One of the questions we're often asked is "What is there to do in Hanover?" I've I always wanted to answer by saying, "What isn't there to do?" but I know that for most people (if not all people), that answer will not suffice. So over the next few months one of the themes of my posts will be about life in Hanover and all that that implies.
One of my favorite things to do at Dartmouth is go see shows and films at the Hopkins Center for the Arts or, more simply, the Hop. Having been designed by Wallace Harrison, the architect of Lincoln Center and New York's United Nations Building, the Hop is one of the most unique and prominent buildings on campus. It houses the 900-seat Spaulding Auditorium, the 480-seat Moore theater, and a small, flexible black-box space called the Warner Bentley Theater, with room for up to 180 seats. Also inside are the music and theater departments with their own rehearsal and recital spaces and myriad studios and workshops for studio art, woodworking, pottery, jewelry, photography, and more. The National Endowment for the Arts has named the Hop one of the nation's exemplary performing arts centers.
Over my three years here, I've had the opportunity to see a number of spectacular performances at the Hop. Even better, my job as a production assistant has put me behind the scenes for many of them; last year, I had the opportunity to meet Branford Marsalis, the world renowned saxophonist, and stage manage his show. It is one of my fondest Dartmouth memories. But I digress.
Last night, Senegal's Orchestra Baobab was in town. Once or twice a year, the Hop sponsors a show that is completely free for everyone, including students and people from the community. This was one of the shows, but I have a feeling it would have been sold out regardless. I'm really struggling to find the right words to describe the performance. I guess if you can imagine yourself transported back to a nightclub in 1970's Dakar, that might give you the beginning of an idea of what the show was like. It was originally scheduled to take place outside but had to be moved indoors because of the rain. This was most unfortunate, as this kind of music and energy is not supposed to be confined within the walls of a building, no matter its size. But many of Spaulding's 900 audience members couldn't care less where they were and took to the aisles dancing, feeling the music rather than just hearing it. Even I, surprisingly enough, found myself out of my seat after maybe the second song, dancing with my friend Carrie. I looked around the auditorium and was truly amazed to see so many different people going through the same experience together. I mean, there were little kids no more then 4 years old dancing with their parents, Dartmouth students from all over the world (I'm from a little town in upstate New York), people from the community (townies, we call them) who have been all over the world themselves, and a group of people I saw in the middle that looked like they never really left the '70's... all connected by the pervasive euphoria that emanated from the stage and radiated between us. I wouldn't say we watched the show or even experienced the show so much as we shared it. For an hour and a half on a Tuesday evening, 900 strangers were brought together, inextricably linked by the Afro-Cuban rhythms and explosion of energy that is Orchestra Baobab.
So here I am writing this post from my desk in the admissions office, and I just realized that what I experienced last night was an almost perfect microcosm of life at Dartmouth. Every fall, a new class of 1000 students arrives in Hanover as individuals, and, for the most part, complete strangers. But then they go on freshman trips. They spend a week in orientation, getting to know the campus and each other. And by the time they reach Convocation and are officially indoctrinated into a single unit — in my case, the Class of 2009 — they have already formed bonds with each other unlike any they had experienced before. And over the next 4 years, they will make more bonds, with more people, over more events - an Afro-Pop show at the Hop, perhaps - than they might ever have thought possible. Last night, I didn't expect to feel so connected with people in the audience, 98% of whom I didn't know and will likely never meet. But it happened. And there are still hundreds of people in my class year that I haven't met yet and probably never will. For some reason or another, we've just been on opposite sides of the auditorium. But know each other or not, we will forever be connected by this institution, by our shared experiences, and by a name - Dartmouth College Class of 2009.
So the next time someone asks me what there is to do in Hanover, I'll think of last night and this post. I'll want to say "Just be here," but I'll know that won't really suffice as an answer. So I'll bite my lip, clear my throat, and start talking about the hundreds of student organizations we have, all the athletic options there are, and so on. And he might be impressed - to be honest, I'm still amazed at the variety and sheer number of student organizations here - but he won't fully understand. Because you really won't know until you get here. But once you do, it doesn't take long to figure out that Dartmouth really is a special place.