A Moving Memorial
Dickinsonians to counter terrorist attacks with peaceful dance
by Sherri Kimmel
September 8, 2011
Dance Theatre Group and beginning modern-dance students rehearse “9/11 Dance—A Roving Memorial” before its performance at three campus sites on Sept. 10, 11 and 12.
To mark a day that shook the world, Dickinson dancers will help create “peaceful vibrations through the social sphere,” as Sarah Skaggs puts it. Skaggs, assistant professor and director of dance, created, “9/11 Dance—A Roving Memorial,” which will be performed on campus and at the sites of the 9/11 attacks—New York City, Washington, D.C., and Shanksville, Pa.
Members of the college’s Dance Theatre Group (DTG) and Skaggs’ beginning modern-dance class will perform the dance meditation in Carlisle and Shanksville, while diverse groups of dancers will perform in New York and Washington, D.C.
A six-time recipient of National Endowment for the Arts fellowships, Skaggs was living just 20 blocks from the World Trade Center when the terrorist attacks occurred 10 years ago. From her apartment in Little Italy, Skaggs could hear the explosion as the first plane struck. She gathered with other residents on a balcony, where they observed people jumping from the twin towers. Though some nearby residents moved away during the cleanup, Skaggs stayed. A month later, the smell of rubber and burning steel still permeated her neighborhood. “It was like living in a graveyard,” she reflects.
The night of Sept. 12, Skaggs began working on her response to the traumatic event—initially a dance solo, which she has since “transformed into a large-scale public-art project. I counter-attacked by attacking with dance and art,” she says.
On Sept. 11, from noon to 3 p.m., the dance will be performed in several locations with about 20 dancers at each site: three locations in Washington, D.C., three sites in New York City and at the Flight 93 crash site in Shanksville, Pa., in Somerset County. Skaggs will be in New York on the 10th anniversary, while her postgraduate fellow, Dawn Springer, will lead the Dickinson students performing in Shanksville. “By dancing in three places, we will link ourselves globally to other bodies,” Skaggs explains. “Moving site to site also is a means of spreading good news throughout the day.”
On Sept. 10, 11 and 12, between noon and 1 p.m., student dancers will perform at three campus locations: Morgan Field, Britton Plaza and the academic quad. If it is raining, the dance meditation will occur in the Holland Union Building.
Wearing black yoga pants and white shirts, dancers will move together for a silent walk, which will flow into a dance. After five minutes, church bells will peal, and the dance meditation will continue for another six minutes with the musical backdrop.
Says Skaggs, “To get closure on the whole event, I needed to stage it this way.” Her hope is that people who felt anxious after 9/11 can be brought “into a less-fearful place” by the dance. For Dickinson’s participating students, she hopes the dance meditation will add a peaceful layer on their memories of the horrific event.
“I see the role of arts as being significant in a broad historical context,” Skaggs explains. “Now these students will be a part of a huge historical event. They’ll say, ‘When I was at Dickinson, I danced in a moving memorial.’ ”