OTTAWA - Rachel Browne, founder of Winnipeg's Contemporary Dancers who was considered a pioneer of modern dance and choreography in Canada, has died.

Browne died in her sleep on Saturday in Ottawa, the National Arts Centre said Monday. She was 77.

"Rachel Browne's legacy is us," Brent Lott, artistic director of Winnipeg's Contemporary Dancers, said in a statement.

"All of these dancers and choreographers who have been blessed by knowing her, dancing for her, being mentored by her. We're all around the world now."

Browne was in Ottawa to catch performances at this week's Canada Dance Festival, held in partnership with the NAC.

On Tuesday, students of Winnipeg's School of Contemporary Dancers are set to perform and on Wednesday, Winnipeg's Contemporary Dancers will appear in Brent Lott's "97 Positions of the Heart."

Lott said his show will go on as planned, noting: "She wouldn't have wanted it any other way."

The NAC has lowered its flag in recognition of Browne's death and plans to present a book of condolence in the lobby during the rest of the festival.

Born Ray Minkoff in Philadelphia, Browne studied ballet in New York City and joined the Royal Winnipeg Ballet in 1957.

In 1964, Browne founded Winnipeg's Contemporary Dancers, performing and choreographing while also serving as the company's artistic director for almost 20 years. She also founded the School of Contemporary Dancers.

Browne's honours include the Order of Canada, the Jean A. Chalmers Award for Creativity in Dance, the Canada Council Jacqueline Lemieux Prize, and the Manitoba Arts Council Great-West Life Lifetime Achievement Award.