In Remembrance of Keriac – Emotional Pro

March 17th, 2006

“Keriac” was a name that came to my sister in a dream. In the dream, someone asked her for her name, and she responded clearly, “My name is Keriac.” When she awoke, she decided to replace “Frances” that had been her name for 35 years, with Keriac. She loved the name so much she used it as her only name. When people pressed her for a last name, she firmly informed them her name was “Keriac Keriac!” Keriac was a most talented dance and performance teacher who taught thousands of people to open their hearts with dance and movement over 30 years’ time. She worked in San Francisco and in Germany. One of her students wrote a book about Contact Improvisation, in which she was prominently featured. 22 months older than me, Keriac functioned as my inept Mother in the first three years of my life, when my birth mother was neglecting us both and our father was in New Guinea, soldiering in World War II. She graduated with a degree in sculpture from the Rhode Island School of Design, and later got a teaching credential from Tulane in New Orleans. She hosted and sang on her own folk music radio program, taught dance classes to faculty from Brown University (a class she started because she couldn’t find a teacher doing what she sought), taught creative dramatics and art to children and started a nursery school in Menomonie, Wisconsin, when she became a faculty wife. She could conceptualize, dance, sing, support emotionally and inspire, things she did all over the world, as she traveled to dance events as a guest instructor. She never had much money, having decided that the U.S. doesn’t support artists, most of whom are relegated to taking a vow of poverty. Yet, she traveled and visited many places on this earth; her favorite trip of all was to Greece. She had a remarkable force of will, strong opinions and could be quite controlling, if allowed. In early September of 2004, Keriac came to live with my husband and me, with all of us knowing she would die from the Ovarian cancer with which she had been struggling for close to a year. It was a remarkable 7 months we shared with her. She made wonderful meals for us, even though her own digestion had been altered by the cancer and it made eating and digesting difficult. She edited my writing, appeared on my Internet radio program, helped my husband and me to resolve issues, and gave enthusiastic support to our daughter. She had a remarkable and loyal group of friends, who came often to our house to give her massage and body work, to sing or talk with her, or to play music for her. One of her friends, Charles, came to live with us the last week of her life, to lovingly assist us and her as she made her exit. She drove her stick-shift car most of that time, going to San Francisco for her cancer support group. The most remarkable experience was seven weeks prior to her death, when she put together a one-hour performance she called “The Last Dance.” She performed it two consecutive nights in San Francisco, to a standing ovation each night. For that performance, she called herself “The Cancer Dancer” and defied her audiences to continue to see HER, and not her cancer, which had eaten away her formerly-strong muscles to Auschwitz-victim proportions. She didn’t want people to remember her mainly for that dance, yet it is very difficult not to remember it, above so many others, because it was a masterful performance. Today is the anniversary of my brave sister’s passing. She was only 64 years old. After she died, her daughter, my niece, filled her hair with flowers from the many vases in the room, giving her the appearance of a woods nymph lying on the forest floor. My husband had lost his first wife to the same disease; our daughter had lost her birth mother to Pancreatic cancer less than five years earlier. I’m most grateful to them for realizing how important it was to me to “return the favor” of her inept mothering (she was less than 5 years old herself) so many years before, by giving her a safe and happy place in which she could die. Two months before her passing she told me: “It’s strange. I know I’m dying, but since I have come here to stay with you, I feel more secure than I ever have in my life.” I miss Keriac’s bossy self!

5 Responses to “In Remembrance of Keriac – Emotional Pro”

  1. Jeffery Sammon says:

    I had worked with “K” from 1991 through 2000 as her “tech.-lighting designer-rigger-all around get it done guy. I did not have the time to sit in circle and process the dances in her style, because there were too many “nuts and bolts” to get done. We did get the shows up on time, without anyone getting hurt, and many smiles were made.
    I did not hear of her passing till years later and i am sorry I did not get a chance to say goodbye.

  2. fran says:

    I remember dancing with Keriac for many years when I lived in San Francisco. She took me in her arm once, in the changing room, where I was crying for some reason I didn’t understand, and she sat with me, rocking me. I never cried, so this was something I really remember, her open, caring, energy. Keriac knew how to just simply be with me, nothing asked or required. Then years later I sat with her on her roof garder porch, we drank tea, and remembered those days when I was much younger. I was visiting SF then, and had to see her again. It was the last time I saw her, and I feel lucky to have had that time with her. She wasn’t sick at that time, but I had just been getting through breast cancer, and again, she was a wonderful well of support, just sitting and drinking tea together.
    I was frozen for weeks when I heard of her passing, from Charles, who had come into my studio up here in Olympia, WA, wanting to teach an improv class. We discovered our connection was Keriac, and he told me she has died. The world is a little less fun without Keriac in it.
    If you could possibly put me in touch with David Friehofner, who I met through Keriac, I would so appreciate this.
    with great love for keriac,

  3. Humberto says:

    I never ever post but this time I will,Thanks alot for the great blog.

  4. Nicolette Gamache says:

    Thank you Ilene, I really enjoyed reading your piece about my wonderful mama, Keriac. I can't believe it's been almost 6 years since she died.  She would have been 70 on Jan 12th- 4 days ago; had she lived. As long as I am alive, she will continue to have birthdays! So, Happy Birthday, Mama! She was the love of my life, and I miss her dearly. I learned a lot about her in the last year of her life- she was always so open to talking about her life, and her death.  After she died, I learned so much more about  her when I had to clear out her stuff; from all her possessions, her letters, the boxes in the attic. She created a community and a lifestyle unlike most people in the world. She stayed true to herself, and suffered and prospered because of it. She has infuluenced and supported so many people, I am in awe. I am so glad she is remembered by so many.  One of her final wishes was to have her ashes put under dance floors- as we did in Dance Ground Keriac- so that she could feel the movement created by people dancing. Another was that she be rembered for all her dances, not just the last dance.  i loved the way she mixed dance, choreography, improv, lighting, film and music/sound with themes and theater. She was more than a dancer, she was a performer. I love her so much! 

    • Ilene says:

      What a wonderful tribute, Nicolette. I, too, have learned much about my sister since her death, as well as during her dying process. I have been so inspired by the straightforward way with which she faced that transition, and by the inspiration she gave to so many of us just from the way she faced the end of her life. I’ll never forget the flowers you put in her hair….. I love you. Ilene

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