Kelsey McGee ’15 Gives New Meaning to Dance in Her Award-Winning Film Danceable

On set for Danceable

On set during the filming of Danceable

Oak Knoll alumna Kelsey McGee ’15 is an award-winning visual storyteller. Her most recent creative endeavor is the Academy Award qualifying documentary short entitled Danceable — which follows three dancers with disabilities who find freedom through movement. 

The film has screened at numerous festivals throughout the country and garnered a number of awards. It will premiere here in New Jersey at the upcoming New Jersey International Film Festival on Sunday, June 4, 2023, in person at 5 p.m. or online. The film festival spans June 2-11, 2023 with films appearing online for 24 hours beginning on their listed screen date, and in person at Voorhees Hall #105, Rutgers University, 71 Hamilton Street, New Brunswick, NJ. Visit the film festival website for more information and purchase tickets for the Danceable screening here. View a trailer for Danceable here.

McGee attended high school at Oak Knoll as did her younger sister Emma ’18. “It was really important to my parents that I go to an all-girl school. I just felt like Oak Knoll was the most well-rounded, progressive in terms of academics, welcoming, and just seemed more situated in this century learning-wise at the time,” explained McGee.

McGee is still very much in touch with her classmates and friends from Oak Knoll. “I think what I really cherished about Oak Knoll is that the girls have freedom to be silly — and my friends were very silly. I think at an all-girls school versus a coed school, you have the freedom to be yourself. My best memories honestly are my friends, sitting at the lunch table goofing around,” she reflected.

Perhaps an influence on her choice to feature dancers in her recent film, McGee studied under Creative Arts and Dance Teacher Carlee Bennett for four years at Oak Knoll. She was a member of Bennett’s selective group called “Dancers.” Students are required to audition to participate and they rehearse and perform classical ballet (including pointe), jazz, modern, contemporary, and Broadway show selections for a winter showcase and the annual spring dance concert. 

“I did Dancers all four years and I was pretty close with Ms. Bennett. Often, I would just sit in her office and talk to her and she was a great mentor. I cherished that and also the great group of dancers themselves. We would even have dancers sleepovers,” McGee reminisced.

Bennett remembers McGee fondly as well. “Kelsey was president of Dancers her senior year. What I always remember, cherish, and admire about Kelsey was her work ethic, joy, and positive spirit. She was a wonderful, brave dancer, super person, and an amazing collaborator. She took pride as a leader in Dancers. After Kelsey graduated Oak Knoll, I approached her to write a poem about bullying to use in the dance concert. She wrote an amazing poem, Shame, while juggling her time at college. I took this poem and created a performance piece around it. There was no backing music, just her poem. The outcome was an extremely powerful dance piece that was incredibly well-received by the audience. I could not have asked for a better poem to represent the impact that bullying has on individuals. Kelsey nailed it,” recalled Bennett.

While at Oak Knoll, McGee also took advantage of the well-equipped traditional and digital photography program which honed her talent in visual storytelling. She also joined the creative writing seminars that are offered during lunch periods. “It was really important to me to do as much creative work as I could at Oak Knoll, like the darkroom photography class. That’s what I ended up writing my college essay on. I loved it so much. I loved just being in the dark room and watching the images come to life,” she explained.

All of this creative nurturing, combined with the warm sense of community she experienced at Oak Knoll informed her decision to attend Boston College, where she obtained her BA in English Language and Literature with a double minor in Creative Writing and Faith, Peace, and Justice. She went on to obtain an MFA in Film & TV Production from the University of Southern California, School of Cinematic Arts. Danceable was the outcome of her graduate thesis at USC.

When asked why she chose artists with disabilities as her subjects in Danceable, McGee explained, “I have been a dancer since I was 3. But what I really struggle with is that dance is so based around body type and if you don’t have the correct figure, you can’t be a ballerina, you can’t be a dancer. When I moved to Los Angeles, I took an all-abilities inclusive dance class and the teacher Marci was an adult woman with down syndrome. I hadn’t seen anything like that before in the dance world and I thought, whoa, there is a story here.”

By networking in the community, McGee found her two other subjects, Lark and Janpi, and all were enthusiastic to participate. “Disability is not something that’s really talked about in the dance world. But movement itself can be freedom and creating dance is beautiful and is a story in itself. I followed them for a few months, and it was the best time. It was just my crew hanging out in a dance studio and having so much fun with these three people. It felt like we were just a little friend group or a family by the end of it,” McGee shared.

Congratulations to Kelsey McGee’15 for her cinematic accomplishments and perhaps we will see her get the Oscar nod this coming year for Best Documentary Short.

For more information about Danceable, visit the film’s website. You can also follow Danceable on Instagram @danceable_doc. Visit Kelsey McGee’s personal website for additional directing and producing credits as well as her official biography and press accolades.