Video Story Collection

By Matthew Cumbie, Washington, DC

At the very end of the 500 mile hike that Cassie went on to research the source of the energy that powers her home, she found herself at Kayford Mountain just outside of Beckley, WV. From here she could almost reach out and touch those places where mountains had once stood; from here, she could see first-hand mountain top removal sites that were literally next door to Kayford and that had completely changed the surrounding landscape. Kayford Mountain became the highest point in an area where it had once been the lowest. Now I didn’t join Cassie here; at the time, I was still living in New York and had other obligations. I didn’t get to see the destruction that has found its home in this region, I didn’t get to meet Larry Gibson who lived on Kayford and fought his entire life to save mountains and mountain communities against such atrocities, and I didn’t get to experience first hand those people who are absorbed in this difficult situation.

When we all returned to our studios in Takoma Park to start digging deeper into this research and shaping what would become the stage work, Cassie asked me to start working on some solo material based on my experience on the hike and to pull from material that we all had generated (see Sarah Levitt’s post about making movement after coming off of the hike). Initially, I improvised the whole thing as that is what I’m drawn to do. Then we started pairing the movement with a song that performer/collaborator Zeke Leonard had written about Kayford, a lament of sorts (or so it seems to me). In this song, Zeke wanted to acknowledge another perspective of the struggle surrounding mountaintop removal: that of those who are tied to this process through their employment with coal mining companies.

The more we worked on this pairing, though, the more things fell away and we started to talk about repetitive acts, the revealing nature of uncomfortable situations, and the resiliency of the body. And while I didn’t experience Kayford personally, I often reflect on tough choices that have been placed before me and find myself asking if I’ve done enough when doing this piece. These questions about resilience, I think, are universal. How much can I do? How much more? Are these actions making any difference? How can I do more? The body, and the self in turn, continually find a way to surprise me when looking back through this lens.

Every time I do this part of “How To Lose a Mountain”, and have this moment with Zeke on stage, I get emotional. We all play our own part in making whatever difference we can in this world. It’s the questions we’re faced with that call us into action, and our responses shape the answers and set the stage for what’s to come. The only resurfacing question, for me then, is if I’ve done enough to set the stage that I want.

By Shula Strassfeld, Washington, DC

If you saw “How To Lose A Mountain”, do you think you saw this solo? Well, you did. But what you saw was this material six months later with new meaning and context. This process is very typical of how we make dances at Dance Exchange.

The movement assignment I worked with to create this phrase was about making space inside the body. It began with the question, How much can one body hold? As the piece developed, my character became one who both confronts Sarah’s new worldview and tries at the same time to accommodate that view, to make room for it in her own world. The idea of “making room” then had a particular context. Instead of a stand alone solo moment, the movement became part of a larger group section. By using very specific, personal movement, my character was clearly defined as unique in that early moment in the piece. Elements of the solo return in different contexts throughout the piece, reminding me of who I am and making it clear how I change.

It is lovely to watch this movement now and to be reminded of what it was at the source. The whole process is rather like the subject of the piece itself– what we hold on to, what we lose, how things change over time.


By Sarah Levitt, Takoma Park, MD

After the walk, part of the process of making “How To Lose a Mountain” was about how we took our experiences from the trail into the studio. How does one capture what it feels like to walk till you think you can’t anymore, look out into a dense forest, spot an owl, eat  like a horse after you come off the trail? What is of value from these experiences that translates to the stage work?

An occasional criticism of “How To Lose a Mountain” is that it is not the story about Cassie’s 500 mile walk. True. It’s a story about loss. Where the story of the walk manifests itself is in the movement material. We never could have created the kind of physical material we did without the experience of being outside, and I’d add: being outside with each other.

This video, created by Matthew Cumbie, was taken the night we came off the trail after hiking 70 miles. It was hard to make dance after that part of the walk–it was hard to know where to begin or how we’d ask our bodies to do a little more. I’m thankful we did: much of this material made its way into the stage work, and had a different tone and quality than anything we’d made before or since.


By Matt Mahaney, Harpers Ferry

By Meg Kelly, Takoma Park

How would you map the distance between you and your neighbor? North and south? Campus and community? Past and present? Syracuse residents of all ages answered these questions through the creation of “Distance Strips”, visual representations of cultural, historical, and geographic distances in Syracuse and beyond. Within the parameters of a 12” by 3” strip of paper, big and small distances are made visible: the distance between families located in two different towns; the distance between the ideological left and right; the distance from a small child’s hands to the cookie jar, just out of reach on the kitchen table. During Dance Exchange’s two-and-a-half week residency in Syracuse in February 2012, members of the company, in collaboration with graduate students from Syracuse University’s College of Visual and Performing Arts, engaged Syracuse residents in map-making at schools, community centers, and through chance encounters. The distance strips, which lined the walls of the Community Folk Art Center’s gallery, formed the backdrop for Dance Exchange’s culminating performance with community members at the end of the residency.  Members of the Ida Benderson Action Group and participants from workshops at 601 Tully, Christian Brothers Academy, The Determination Center, Northeast Community Center and Plymouth Congregational Church created the Distance Strips seen in this video.

by Zeke Leonard and Stowe Nelson, Syracuse NY