The Story of PA Academy of the Arts
Achieving dreams; that’s the story behind the Pennsylvania Academy of the Arts. Since the Academy opened in 2003, PAA students have accomplished more than they could imagine, dancing with the world’s finest dancers and performers. They fulfill dreams each day in Potters Mills – a priceless experience during a time when achievement in the performing arts has never been more difficult. School districts eliminate arts programs, higher education increasingly focuses on science and technology, and parents worry about their children succeeding in a technologically advanced world. The Arts seem more irrelevant as each day progresses. But children (and adults!) do not love the Arts any less simply because society chooses to diminish their value. Artists never give up on their desires to achieve, they never stop dreaming, and never stop wondering,” What if…” or “Could that be me?” Dreams never die within the hearts of artists, they are just abandoned because aspiring artists lack the guidance, opportunities and role models they need to encourage them to believe that they can achieve those dreams. Pennsylvania Academy of the Arts provides area artists of any age the finest opportunity available to achieve their dreams, because the Academy is the result of the owners, Sarah & Chuck Mason, achieving their own dreams.
Sarah began dancing in Chicago at the age of five, determined to become a ballerina, but in junior high school she switched her focus to tap and never looked back. Her talent was instantly recognizable, and at the age of 15, she auditioned and was part of an exclusive group of dancers to study with and perform the choreography of rising young star Savion Glover. Upon graduation from high school, Sarah attended the International Tap Festival in Portland, Oregon where she trained with the world’s best tap dancers — masters like Dianne Walker, Ted Levy, Heather Cornell and Brenda Bufalino. She made such an impression with these dancers, that Heather Cornell invited Sarah to become a young apprentice with her New York-based tap company Manhatten Tap at the age of 17 (although Sarah declined at her parents request). In 1995, Sarah formed Footprints Tap Ensemble, which rapidly became one of the nation’s most prestigious youth tap ensembles. Under her direction, Footprints performed in the Macy’s Day Parade, The Nutcracker on Broadway, and at Walt Disney World by the year 2000. By the time she was 25, Sarah had danced on Broadway and shared stages with dancers such as Gregory Hines, Jimmy Slyde and Savion Glover in Chicago and New York.
Chuck began studying music in grade school and moved through a variety of instruments. After high school he finally settled on the guitar, the instrument he wanted to play since he had been six. Although he was studying biology at Penn State, he began taking lessons and started his own personal study of music theory , spending more time studying chord forms and lead guitar techniques than organic chemistry. After graduating from Penn State, Chuck traveled to New Jersey to work with the band Critical Mass as they wrote songs preparing demos for major recording labels. Chuck returned to State College to form an original music project that gained the respect of award-winning contemporary Christian artists, gaining the highest praise from Dove Awards “Best Guitarist” Rex Carroll for his song writing and lead guitar work. Unable to find musicians committed to the demands of producing original music, Chuck moved to Los Angeles to become involved in music, while completing a Masters Degree at Fuller Theological Seminary. Chuck’s L.A. area guitar students have gone on to work with Interscope records while writing songs. After completing his degree, Chuck lived in Denver and Chicago and worked with musicians in a variety of blues and rock projects.
After marrying in 2002, Sarah and Chuck decided that it was time they would complete their greatest dream. Having been successful teaching and performing in some of America’s largest cities, they felt they had nothing to prove, so decided to quit their day jobs and relocate to Central Pennsylvania to make their dream of owning an Arts academy a reality. The Academy would exist to enable aspiring artists to achieve their dreams by offering the best training, guidance and opportunities they could provide, drawing from their decades of experience. Their goal would be simple; they would develop programs that would be open to dancers and musicians of all abilities, but they would lead the way for those whose aspired for achievement on the highest levels. After more than 10 years, they are thrilled with the results.
Without question, the response from the community has been overwhelming. After two years, the Academy has outgrown its original location in Centre Hall, and now has a new home with multiple studios and one of the area’s best dance spaces on 5-1/2 beautiful acres in Potters Mills. PAA’s list of accomplishments is outstanding. In our first decade, the Academy has taken students to New York city to study with the world’s finest dancers such as, Heather Cornell, Ayodele Casel, Jeannie Hill, Mike Minery, and Gil Stroming; has hosted a master class with Emmy award winning dancer Jason Samuels Smith in Centre Hall; has hosted dancer and costar of Law and Order and Third Watch Ayodele Casel for master classes in Potters Mills; has raised over six thousand dollars for children with cancer from the annual Kids-4-Kids benefit concert; and has provided many opportunities for students to perform locally at the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts, Grange Fair, and Festival of the Trees. This summer, PAA students will travel all over the nation and once again train with the world’s finest dancers. Sarah and Chuck are planning many other great opportunities for the upcoming year and are excited for the future for PAA and all of their students.