2013 Alumna Jennifer Mcintosh defied limitations that her physical disability set for her through her participation in the Dance as a Way of Knowing class during her time at Keene State College. In memoriam of Jennifer’s recent death, KSC professor Marcia Murdock reflects on her time with Mcintosh.
Mcintosh partnered up with alumna Ali Hammel to create a dance performance that showed viewers that determination and passion has the ability to overcome any form of disability.
Mcintosh had cerebral palsy, which confined her to a wheelchair. She was also nonverbal, which according to Mark Reynolds, caused her to communicate through an ECO augmentative and alternative communication device (an eye-scanning typepad) that she often referred to as “Pinky.” Despite her restricting disabilities, Mcintosh was able to defy her limitations and communicate with others through the art of dance.
Dance Program Director and professor of the Dance as a Way of Knowing course Marcia Murdock said that Mcintosh took her class to fulfill one of her arts ISP courses.
“She understood the movement vocabulary more than many of the other students in the class. We talked logistically about how we were going to do it from the trudging of the environment, whether it be snow or mud into the dance space because she had a wheel chair. We set that up so she would come early, and the woman who was working with her would make sure that her wheels were clean before she came in. Then it was discussed how we would work in the duet form,” Murdock said.
The duet form led Mcintosh to Hammel. Murdock said that Hammel was an individualized major with dance and psychology and that she was very interested in working with students with special needs.
“Ali wanted to take the class and Jen wanted to take the class so we paired them up together. There’s an awful lot of traveling in space, which means somebody has to be maneuvering the pathways that Jen would be dancing and Jen’s movement was small but astute and Ali’s had to be huge to take her into space,” Murdock said.
Murdock added that whenever she would assign composition assignments, she would pair Mcintosh and Hammel together. Murdock said that this partnership helped Hammel learn just how much more she could do by using Mcintosh’s ideas of how to extend her (Mcintosh’s) movement into space.
“Not just by wheeling her through the space, but by actually being part of the wheelchair and extending the line that Jen might be initiating through her shoulder and I could see it because she was a clear performer,” Murdock said.
She continued, “We would see that space with an extended arm as Ali was literally on top of Jen in this wheelchair. Jen would be doing the movement within the chair and Ali would be doing the movement outside the chair through space at the same tempo. There were some near collisions that we all laughed about but it was a wonderful opportunity for the students,” Murdock said.
Murdock said that she felt her students learned a great deal from Mcintosh in terms of seeing how movement can be expanded. “We all think within our own body, but if we’ve got a duet and it’s you and me, and it’s also you, me and this wheelchair as a possibility, there’s so much more we can do,” Murdock said, “Plus we have this very intelligent choreographer coming up with ideas that I would never of thought of myself.”
In addition to expanding their movements, Murdock said she also felt that Mcintosh helped her students learn to be comfortable around people who weren’t like themselves.
“In the beginning it was uncomfortable. I believe Ali’s eyes and our students eyes were opened to okay you can initiate and we can see that, it’s not that I am using that in order for you to expand the length of your arm, that simple initiation can communicate an experience to the viewer, so much more so when you do fully expand that arm tell me is it coming from the finger tips is it coming from the shoulders, she let us see that first hand,” Murdock said.
The students were not the only ones who learned more about the art of dance and themselves from being in the course with Mcintosh. Murdock added that Mcintosh also helped her learn a great deal about choreography and movement.
“Its funny because I had seen her participate in the adaptive dance in Crotched Mountain and I was very interested in all of those workshops and because she could not move, her neck was fixed, where some of the other adaptive dancers had lower wheelchairs and they could completely arch over their wheelchairs. She didn’t have that opportunity, so she was even more contained within her physical limitations,” Murdock said.
She continued, “What I learned in that moment and saw even more was the potential for choreography. Choreography does not have to be limited to the performer’s abilities so what I would have loved to have seen is a quartet that she would choreograph for able-bodied dancers. She was a good choreographer.”
Murdock said that Mcintosh defiantly dealt with her disability. Although Murdock said that she felt Macintosh wished she could have performed more, she said that she was a strong-willed individual who knew what her capabilities were.
“We don’t see ability and disability at all. Jen had lots of abilities and she was a smart choreographer. Having said that, I think she was so thrilled to be able to do any of that outside of a disabled situation,” Murdock said.
She continued, “So in a group of twenty-something odd dancers, there was Pat Martin, there was Ali Hammel, there was one differently abled and then there were many peers who were probably handicapped more because they were uncomfortable in their own bodies and were learning over the span of a term how to express themselves through nonverbal communication.”
Both Ali Hammel and Pat Martin were contacted for comment but did not respond to requess for interviews in time for deadline.
Below is a link to Mcintosh’s dance performance from her time at KSC:
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