Jessica Martin is surrounded by metal. She sits in a heavy, motorized wheelchair that makes her mother wonder whether people are sometimes reserved about getting close.
Not a problem for her dance partner, Maddy Tyma.
In matching, flowing dresses, the two glided across the stage for a summer performance at Oak Park's Academy of Movement and Music this past weekend, creating a symbiotic exchange of movements and energy that explore space, balance and touch.
The two come together, hands joined, heads touching. Tyma falls away and Jessica's arms rise in a fashion of flight, summoning Tyma to leap and swirl in orbit around her partner.
The story of this intimate dance is far less complicated than its careful choreography. Tyma says they are close friends whose affection for one another defines each piece.
"The space is very nice that we both share. It's a special experience," said Tyma, who choreographed part of their dance after being awarded a grant from the Illinois Arts Council. "Somebody once told us that when we dance it looks like I'm a positive atmosphere around Jess."
Martin, 27, and Tyma, 16, are part of a growing integrated dance movement and came together three years ago in an academy workshop called "Every Body Can Dance." The school, through its MOMENTA dance company, has been sponsoring integrated dance workshops since 2005.
Martin, who drives from Des Plaines several times a week for dance classes and rehearsals with Tyma, has cerebral palsy. She would move her chair in sweeps and circles in her driveway as a 9-year-old, dancing to whatever music was on the radio.
There were no opportunities for her to dance near her home and so she began researching dance companies for the disabled and studying choreography on her own. She went to workshops and when she was 20, she discovered she would be welcome at the Academy of Movement and Music.
In the integrated dance workshops, dancers learn how to move on and around wheelchairs and disabled dancers discover the unique nature in how their bodies move and how to translate those movements in an artistic way.
Tyma took an interest in the workshops at a time when she grew tall and struggled in her traditional ballet classes. The workshops encouraged participants to move however they wanted.
Tyma and Martin began to hit it off when they participated in an exercise called touch improv, where one dancer touches another dancer, who then must respond by creating some sort of movement.
Three years later, it is how Tyma and Martin create many of their moves.
"When I found Maddy and a few of the other girls, I fell in love with them," Martin said. "I found something special in Maddy and I think Maddy found something special in me."
Stephanie Clemens, the school's director and founder, is in awe of the friendship and partnership Tyma and Martin share.
"I'm from a generation where you were taught not to look at a person with a disability," Clemens said. "Maddy is part of the generation that grew up with the workshops and this is a normal way of being. They are true friends."
Martin's mother, Joan, still senses hesitation from an audience when they see her daughter for the first time.
Then, as the two dance, the audience energy shifts and viewers grow more at ease, Joan Martin said.
"It touches a sense in you," Joan Martin said. "I think Jess and Maddy feed each other's creativity. It's exciting to watch and it makes you question why you ever had a fear because it's so intimate. You walk away with a comfort and awareness of their friendship."