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Elevator Chat: Cassie Meador, artistic director, Dance Exchange

Elevator Chat: Cassie Meador, artistic director, Dance Exchange

February 05, 2015Arts Across Maryland

Cassie Meador is Dance Exchange’s artistic director in Takoma Park. Her dance training began at an arts magnet school in Augusta, GA. She obtained a BFA in dance at The Ohio State University and discovered Dance Exchange at Bates Dance Festival. She feels fortunate to have found a home at Dance Exchange, where they create dances about real-world topics and use art as a vehicle for community building.

Talk about Dance Exchange’s history...

Cassie Meador: Liz Lerman founded Dance Exchange in 1976 and this is our 39th year of gathering, moving, and making. We’re an intergenerational company, with dancers from their early 20s to mid-80s performing on stage, in studios, outdoors, and in community settings—from hospitals to farms to schoolyards.

Dance Exchange is known for engaging a wide range of communities locally, nationally, and internationally. How are your current programs and projects doing this?

CM: This year’s programming exemplifies our reach: we’re giving artists and healthcare provider’s dance-making tools to assist patients and caregivers at a medical center in Canada; we’re working in Dallas to co-create a performance to move racial equity forward through the arts; we’re leading Moving Field Guides – outdoor interactive educational experiences that I developed with the US Forest Service—in Maryland, North Carolina, Georgia and Maine. Our project New Hampshire Avenue: This Is a Place To... is building relationships here in Takoma Park. Everything we do is brought back to our community through our HOME series, an inside-look at our creative practices.

What's your background? What brought you to Dance Exchange?

CM: Dancing has always been a way to understand the world around me. As a child, I was constantly moving and asking questions, either begging to be in dance class or out exploring in the woods.

When I joined DX in 2002, I was on the road constantly. Touring gave me little sense of connection to places I visited or to changes in the environment around me. Dance Exchange encouraged me to turn discomfort into inquiry by asking how I could inspire new relationships between individuals, local communities, and the environment.

I’ve collaborated with climate scientists in South America, where the rain forest became our laboratory and rehearsal studio. I’ve learned from farmers, river keepers, and foresters. I’ve made dances for the United Nations Climate Conference in South Africa, and along a 500-mile walk which traced the source of the electricity powering my home to a mountaintop removal site in West Virginia.

How do you see your role as Artistic Director after the departure of founder Liz Lerman?

CM: In 2011, Liz passed on the leadership to the next generation of artists at Dance Exchange. I’m honored to lead (and be one of) one of many artists making dances that grow from and contribute to this legacy.

Dance Exchange represents a unique body of practice rooted in dance and at the same time extending beyond the conventional field. It includes ways of building community, facilitating group learning using dance and reflection, and, through our Institutes, developing the capacity of artists to become practitioners. I see my role as a steward of this body of practice. I’m excited for the current projects that have us translating our practice into new collaborations with city planners, scientists, and foresters around the country. 

Tell us about the Dance Exchange Institutes. What's the next institute on the horizon?

CM: Our Institutes gather a thinking and working community. We focus on important issues and sharing tools for researching and generating dances and action. Our recent Winter Institute focused on the role of artists in building community. Our Teen Leadership Institute will explore the intersection of art making and leadership (June 22-27). Our Summer Institute July 10-19 is part of New Hampshire Ave.: This Is a Place To... and will culminate in a community festival and a fresh take on Liz Leman’s, Still Crossing and