The resonance Amy Roark-McIntosh has left on the Tulsa dance community is profound but my life personally was deeply enriched by her presence and friendship. Our guest blogger had written a memorial reflection on Amy shortly after her passing and I would like to share it with you all today. In addition, you can read the Tulsa World memorium to Amy here. Today would have been Amy's 40th birthday.
Dance In The Mix welcomes Jessica Collier as our student guest blogger sharing the thoughts she has been developing during her undergraduate work at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, OK.
May 15, 2015. Howard Auditorium is fairly full, and I stand backstage, surrounded by my fellow ORU dance students. I’m about to perform a choreography project I’ve helped create with my Dance for Worship class, but I’m not thinking about applause or congratulations after; this isn’t one of our end-of-semester dance concerts. The performance is for those attending Amy McIntosh’s funeral service.
The first time I met Amy was at my high school studio – she taught the creative movement class that my younger sister attended for a year or two. I never had much interaction with her during those days, but I remember hearing with excitement the news that ORU was starting a dance major and she would be leaving to help bring that project to fruition. Fast forward four years, and I’m stepping into the Howard studio on campus for the first time, a terrified college freshman testing out the seemingly impossible feat of obtaining two separate four-year degrees in only six.
Amy was the first person to tell me my dream was achievable, and was, doubtlessly, one of the single greatest factors that made it so. I expected to be berated for divided loyalty or laughed out of one degree program or the other, but instead, she sat down with me and talked through each of my anxieties one by one. At first, I was in shock. Here I was with the audacity to tell her I wanted to do something in addition to dance, and she was genuinely excited! It almost seemed that she was more in favor of my crazy plan than I was: I remember her eyes lighting up, and how excitedly she told me that anything could be possible, and she would do everything she could to help me succeed within both majors. I’m not sure why this surprised me so much, or why I expected that I would be told to pick between the two degrees, but the more I worked with her, the more I realized that her outlook on life was decidedly different.
Amy didn’t compartmentalize life. She didn’t believe in the age-old mantra “leave it all at the studio door,” at least not in the conventional sense. She encouraged the ORU dancers to allow our work to be informed and nourished by each aspect of our lives – family and dorm situations, personal emotional struggles and victories – and for me, the experiences of nursing school. She always held us to a high standard of professionalism, but we would spend significant segments of rehearsals simply talking about the spiritual and intellectual meaning behind her pieces, and how the concepts that we were focusing on could apply or relate to our own lives. One semester, she decided to bring her husband and children to rehearsal, allowing them access to the part of her life spent with us and giving us the opportunity to see into the family that she loved so much. I will never forget that – the intense devotion that led Amy to blend the two worlds that any other teacher would have left separate without so much as a second thought. She told us that it would be cheating every part of her life to not allow each area to interact with the others, and she constantly encouraged us to do the same. That holistic, connected mindset was how she lived every moment of her life: each time I found myself in her office, terrified over some potential roadblock to graduation, she reassured me that this was God’s plan for my life and He was able to bring it to fruition, that I could and would be a dancer and a nurse. Because of her mentorship in those early years, I held on to that dream – and in just over a year, I’ll graduate from Oral Roberts University with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing and a Bachelor of Arts in Dance Performance. I hold her fully responsible.
During my third year in the Dance Program at ORU, Amy was diagnosed with lung cancer. From October to April, she continued to pour heart and soul into all of her students, who had, at this point, become more like her adoptive children. When she was too ill to come into the studio, she would skype in from home, still pushing us in the authoritative but gentle tone we had come to know so well; to jump higher, reach further, risk more. Our hearts broke during those months, but Amy would have none of that. I remember the instructions she gave us just days before she passed: at her memorial service we were all to wear pink and put flowers in our hair. She wanted her home-going to be a joyful event, and in some ways it truly was.
In the days following Amy’s death on Good Friday of 2015, my class worked to put together a tribute for Amy, composed of excerpts from her choreography. We shed a few tears backstage that day at her memorial service, but what I remember most was the performance itself. As we stepped onto the stage that day, a sensation I could only label as joy flooded the auditorium. I’ve been to a few funerals in my two decades of life, but none even remotely resembled this. We danced, rejoicing for Amy’s release from suffering, celebrating her reunion with the Creator she had loved so much throughout her life. As we left the stage at the end of those few brief minutes, I knew that was exactly what she had wanted.
To this day I consider myself blessed to have been able to be a part of that moment. A week after the service, we were still getting comments from attendees about how meaningful and healing the performance had been. To be honest, however, it wasn’t that surprising. That gentle, all-inclusive, worshipful presence was – and still is – the heart of Amy’s legacy.
photo by Nathan Harmon; dancers: Jessica Vokoun & Rachel Bruce Johnson.
PC: Jeanne S. Mam-Luft
It is a simple philosophy here at THE BELL HOUSE; make connections by bringing people together through dance. Art that seeks to defy a fractured view of the world by creating culture that cares for the soul and is concerned with human thriving. For me, it isn’t enough to just make dance for dance’s sake; it is my belief that it is the connective power of people that makes art worth engaging. We do that by taking our interests and talents and challenging the ways we connect them to something tangible in the human experience. It is through these connections and tangibilities that we see the true power of art and dance manifest back to relationships with and through people. In my view, what matters is people; the time and space of making work refract and overlap revealing and creating new possibilities for human connection.