Welcome to the memorial page for

Elizabeth Diane Kagan

January 16, 1942 ~ June 7, 2017 (age 75)

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Elizabeth (Betsy) Keller Kagan died at 75 on June 7, 2017, at the McClure Rehabilitation Center in Oakland, California, after a long illness.  She was born on January 16, 1942, in Hartford, Connecticut, the daughter of Carolyn Witmark Keller and Alexander Sidney Keller. 


Betsy grew up in West Hartford, CT, went to public elementary school there, then to the Oxford School.  She lived in the Netherlands with her family for two years when she was a child. She graduated from Wellesley College in 1963 with an AB in History and from the Tisch School of the Arts (NYU) in 1969 with an MFA in Dance. 


After graduate school Betsy studied in New York with the great pioneers of modern dance – Jose Limon, Merce Cunningham, Martha Graham and Paul Taylor.  She performed with Charles Weidman, the Jean Erdman Theatre of Dance and the New Haven Dance Company, and choreographed and directed her own dance works over a 25-year span.  Her choreography, which delighted audiences on the East Coast, then in San Francisco and the East Bay in numerous concerts produced and performed by her during the 1970s, 80s and 90s, ranged from humorous to lyrical to deeply introspective.  She received a National Endowment for the Arts choreographer's fellowship in 1984.  She taught courses at the American Dance Festival in New London, CT comparing the major modern dance styles of the time, and reconstructed several pieces by leading choreographers including Paul Taylor and Doris Humphrey.


Her fascination with movement extended far beyond dance.  She was certified as a teacher of Labanotation by the Dance Notation Bureau in New York in 1966, as a Movement Analyst by the Laban/Bartenieff Institute of Movement Studies in New York in 1974, and as a registered movement therapist.  She always considered herself to have been especially privileged to have been trained by the great movement innovator Irmgard Bartenieff. 


Betsy is remembered as a brilliant teacher.  She taught extensively in studios, colleges and universities throughout the Bay Area, developing innovative, interdisciplinary approaches to the study of movement. She was known not only for her deep understanding of the work but for the whimsy with which she approached teaching.  Her students ranged from professional dancers to musicians, actors, classical orchestra conductors, dance critics, athletes, college and graduate school students, dance therapists, fitness trainers, seniors in assisted living facilities, Parkinson's and stroke patients, and non-dancers whom she encouraged to explore movement improvisation. One of her workshop series for “regular” people was called “Improvisation for Gazelles and Elephants.”  She designed classes in movement for the elderly which she taught in senior residences in the Bay Area for 28 years, including over 800 classes at one Oakland facility.  She had a private hands-on practice in movement therapy, injury rehabilitation and individual coaching for a wide range of clients with movement-related challenges. 


Betsy frequently participated in the training and certification of movement analysts at the Laban Institute for Movement Studies in New York City.   A founder of the Institute of Movement Exploration in Connecticut, she directed certification programs for movement analysts at Mills College and Ohio State University and gave conference presentations for movement specialists in the U.S. and abroad.  At international orthopedic medicine conferences in London and Melbourne, she gave workshops on movement-related approaches to treating orthopedic injuries.  She wrote numerous articles clarifying theoretical issues in her field and linking movement analysis to cultural studies, and co-authored articles examining anthropological views of cultural bias and of the Jane Fonda aerobics workout from a gender/cultural perspective. Her lectures for the Ethnomusicology department at UC Berkeley focused on comparative dance style analysis and movement notation.  And, as a consultant to an animal behaviorist at the University of Alaska,  she studied the behavior of brown bears.


Betsy’s attention to Jane Fonda and brown bears was a reflection of her inclination to think beyond boundaries.  She brought a sense of fun to her work and took play seriously.   She stood as strongly for a good silly idea as for an important one.  She was as adept at word play as she was at body play, and she generously wanted others to know what she knew.  She stacked a dishwasher as if she were tuning a piano, and many of her family and friends still sport the artfully madcap t-shirts she designed over the years.


She was a passionate advocate for the rights of the mentally ill, and a critic of institutional practices that undermine patient integrity and identity.  And she was a campaigner for the civil rights of Oakland's African-American community.


Betsy's family, friends and colleagues mourn the loss of a remarkable shining star and celebrate her legacy.


Survivors include her daughter Elsie Kagan, Elsie's husband Carl Robichaud, three grandchildren, Jasper, Alexan and Willa Robichaud, all of Brooklyn, N.Y., her brothers Robert Keller of Weston, MA, and Anthony Keller of Braintree, VT, and their families, and many cousins. She had been married to Robert A. Kagan of Cambridge, MA for 40 years.


Tax deductible ontributions in her memory may be made to the Laban Institute for Movement Studies, or LIMS, 54 West 40th Street, Suite 1123, New York, NY 10018.


A memorial service and burial – in Fairview Cemetery, West Hartford, CT – will take place at a time to be announced by her family.


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