In Memoriam: September 2011Published: September 15, 2011
Susan McLain, a member of the CSULB Department of Dance, passed away surrounded by her family and friends on Aug. 5. The legacy of education and artistry that McLain leaves behind at CSULB is rich. She came to the Department of Dance in the fall of 1993 from the University of Utah where she was teaching and choreographing as a faculty member in the Department of Modern Dance. For 18 years, McLain regularly taught courses at CSULB in Modern Dance Technique, inspiring thousands of students with her athletic and artistic skills, her incomparable passion for performance, and her often hilarious stories filled with imagery and inspiration from her days as a principal dancer with the Martha Graham Dance Company. As a composition teacher, McLain pushed the dance majors of CSULB to move beyond their past in order to explore and take risk as inventors. A true testament to her skill in teaching composition is the number of her CSULB students who had the honor of showcasing their work in American College Dance Festival Association (ACDFA) Gala performances and national festivals, and the number of her students who have continued to work as professional choreographers around the world, which will keep alive her work and words for generations to come. In addition, McLain regularly taught courses in dance history and dance pedagogy. With great passion in both of these areas, she allowed the dance majors to not only understand the history of dance and the artists who preceded them, but to utilize that information as artists and educators. As a choreographer, McLain premiered 14 works for the CSULB stages, recreated numerous works of her own that were commissioned by companies across the country, and in 2004 staged Martha Graham’s “Helios” from “Acts of Light.” McLain graced the stage of the Martha B. Knoebel Dance Theater five times, dancing in works by Della Davidson, Victoria Marks, Douglas Nielsen and Linda Tarnay, Carrie E. Oleson, and Andrew Vaca. In 2010-11, she led the Department of Dance as interim chair, adding yet another level to her enormous and compassionate influence. Soon after graduating from New York’s famous High School for the Performing Arts, McLain joined the Martha Graham Dance Company where she performed as a principal dancer, bringing to life numerous roles made famous by Graham. A former principal dancer with the Pearl Lang Dance Company, McLain also performed with Ballet West, Richard Move, Douglas Nielsen, Larry Richardson, danced extensively throughout the world, and was seen in the “Dance in America” series for public television. She continued to work as a solo artist while continuing her work for the Martha Graham Company as a senior artistic associate, mounting Graham works for university dance departments and professional companies, and giving pre-curtain lectures for the Graham company’s performances.
McLain earned her B.A. in dance education and a M.F.A. in dance from the Department of Modern Dance at the University of Utah where she also served as a faculty member for eight years and taught at the Alvin Ailey School, the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance, and various other professional studios and universities. The Martha Graham Dance Company, the Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company, Repertory Dance Theater, and other professional companies in the United States have performed her choreography. McLain’s published articles on Pilates-based research have been presented at several dance and sports medicine conferences. A biographical film about McLain by director David Viera titled “Susan, A Dancer’s Life” was presented at the New York City Lincoln Center Performing Arts Library Film Series and at the American Dance Festival Film Series in Durham, N.C. McLain is survived by her mother Joan, her daughter Nile and son-in-law Steve, and the light of her life, her granddaughter Faith. In lieu of flowers, the family kindly requests donations to the Susan McLain Scholarship Fund in the CSULB Department of Dance. To donate, contact Andy Vaca or Sylvia Rodriguez.