The Site: A Place to Dream
The first things you'll notice on entering The Site are the mammoth historical photos on the studio walls. But don't be fooled: These depictions of bygone Carlisle are the only antiquated items in sight. Located on Dickinson Avenue in back of 25-27 W. High Street, Dickinson’s new, state-of-the-art dance studio/living space boasts a spacious, sprung-floor practice space and performing-arts residence in the heart of the downtown district. And there's a whiff of innovation in the air.
“It’s a grand space that opens up minds and bodies,” said Sarah Skaggs, director of dance, who spearheaded the project. “Students at all levels are able to think about dance in three dimensions—in a broader, bigger way.”
Floored by the floor
Skaggs showed off the snazzy new digs during a Sept. 29 open house. Visitors enjoyed a performance, light refreshments and dance music, courtesy of DJ Ed Webb, assistant professor of political science. But the event’s main attraction was the 45-by-300-foot, pine sprung floor. [Article continues below.]
“ This floor is very soft and very conducive to jumping in a safe way,” Skaggs said.
Skaggs had worked with C.J. Coolsen, former co-manager of the Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, to determine the kind of floor that would best meet the specific needs of the Dickinson community. The floor was funded, in part, by Peg and Peter DiGiammarino of McLean, Va., whose daughter, former theatre-arts major Jaedra DiGiammarino ’08, benefitted from the college’s dance program and now works as a dance and yoga instructor in New York.
Just above the floor hangs a large, internet- and DVD-wired projector and screen, so students can learn new steps by moving in time to videotaped performances. A flat-screen television/DVD player in the lounge area offers more viewing options, just steps away.
Dancing the night away.
All of these resources are always accessible to the neighborhood of performing-arts students living on The Site’s third and fourth floors. It’s an artist’s colony-like setting that encourages students to work collaboratively and extend artistic expression outside of the classroom.
“Students can come downstairs and work together on their dances whenever they’re inspired. This opens doors, creatively,” said Skaggs. Theatre-arts major Kevin Pinero ’12 agreed. “It’s beyond helpful. And being in a community with people who share my interests, I am able to hold conversations that challenge me and inspire me to create,” Pinero said.
Regular, out-of-class conversations encourage students to exchange ideas from across the curriculum and draw inspiration from many sources, Skaggs noted. “People who live in artistic communities have an interdisciplinary way of creating new forms of art,” she said. “This is how artists and scholars live their lives: They live their material and work with it—and that’s what’s happening here.
“I want students to create new forms of art by collaborating with painters, multimedia artists, poets, philosophers. I want them to rebel, to respond to their environment, to push back and make us see the world a little differently—maybe make the world a better place by creating something new.”
A place to dream
The Site is a far cry from the cramped, uninspiring HUB practice space and five-student dance house that Skaggs encountered when she first arrived at Dickinson three years ago. But it is only the beginning, Skaggs said. Dickinson's director of dance hopes to see a small arts district spring up on Dickinson Avenue, much as vibrant arts alleys have developed in cities across Europe. And the excitement needed to spark this ambitious project is materializing, she said.
“In the beginning, I worried that students would think that The Site is too far from the center of campus, but that hasn’t been an issue. In fact, we’re expanding the campus—literally, as well as artistically,” said Skaggs, noting that there is much foot traffic on Dickinson Avenue these days. “This feels less like a classroom and more like a place to dream.”
By MaryAlice Bitts
Photos by A. Pierce Bounds '71