Susan V. Cashion, a Stanford University specialist in Mexican, Caribbean and Latin America dance, died unexpectedly Aug. 29. The loss of this remarkable scholar, colleague and artist, known to all affectionately as “Susie,” is felt across campus and throughout the dance community. Cashion joined the Stanford Dance Division faculty in 1972 and remained an emeritus fixture at Roble Gym, the headquarters of dance at Stanford, after her retirement in 2007.
Cashion was the recipient of two Fulbright grants, one to Mexico and one to Chile, and an American Association of University Women Fellowship. She received recognition from the Mexican government for contributions to Mexican culture and folklore in the United States.
She was a former president of the California Dance Educators Association, a member of the board of directors for the Congress on Research in Dance, the dance coordinator of the Wenatchee Mariachi Festival in 2001 and artistic director of the Grupo Folklórico Los Decanos.
With Ramon Morones in 1969, she founded the Los Lupeños de San Jose Mexican Dance Company, where she was a board member at the time of her death.
Cashion was born in Pasadena, Calif., in 1943 and was a resident of Palo Alto. She earned a PhD in education (’83) and an MA in anthropology (’82) at Stanford, and an MA in dance at UCLA (’67). She taught dance anthropology, modern dance, Mexican dance and Latin American dance forms at Stanford.
Part of Cashion’s legacy is the rich and rigorous instruction she provided to several generations of students who have gone on to form their own dance companies, promote Mexican dance in the region through performance and instruction, and advocate for the arts.
Both Gina Hernandez, the director of arts in undergraduate education at Stanford, and her sister are former students of Cashion’s, and Hernandez recalls taking Cashion’s classes and dancing with Ballet Folklórico in the mid-1980s.
“For me and my family, Susie was a local treasure who promoted and kept vibrant the cultural life we have become a part of and that has been a part of the Chicano Latino community at Stanford for generations,” said Hernandez. “She re-introduced us to traditions that made Stanford feel more like home and allowed us to express that part of our lives while studying here.”
Mi familia, or “my family,” is what Cashion called her students and dancers.
Colleagues described Cashion as enthusiastic, warm and generous. She often remembered faculty with a gift of a single rose at the end of a concert, a Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) altar in the fall and cards on Valentine’s Day. “Susie believed dance was an essential facet of a full life and that gratitude was an equally important part of a good work climate,” said Janice Ross, the director of the Dance Division.
“She was such a vibrant presence. Even after her retirement she often attended dance events in Roble Gym, the home of the Dance Division. It is unbearably sad for all of us to imagine she will no longer visit the building and the program she so loved,” added Ross.
Ross called Cashion one of the leading pioneers in establishing Mexican folkloric dance as a subject of serious study in American higher education.
During her 35 years at Stanford, Cashion established a strong identity for social and folkloric dance forms, creating the performing ensembles Ballet Folklórico de Stanford and Los Decanos, in addition to hosting numerous summer workshops and guest artists.
She brought scholars and dance colleagues from Mexico and Latin America to expand the repertoire and bring new dance techniques to students.
Her teaching approach combined dance instruction in the studio with ethnographic training by importing folkloric dances, costumes and music from her frequent travels throughout Mexico and Latin America.
“Her driving desire was to give students a rich and authentic performing experience, which she believed was an essential part of learning any form of dance,” said Ross.
Diane Frank, a friend and colleague of Cashion’s in the Dance Division, echoed Ross’ high opinion of Cashion’s contribution to dance practice and performance, but also the connection to a larger cultural conversation. She said Cashion’s work deepened the meaning of diversity and multiculturalism on campus.
“She paved the way for serious dance scholarship, for interest and respect for the richness and complexity of non-Western expressions of cultural identity. She showed, in her work, how those identities are vibrantly evolving in the present. This is especially important here in California, where intersections of race and ethnicity, past and present, are so dynamically changing,” said Frank.
Frank remembers Cashion the dancer: “My first glimpse of Susie dancing was a rowdy Mexican duet with Marco Romero, one that combined furious heel stamps with flirtation and jumps through a lariat. Years later, she danced the liquid ritual of a water goddess, a Caribbean spirit of the African diaspora.
“Susie was an artist scholar, driven by a passionate love for Mexican, Latin American and South American dance and culture. Her dance work always linked steps and patterns to an enlarged context of cultural legacy. Beginning with the body, she showed how movement illuminated language, religion, belief systems, architecture, history. Susie created community, and she lived to share it with her students.”
A memorial to celebrate Cashion’s life and legacy is scheduled for 5 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 8, at the School of Arts and Culture at the Mexican Heritage Plaza, 1700 Alum Rock Ave., in San Jose. The memorial will include a performance by Los Lupeños Dance Company and other community members. For more information about the memorial, contact the dance company at firstname.lastname@example.org.