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Kacy Wiedebusch dies: Celebrated music educator hailed as ‘The First Lady of Dance’ at WVU

Kacy Wiedebusch, it could be said, was quite hands-on … with her feet.

Rather, the WVU professor of contemporary dance wasn’t afraid to get in there and rhythmically mix it up with her students.

Not as a stern drill sergeant or unsmiling taskmaster, mind you.

More as a collaborator of the musical moment.

“What if we thought about something like this?” she’d wonder aloud, as she conjured a couple of moves herself.

“Let it take you,” she’d say, as the sound would course across the dance floor in the studio on the downtown campus that bears her name.

Wiedebusch, who was known for 51 years as WVU’s “First Lady of Dance,” died Tuesday in her Morgantown home. Hastings Funeral Home is handling the arrangements. Her full obituary appears on Page A-7.

Kacy is handling everything else, her friends and students said.

They were talking about the dance of memories she left swirling in the air left by her exit from the earthly stage.

It didn’t take long for dance to become part of the narrative in the life of Kacy, who was born Mary Kathryne Caussin, on Aug. 17, 1929. Her parents, Mary and Danton, kindly indulged their little girl’s musical obsessions.

Not that there was much of a contest, so went the laughing lore.

By the time she was 3, Kacy was prancing and dancing about the house, badgering and begging her mom and dad to take her dance class.

When it was play-pretend time, she was never a nurse or a princess. She was a dance instructor.

If Kacy clanged on something, she was transfixed by whatever sound whatever object made in response.

Any time the music came out of the family’s Crosley radio, she would be frozen for a moment – until she would let those sounds guide her, as she would later instruct her students.

That was in Clarksburg’s North View neighborhood, an ethnic enclave in the Harrison County city where English, more often than not, was the second language spoken around the kitchen table.

That was where the little pre-Vatican II ladies, walking to St. James Parish, prayed the Rosary during the entire Mass, which was intoned in Latin by the priest, with his back turned.

Song (and dance) of the Mountaineers

In that neighborhood with its latticework of tight streets and tabletop radios, not very many had their backs turned to WVU and its bruising football team – especially the patriarch of Caussin household.

Danton, a glassworker who played hands of Bridge until his dying day at the age of 105, often hopped the streetcar to Fairmont, then the train to Morgantown, to cheer on the Mountaineers.

After graduating from Victory High School in 1947, Kacy made the same trek, earning two degrees from the state’s flagship university.

The aspiring dancer then journeyed to New York City.

She studied with the marquee names.

There was Hanya Holm, who later choreographed “My Fair Lady” and “Camelot.”

And Martha Graham, whose integrated dance troupes and fierce choreography basically birthed the Modern Dance movement. For years, Wiedebusch kept a framed, autographed picture of Graham in her office at WVU.

Wiedebusch became synonymous with Orchesis, which is WVU’s contemporary dance troupe.

Her dancers over the years took on music from Yo-Yo Ma to AC/DC, in works choreographed by Kacy.

It wasn’t always “choreography,” in the traditional sense, as Tara Schumate, one of her former Orchesis students said.

“It was more like ideas,” she said, “that people can mold and shape on their own.”

Her affiliation with WVU led to jaunts to China and London, where she worked on international dance collaborations.

Which was pretty good for a person who was considering dancing away from the classroom when the university called in 1955.

“And I was at West Virginia University ever since. May I say, my beloved West Virginia University.”

Kacy and Bernie cut a rug

As it turns out, she was beloved at WVU also.

That was evident in her retirement celebration in 2005.

Music and dance abounded on the stage of the Creative Arts Center that evening. Orchesis dancers glided and swooped.

Mary Kathryne “Kacy” Wiedebusch shared a dance with John Bernard “Bernie” Schultz, who was then dean of the College of Creative Arts.

A WVU photographer captured the sequence, in all its telling, “Dance Like No One’s Watching” glory.

There’s the dean, staring down at his feet.

There’s the celebrated music educator, encouraging him on, the whole way.

Another photograph was even more telling: It was of Wiedebusch, alone on the stage.

The audience was out of the frame, but your mind’s ear furnishes the sound of the applause, rippling down.

One more dance.

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