In the 1980s, one of the most riveting dance artists in San Diego was Kathleen Lauren (Kate) Lounsbury. Fierce, articulate, delicate but with tensile strength, Kate possessed the kind of presence that demanded your attention. In works by many San Diego choreographers–including a stunning program of solos she commissioned for herself–Kate conveyed an absolute conviction that the work in which she was performing mattered and that dance mattered.
Dance mattered so much to Kate that she overcame considerable odds to make a career as a dancer. I met her in the late 1970s, when we were both involved in the Center for Women’s Studies and Services. At a retreat, a tense meeting lasted past the time we were supposed to break for dinner. It wasn’t until Kate felt really ill that she revealed that she had diabetes and desperately needed a break in order to balance her blood sugar.
The same kind of will that made her stick it out at the meeting, she brought to her practice of dance. I don’t know–and haven’t been able to find out–if she had much dance training as a child. But I recall conversations, when she’d just decided to study dance intensively, in which I told her I planned to be a dancer but not until my next life, since I figured I needed to start as a child. I think Kate had a similarly minimal background, but that didn’t stop her. She plunged into the dance program at SDSU. She also eagerly tried out a new therapy for diabetes, having an implanted insulin pump, to have more control over the instrument of her body.
In 1990, Kate moved to Seattle and was involved in the dance scene there. She passed away last fall, choosing the circumstances of her own death after a struggle with b-cell lymphona. As Cate Bell lovingly describes it below: “Always the dancer — Kate choreographed and stage managed her death. She chose the date, made all the arrangements, chose her outfit (costume), rearranged her room (set the stage), selected the cast (6 of her friends), and ran us through a dress rehearsal. Her drive to dance and to educate took her right through into whatever is next. By the way, she said it was incredible.”
And stay posted. Deborah Birrane is planning a memorial concert in Seattle and may be able to bring it here.
Obituary – edited by Alan Lambert
Kate Lounsbury was born in Concord, Massachusetts to Barbara (Frink) and Warren Bean. She passed away on October 26 in Kirkland, Washington after several months of battling b-cell lymphoma.
Kate lived most of her adult life on the West Coast in San Diego and the Seattle area, with several extended visits to France, Spain, Mexico and Eastern Europe. As a dancer and dance instructor, she graduated Cum Laude in 1987 from San Diego State University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts and spent the next 12 years in San Diego as an accomplished and highly lauded modern dancer, working with a variety of professional troupes including Malashock Dance and Company, Patricia Sandback & Dancers, Three’s Company and Dancers, the San Diego Dance Theater, Terry Sprague, and she was a founding member and co-director of Sirius 11 for a few years. Eileen Sondak, reviewing for the Los Angeles Times, wrote in October 1989: “After a stunning opening performance at Sushi on Friday night, a lot of die-hard dance buffs were left wondering why it has taken more than a decade to discover this Kate Lounsbury – the one with star quality.”
She married Dan Fiolkoski in 1982 and the couple eventually moved to the Seattle area in 1990 where she continued to provide dance instruction and perform as dancer, working with organizations such as Strong Wind Wild Horses (Shirley Jenkins, Artistic Director), the Cornish College of Arts, the Creative Dance Center, and the Deborah Birrane Dance Company. She eventually earned a CLMA – Master’s Certification as a Movement Analyst in 1999 and toured with Deborah Birrane Dance in 2000 as a project director for performances in Yugoslavia. After her marriage ended in 1999, Kate continued her involvement in the dance community while moving into the business world for the next ten years as office manager, HR manager, administrator, and organizational development specialist. She earned a Masters of Arts in Applied Behavioral Science in 2002 from the Leadership Institute of Seattle and worked for companies including Connell Design Group and HDR Engineering.
Her creativity and skill in working with design organizations led her to move into the non-medical care-giving industry beginning with in-home care for local Seattle artist William Cumming for over a year until he died in 2010, following which she provided care services for many clients through Visiting Angels, Home Instead, and With A Little Help.
When she learned that her cancer was terminal, Kate qualified herself under the State’s “Death With Dignity” act so as not to prolong the agony of her final chapter in her life’s story. This was a typical decision from Kate: she had the courage and integrity to confront the reality of her situation, plan for it in great detail, and develop her support team and family to understand what she needed to complete her last “project” in this world.
She received the medicines from Compassion & Choices on a bright Saturday morning, and in the presence of six friends who had been part of her support team, she quickly fell into a deep, peaceful sleep and left us at 11:05AM.
She is survived by family members including two brothers (Steve Bean and Bill Lounsbury), three sisters (Marcia Depillo, Jan Manseau, and Barbara Lounsbury-Roussouliere), and several nieces and nephews. Kate’s mother, Barbara Bean, predeceased her by nine days on October 17.
A memorial/celebration event is planned for Saturday, December 7th aboard a Bainbridge Island bound State Ferry that will be leaving Pier 52 at 801 Alaskan Way in Seattle at 9:35AM. In line with her final wishes, the ferry will stop briefly so that celebrants can place two biodegradeable urns into the Puget Sound waters – one with Kate’s ashes, and one with her mother’s ashes.
On January 24, 25, and 26, 2014, the dance company currently directed by Shirley Jenkins (DanceJENKINSDance) will perform a concert of dances dedicated in Kate’s honor. The performance will be held at the Cornish Playhouse at the Seattle Center.
Kate was great friend and colleague to many people in the dance and business worlds, and she will be dearly missed by both friends and family.
(Barbara) Lynne Lounsbury-Roussoulière, Kate’s sister
How wonderful of you to do a piece on my beloved sister Kate. Serendipitous to receive your email now, as I am in a small town in northern Spain on a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, carrying some of Kate’s cremains as she accompanies me on this Way which she started me on in May 2012.
She herself did this pilgrimage with our brother in 2001, and succeeded in spite of severe pain and serious wounds from blisters and foot sores. So typical of Kate – once she had set her objective, she withstood and overcame whatever obstacles were in her way – emotional, physical, or otherwise. She is one of the strongest women I have known.
She often acted “outside of the box” and was frequently misunderstood and even rejected by some. But she acted true to her own beliefs and principles. Her final extreme suffering from cancer combined with her diabetes, and her difficult choice to spare the pain of those she loved by freely deciding her own dignified exit, was typical of the way she lived her life.
Cate Bell – dance artist
I met Kate in modern dance classes at San Diego State University in 1984. I had recently moved to San Diego from New York City, and I was looking to connect to the dance scene here. San Diego State seemed to be the hub, and Kate stood out in that hub. She immediately caught my eye because she was such an expressive and committed mover, always fully invested in what she was doing. Plus she always wore a belt with a little box attached to it. Intriguing — what was that about? I finally found out when we were rehearsing one of my pieces and she had to stop to adjust her insulin. The little box was an insulin pump. She was an early adopter of that technology and part of a research study that was testing it. I learned a lot about Type 1 diabetes and about Kate then and over the next few years that we worked together.
When I reconnected with her 28 years later during her lymphoma treatment and subsequent death, I learned that, at her core, Kate was a dedicated educator. She would not volunteer information, but if you asked (and she expected you to) she would tell you everything about whatever it was. She was brave, open and honest, genuine and clear, and that was how she danced too.
When she was on stage, she was the one I watched (apologies to all who performed with her when I was in the audience). She was my favorite dancer to choreograph on (again, apologies) because, while maybe she was not the most technically proficient dancer in town (but she was pretty damn good at that too), she brought a deep commitment and intelligence to the rehearsal process and threw everything she had into inhabiting whatever role I threw at her. She did her homework — obviously spent hours outside the rehearsal studio thinking about the role and making it her own. Sometimes she had a hard time getting her insulin levels to cooperate, and we would have to cut a rehearsal short or take a break, but that never influenced her drive to dance. She had a lot to express, and dance was her chosen medium.
In addition to having the privilege of choreographing on her, I got to perform with her in several great projects. One was a piece choreographed by George Willis where we got to dance to klezmer music while wearing marching band uniforms and wielding toilet plungers. Another piece grew out of a site-specific improv class taught by Pat Sandback. It was a collaboration between all of us, and we called it Open Windows, Closed Doors. I have fond memories of working on that project with all those wonderful women, including Kate.
Kate was thirsty for anything having to do with dance and drank up the Bartenieff Fundamentals and Laban Movement Analysis classes I offered. She studied with me privately and again brought bravery and commitment to the process. After she moved to Seattle in 1989 or 1990, she ended up taking a Laban/Bartenieff certification course there and went on to coach dancers and choreographers in Seattle, again educating.
I always tried to stay in touch with her, but she was not so good at reciprocating. She suffered from depression and sometimes staying in touch was just too hard. We reconnected when she included me in an e-mail she sent in September 2012 telling about her diagnosis with Proliferative Large B-Cell Lymphoma and outlining her treatment plan and needs. Even in that e-mail, part of her mission was to educate about the cancer and treatment. When the cancer returned and it was clear that she was not going to recover, she chose Death With Dignity, which is legal in that great State of Washington. Right up to several days before she died, she made a point of educating and trying to get the word out about how Death With Dignity works. On her deathbed she granted a lengthy interview to a woman who was writing a blog about it.
And always the dancer — Kate choreographed and stage managed her death. She chose the date, made all the arrangements, chose her outfit (costume), rearranged her room (set the stage), selected the cast (6 of her friends), and ran us through a dress rehearsal. Her drive to dance and to educate took her right through into whatever is next. By the way, she said it was incredible.
John Malashock – Director, Malashock Dance
It was clear that she wasn’t a dyed-in-the-wool dancer, but her dramatic presence made up for that. She was in a few of my rather pivotal works, early on – Departure of the Youngsters and A Walk on the World.
Terry Wilson – Professor, Dance SDCC; Lecturer, Theater and Dance UCSD
I was a young dancer at SDSU and Kate was in the MA program there. Kate was always someone I looked up to and admired but our conversations were mostly about dance. I do not have any history of her before that or know her on a deeply personal level. That being said, she was always kind, generous and patient with the “greener” dancers and demonstrated the reverent behavior that a mature dancer acquires.
Kate continued her elegant style of performance after leaving SDSU, contributing in the creation of a rich creative environment and dance community in San Diego. I was very saddened when she moved up north, but knew she would continue to create a similar relationship to any community she lived in.
When I try to remember Kate, my kinesthetic memory conjures up a regal, sophisticated, elegant and serene person both on and off the stage.
I participated in a summer workshop with Three’s Company in Idyllwild CA in 1983. I walked into the old studio on 5th avenue and Jean gave me a full scholarship to study dance in the mountains. We had never met and she had not seen me dance. I was simply in the right place at the right time and someone had just declined their scholarship. (Kate’s the dancer in the right foreground with the exquisite lines.)
Kate and Ellen Siegel were both there. [See a tribute to Ellen, who passed in February, here.) It was the first time I danced modern dance and I was in the advanced Graham class with Tim Wengard. I was easily the worst dancer there but everyone embraced me, laughed at me and made me feel welcome. These are the kinds of people our community is based on and I am proud to have known these great dancers.
Jean Isaacs – Director, Jean Isaacs San Diego Dance Theater
What I remember most about Kate was her courage and plainly practical approach to her lifetime struggle with diabetes. She wore a device which monitored her sugar 24/7 both inside and out of her clothing anf dealt with that , as a dancer whose every minute detail of her physical image is constantly scrutinized, like someone flicking a bit of dandruff off. Wonderful to be around her.
Alan Lambert – Seattle friend
I got acquainted with Kate when she joined my company, Connell Design Group, as an Office Administrator in 1999. While she remained connected to the dance world in the Seattle area, she had begun to carve out a new career in the business world after the end of her marriage. Kate never just did a job: she brought a passion to push boundaries and integrate her sense of how movement can help build organizational cohesion and growth. At the time, of course, I didn’t understand what she was talking about. I still don’t but it had something to do with how people connect with one another and establish rapport through physical training to create balance and trust.
That part of her agenda did not fully translate into the office environment, but she had an incredible intellect and was not afraid to challenge the norm. CDG is an interior architecture and design firm with a lot of creative energy and stress. She fit well within that milieu as an Administrative and HR Manager between 1999 and 2007: solid organizational skills, excellent communicator, a good manager at developing/implementing in-house training, recruiting, and internship programs, and a strategic catalyst for initiating organizational improvements at CDG. Most of the tools she developed in these areas we continue to use today.
She wrote later, “My goal was to translate my artistic understanding of movement to the welfare of the business/corporate world … But my core, my passion, my skills and my yearning to move myself into increasing fitness lie in the movement sciences. The BODY continually fascinates and enlivens my raison d’etre.”
She moved on after her time at CDG but we stayed in touch as friends through the many ups and downs we both encountered. As Cate Bell noted, she was subject to depressions, but also had an astonishing resiliency and a capacity to rebuild following disappointments. Cate’s description of how she organized her final weeks was spot-on: team-building, education, stage management, costuming, dress rehearsal – and this of course carried over to her memorial service which she also orchestrated: “out to sea” on ferry boat. She picked out the music, the speakers, and how we were to dispose of her ashes (along with her Mom’s ashes): she had learned that we could have ferry stop mid-way on its way to Bainbridge Island, at which point we were to drop both urns into the cold Puget Sound waters. And so we did.
That’s one memorial most of the some 30 people who joined us on-board will NEVER forget, just most of us will never forget this remarkable, complex, strong-willed, powerful friend that we lost too soon.
Deborah Birrane – director, Deborah Birrane Dance, Seattle
I first met Kate in 1998 in Jeff Bickford’s modern class at what was Dance On Capitol Hill. I liked to put myself near mature dancers and, for me, that was Kate. I hadn’t known her really well when I asked her if she would dance in my work, Widow’s Walk. Not too far into our rehearsal process, Kate suddenly looked as though she couldn’t dance which baffled me. She began to listlessly wander the stage. I looked at her and she said she needed food and my immediate response was, are you a Diabetic? Someone run upstairs and get some orange juice – now! To this day I ask all students, dancers, etc. to please let me know about anything I should know about! Kate’s dancing returned to normal – beautiful normal. I believe that was Kate’s final performance and after that, Kate became my rehearsal director. That was one of the greatest gifts she gave to me, to my dancers and, ultimately, to our audiences!
Kate was the one who could come into rehearsal and ask the big questions, the deep questions and gently push my dancers forward and further into themselves to pull out more. Unfortunately not all my dancers got it but for those who did, they benefited and the dance took on a life with more clarity. Kate had a lot of patience and many ways to approach things, be it dancers’ mental/physical block or mine as a choreographer. Which leads us to my solo …and the wind cried in which Kate and I worked ever so closely together on for my 2002 performance in Yugoslavia. Wow, if Kate didn’t come to rehearsal with a variety of ways to play with the dance, to take me “out of the dance”, to explore and improvise in fun and at times scary ways – but she was there 100% and it was safe to let go!
Yugoslavia was a trip – literally and figuratively. In a nutshell, Kate was everything you know her to be. Our American “leader” of this event did little to no work in coordinating with folks over there. Kate immediately jumped from her role as Rehearsal Director to Stage Manager, Lighting and Sound Tech Guru! Kate and the Crew of Men. They loved her and had a blast which meant I had great stage lighting and fabulous assistance! We met so many, many wonderful people and received incredible feedback on how relevant my solo was for them and how moved they were. Kudos to the team!
Kate was a friend who would disappear for awhile, life would become overwhelming. However, when we would re-group, it felt as if no time had passed. With the sharing of a great meal, a bottle of delicious red wine, all was good! Kate was a great listener and good for giving advice, whether I wanted it or not, which was usually followed by, wow, did I say too much! Ha – never, Kate! Easy to laugh, Kate had a great sense of humor, could laugh at herself, and easily join me on my foibles in a a most lovingly natured way.
The last month-and-a-half of Kate’s life was a journey – for Kate and for all who travelled that road with her. It was a continual learning experience of the mind and of the heart. True to Kate’s nature, she was providing educational opportunities through to the end. As well as choreographing till the end – she wanted to see what it would be like to have us lay flowers on her when she passed. What a hoot! It was an honor to be there with Kate, a beautiful and awe-some time I will never forget.
Not a day goes by that I don’t think of Kate. Of course, studying her solo dances from 1989 keeps her ever fresh and gives me a unique opportunity to experience her at her height of dancing. She was beautiful. And, I still get to learn from her – how very cool it is!
Hold up your glass and cheers to Kate!