba.” And how would I do that? She told me, I did go, and life was never the same. Until her untimely parting, we shared the stage, classrooms, carnivals, and nightclubs for those moments when all is perfect, because of the dance. That was Susie, facilitating people’s dreams.”