Bay Area News Group

PALO ALTO -- Another tragedy has befallen the Mexican dance community of the Bay Area. Susan Valerie Cashion, co-founder of the Los Lupenos dance company and former Stanford University dance director, died Thursday after stepping onto the path of an approaching commuter train.

The Santa Clara County Medical Examiner-Coroner's Office ruled Cashion's death a suicide after the 70-year-old Palo Alto resident was fatally struck by a southbound Caltrain near Charleston Road.

Cashion taught Mexican, Latin American and modern dance at Stanford for 35 years and served as director of the university's dance division for nearly 25 years. She co-founded Los Lupenos in 1969 with the late Ramon Morones, her longtime partner who was shot and killed in 2011 during an argument at Cashion's ranch in the Mexican state of Jalisco.

Under their direction, the dance company modernized Mexican folk dance and at its peak rivaled the best folkloric companies in Mexico.

Los Lupenos' website over the weekend resounded with farewells and testimonials from her friends, former students and dance colleagues.

"Today we lost an amazing woman, a friend and mentor," said an official post from the dance company. "We will always remember you Susie and will continue the legacy you have bestowed upon us."

Cashion was born in 1943 in Pasadena, where her twin loves growing up were horseback riding and dance. A modern dance student at UCLA in 1964, Cashion traveled to Guadalajara, Mexico, to study Spanish, a graduation requirement.

"While I was there I went to see a dance performance and was completely stunned, " she said recently at her home in Palo Alto. "I had seen the jarabe tapatio performed here. You know, the traditional Mexican hat dance, but real dance in Mexico was something else."

Cashion switched her studies to Mexican and Latin American dance and began her lifelong romance with Mexico and Morones, whom she had met while researching traditional dances. She later moved to Stanford for graduate work.

She invited Morones north and together they formed Grupo Folklorico Los Lupenos de San Jose in 1969. Breaking from tradition, they introduced intricate choreographies and dramatic storytelling involving many dancers and scenes. Until then, folklorico dancing was more or less limited to couples and appeared in the United States mostly during Cinco de Mayo and Mexican Independence Day festivals. In another break that irked some traditionalists, Cashion and Morones invited non-Latinos to embrace the genre and join the troupe.

Through its school and workshops, Los Lupenos inspired folklorico groups throughout west and southwest. Cashion also helped start the Asociacion Nacional de Grupos Folkloricos, a national organization promoting the study of Mexican culture, dance and music.

Cashion won many awards during her career, including one in 1980 from the Mexican government "for significant contributions to the culture and teaching of Mexican Folklore in the United States of America." She won several California Arts Council grants for choreographic works.

Cashion and Morones were planning to spend their golden years together at her ranch in San Luis Soyatlan when Morones was shot and killed in 2011 by an employee during an argument.

After his death and 35 years after leaving Los Lupenos, Cashion returned recently to the group as a co-artistic director.

"When she came back it wasn't just a shot in the arm, it was a homecoming," said Marcela Davison-Aviles, head of the Mexican Heritage Corp. MHC had absorbed Los Lupenos in 2006 after the dance group fell on hard times. "She was a visionary." Davison-Aviles said her group will dedicate its upcoming "Viva Fest" celebration to Cashion's memory. More memorials are on the way.

The Dance Division of Stanford is asking students, faculty, staff and friends to submit their memories of Cashion at TAPSinformation@stanford.edu. Information about memorial services will be posted at http://www.stanford.edu/dept/drama/AY14/susan-cashion.html.

Los Lupenos will host a celebration of Cashion's life at 5 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 8, at the Mexican Heritage Plaza School of Arts and Culture in East San Jose.

Email Joe Rodriguez at jrodriguez@mercurynews. Follow him at Twitter.com/JoeRodMercury.