Her tiny frame nestled against the backdrop of a much larger office, displaying in its possession photos of dancers mid-leap, orchards bathing in water and books upon books on the art of movement.
Marcia Murdock was ready. The Theater and Dance Resident Artist had bustled in, leaving one conversation to start another in a room that has become so familiar to her, but will soon be void of her continual presence.
After 32 years at Keene State College (KSC), Murdock is retiring. However, she is not stopping on any account for her love of teaching dance.
“In terms of movement… I teach a dance class for people with Parkinson’s Disease,” she said. “My students first started [the program] because I was too busy…[but] now I’ve been leading it for probably four years.”
In addition, Murdock will be training Contract Lecturer for Theater and Dance Cynthia McLaughlin, who will be temporarily taking her place. Murdock will be helping especially with dance education for kindergarten through 12th grade.
KSC Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs William Seigh spoke about how proud he is of Murdock making this link between education and dance at the college.
“She began what is now the only undergraduate dance education certification program in the state,” he said. “….Our students are certainly prepared for studio teaching and the education program also prepares them to get into the classroom to use movement as one of the tools for helping students understand a wide variety of curricula.”
He said Murdock has helped create amazing students because of her vision of what the dance program should entail. “We have students who are dance therapists and who own their own studios and students who have taken what they’ve learned from dance and built that into the exciting careers based on that knowledge,” he said. “She’s an amazing colleague and we are very fortunate to have her, and the campus will not be the same when she is moved on to the next exciting things in her life.”
One of these new exciting things for Murdock is getting to spend more time with her granddaughter in Colorado. “I’m going to go dance with her,” she said.
Why dance matters
Murdock said dance at any age is important. “It’s the honesty of who we are,” she said. She said we start off so comfortable in our bodies, then grow out of that comfort and begin to lose a sense of movement. She likened it to someone giving a presentation at work. “Your words could be really convincing, but your body may make your audience not believe what you’re saying,” she said.
Murdock said much of this has to do with many people not understanding their own body and how to move it, or “embodied knowledge” as she called it. “And unless you practice it, you lose it or you won’t trust it,” she said.
Murdock said dance is applicable for any program of study. “A lot of times, it’s a way into a material,” she said, using the words ‘enclose’ with her arms wrapped tightly around herself and ‘exclude’ with her arms shooting out and away from her body as an example for a lesson in vocabulary.
Murdock said she identifies as a teacher first and foremost. “I just adore working with this age group, they are, as freshmen, certainly not the same people I meet next semester,” she said. Murdock said she would miss the students the most out of everything. “I learn a lot by them,” she said.
A recent example of Murdock’s interaction with students was the four-day performance of An Evening of Dance held from April 12 to the 15 at the Redfern Arts Center. The event included 10 pieces, starting with a solo dance and ending with Murdock’s choreographed piece, ’Because you Get There.’
An inside look at the pieces performed
The first piece included KSC junior Jen Riley, using dance in response to KSC junior Karver Bosela beatboxing and imitating musical instruments. Riley moved back and forth from an observer to a participant, concluding the piece with her sitting on the floor watching Bosela’s vocal imitation.
Many of the pieces included dancers filling the negative space allotted by their partners. Students climbed over each other and formed different shapes, then eased into new ones. In the piece entitled ‘Zoomie,’ dancers carried each other on their backs and stomachs as they rolled across the stage.
KSC senior Bethany Peterson was one of the choreographers and dancers in the An Evening of Dance. She said she loved being involved with the event. “I loved showing my piece,” she said. “It’s exciting to share such a professional stage.”
She also explained that the evening was a bit of a mournful one because of Murdock’s retirement, meaning this was the last ‘Evening of Dance’ she would direct. “The department is going to be sad to see her go,” she said. “She’s a tough teacher, but she gets us to challenge ourselves.”
Peterson spoke on what dance means to her. She explained, “There’s a freedom in dance that you can’t always express in words.”
Peterson danced in a piece which was one of the few that included dancers speaking out to each other. At the beginning of ‘It is a question,’ a catalog of expressions were called out and dancers’ feet and hands matched each expression. Dancer’s digits bent forward in grief and shook with nervousness, while others folded their feet and hands over themselves at the word of love.
Throughout the piece, members spoke out on the formation of the skull and how its bones pulsate like breathing, as well as exploring the topic of contentment and how it’s not always so easily found.
KSC sophomore Kelsey Walsh was one of the 14 dancers in the piece. Her grandfather and audience member Tom Walsh came to see her. Walsh said he loved that he could see her dance, but that most of the concepts went over his head. “I was a physical education teacher, so I know dance is important, but I didn’t click with a lot of the pieces,” he said laughing.
Coming full circle
Murdock’s piece was intended to connect with people beginning a new stage of their life, such as starting college. “It’s scary as can be because you don’t know where it’s going,” she said. “And then the journey itself is so messy, so filled with interruptions and half-starts.” However, Murdock explained these interruptions are necessary, since they cause us to explore ourselves more deeply.
In her choreographed pieced, there were many interruptions that flowed from one onto another. The piece began with a student singing a capella, then went swiftly into upbeat circus-themed melody with dancers intertwining through each other like the accordion notes that played as they moved.
The music shifted as the piece went on, dancers slapping their feet quickly across the stage, reaching outward, then enveloping back into themselves.
Murdock said she had to personally look within herself to finally see what she had achieved in all these years at Keene State. She explained An Evening of Dance initially started under the direction of Alta Lu Townes. “It has been going on for 42 years and I’ve been part of it for 32. I’ve always thought of it as Alta’s, but last night (opening night) for the first time, I acknowledge that I’ve been in charge of it for longer than Alta; it was a weird realization,” she said.
Murdock said she had recently read from the original template of Townes as a way of paying her respects, but now understands that she has come to forefront, that she is now the one others look up to. She said, “There’s this sense of lineage that is really quite satisfying, but last night (opening night) made me… feel full circle, complete.”
Dorothy England can be contacted at email@example.com