About 500 Miles/500 Stories
Behind every product we use is a distance that has been traveled and a story that can be shared. But these stories are often hidden or untold. In losing the stories behind the resources we use, we also lose the understanding of our impact on a place.
Last Spring, I walked 500 miles, launching a new initiative in art and environmentalism. The physical journey, which began on April 10 took me on a path to explore the energy sources that power my home starting at my house in the Takoma neighborhood of Washington, DC and travelling through Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia. The walk took approximately two months to complete and served as a community engagement tour as well as research and development time for a dance production entitled How To Lose a Mountain, which premieres in March 2013.
The creative team at Dance Exchange and I developed a walking route that took us 500 miles from my home to a strip-mining site where several mountains once stood. Also along the walk I visited several energy plants, including wind, coal, and waste resource recovery facilities. I was joined by Matt Mahaney, a long-distance hiker, videographer and adjunct artist of the Dance Exchange. During the eight-week long walk, we camped along the trail, traveling as lightly as we could with minimal access to our oft-underappreciated resources of fresh produce, electricity, running water, and heated accommodations. Various artists, naturalists, environmentalists, documentarians and partners joined along the way. Dance Exchange provided opportunities for community members to join the walk through various events and activities. This website features an interactive map, making visible the journey as it unfolded and will continue to offer individuals an opportunity to contribute their responses and stories connected to the walk.
I want to connect back to the vital role of making art as a way to navigate our surroundings, to cultivate our senses, and to discover a kind of rare wildness in this world. Each moment of making offers us an acute sensitivity to our surroundings, altering the way we see and care for the places where we live. Contribute your story and join the journey!
Artistic Director of Dance Exchange
Cassie Meador is a choreographer, performer, educator and Artistic Director of Dance Exchange. Her work is imbued with a passion for her surroundings, a belief in the human capacity for change, and a conviction that art can be a potent form of research and communication.
In recent years, Cassie’s choreographic investigations have tackled numerous social and environmental issues through the synthesis of movement, sound, and striking visual images. Drift, her 2008 work commissioned by the Kennedy Center and recognized with a Metro DC Dance Award, explores the human relationship to land over time. Her current choreographic project, How To Lose a Mountain, will incorporate a 500-mile walk from Washington, D.C. to West Virginia to trace the sources of the energy that fuel her home. Her Moving Field Guides, an interactive experience led by artists, naturalists and regional experts in ecology, is being implemented in partnership with the USDA Forest Service.
Other recent and current projects give testament to Cassie’s expanding leadership role in the arts, education, and the environment. Reaching over 400 girls, she worked with Girl Scouts of Hawaii to enhance environmental curriculums through movement, art, and community engagement, with the goal of empowering girls to become leaders in their communities. Through three years of work with the faculty at Wesleyan University’s College of the Environment she is influencing educators and students to embrace a cross-disciplinary approach to conservation and environmental education. She was recently selected as a delegate of the organization Initiatives of Change to attend the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change 17th Conference of the Parties (COP17) in Durban, South Africa. Cassie is an Associate Artist of the Center for Creative Research. Her writing has been commissioned by Dance Magazine and the National Association for Interpretation.
Cassie has taught and created dances in communities throughout the U.S. and internationally in Japan, Canada, London, Ireland, and Guyana. Her work has also been presented at the Bealtaine Festival in Ireland, the Asian Contemporary Art Museum in Japan, New Jersey Performing Arts Center, Center for the Arts at Wesleyan, Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, Dance Place, and the Kohler Arts Center.
Born in Charleston, SC, and raised in Augusta, GA, Cassie received her B.F.A. in dance from The Ohio State University. She joined the performing company of the Dance Exchange in 2002 and assumed the role of Artistic Director in 2011.
About Dance Exchange
Dance Exchange breaks boundaries between stage and audience, theater and community, movement and language, tradition and the unexplored. Founded in 1976 by Liz Lerman and now under the artistic direction of Cassie Meador, Dance Exchange stretches the range of contemporary dance through explosive dancing, personal stories, humor, and a company of performers whose ages span six decades. The work consists of concerts, interactive performances, community residencies, and professional training in community-based dance. Dance Exchange employs a collaborative approach to dance making and administration. Recent and current projects include explorations of coal mining, genetic research, human rights, particle physics, ecology, land use, and rest in a hyper-driven society. Visit us at www.danceexchange.org.
The story behind the 500 Miles/500 Stories Playing Cards
This 500-mile walk is not only about tracing the sources of our resources and the distances they travel to power our homes—it’s about the stories in each community that we passed through. It’s about the people, the land, the plants, the places we call home. Cassie Meador’s journey is as much about creating a new story as it is about unearthing old stories, lost stories, and untold stories. Dance Exchange has developed a series of beautifully illustrated playing cards (designed by Jenny Greer) to engage communities on the trail (and far beyond) in the age-old tradition of story telling.
People have been playing cards for centuries. First used in China over a thousand years ago, decks of cards featuring ranked suits made the gradual journey west, probably travelling by foot as people and pack animals carried them along trade routes through India and the Middle East into Europe. By the time they immigrated to the Americas, cards had evolved to a variety of purposes: for the entertainment and sociability that games provide, for the sometimes destructive risk and excitement of gambling, for divining the future, and for educational purposes. Often it’s hard to tell where one function ends and another begins, and hard to know whether they are a good or a bad influence on human life: cards have both been cursed as “the devil’s picture book” and used to teach Bible verses.
Playing cards have been a part of Cassie’s past, too. As a Georgia native, Cassie’s great-great-grandfather was playing cards when he lost an entire mountain in a poker bet. In one moment, the family’s claim to acres of timber and arable land and who-knows-what buried under the turf, all gone … and from then on it was the women in the family who had to take charge and be responsible. Or at least that’s how Cassie’s grandmother tells it. Other families tell it too, about the same mountain but different hands that it has passed through. So what’s the real story? Did the mountain pass from hand to hand in a series of poker games? Or is “lose a mountain” just a way that people in that corner of Georgia talk about the changing fortunes of their ancestors? What’s fact, what’s fiction? Is fiction sometimes truer than fact?
Our cards are designed so that you can play regular games with them (but be careful if you place any bets!), and they also feature pictures and questions designed to get you thinking, talking, and telling stories. You can use the questions to think about your own life and experiences, to interview someone else, or to start a group conversation. The stories can emerge in writing or video, or take the form of a photograph or other picture.
These questions and prompts were developed as a way to encourage the storytelling process. Use them as a starting point to let your memory stretch, let your imagination wander, and contemplate your connection to your place in the world. We will be inspired by your stories, share them proudly on this website, and may even incorporate your rich responses into the research and development of a stage work called How To Lose a Mountain.
Partners and Funders
This project is made possible by the generous support of our funders and partners, including:
US Forest Service, National Endowment for the Arts, MetLife Foundation, National Performance Network, Maryland State Arts Council, Arts and Humanities Council of Montgomery County, Dance Place, John Michael Kohler Arts Center, The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Millennium Stage, Claytor Nature Study Center of Lynchburg University , FLOC Outdoor Education Center, Girl Scouts of America, Glen Echo Park, James Madison University, McGuffey Arts Center, Rock Creek Park, Sandy Spring Friends School, US Park Service, Virginia Tech, Workspace for Choreographers
500 Miles/500 Stories Supporters
Thank you to our 500 Miles/500 Stories Supporters. Without their generosity,
we could not have completed this journey. Through USA Projects, these
individuals pledged more than $10,000 and supported us for every mile of the
500 MILES OF SUPPORT
250 MILES OF SUPPORT
Jen & Andrea
100 MILES OF SUPPORT
50 MILES OF SUPPORT
Alex Pile and Karyn Miller
Dorothy Dort Levy
Ronald Rodriguez/Clean Currents
10 MILES OF SUPPORT
Annetta Dexter Sawyer
Bill and Karen O’Brien
David T. Fox
Ian Paul Garrett
Mary Jo Smet
Nancy and Thomas Macel
Sara Pearson & Patrik Widrig
1 MILE OF SUPPORT
Robert “Hanh” Michlewicz