ENVIRONMENT: 500 miles 500 stories


On April 10, Cassie Meador, artistic director of Takoma Park’s Dance Exchange, began a 500-mile hike through Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia to discover and visit the different types of energy sources that power her home.

Videographer Matt Mahaney — a long-distance hiker, outdoor educator and artist with the Dance Exchange — joined Meador, along with other collaborators, on her eight-week journey. They started at Meador’s home in Takoma Park and headed west. Along their route, they will hike to a strip-mining site, coal and wind-energy plants, waste resource recovery facilities, mountainous lands — as well as to homes that have made the switch to alternative energy sources.

mountain top removal

A mountain top removal coal mining operation in West Virginia. Source: www.climatechange.umaine.edu.

Meador and her team will be packing lightly, as they will be walking and camping along their trail. They will be without electricity, running water, fresh food, heating or air-conditioning — relying on nature as they incorporate art with environment.

Meador explained, that two origin stories birthed this project.

According to family lore, Meador’s grandfather had lost a family-owned mountain in a poker game, possibly changing the course of Meador’s family history.

The other story pertains to Meador’s own experience. She had the opportunity to teach a course on tropical ecology with a group of artists and scientists in the Rainforest of Guyana. Meador said those 11 days were the first time she’d lived outdoors with limited resources for an extended time. When Meador returned, she felt very unsettled in her home.

“I realized I had no understanding of the story behind a lot of the things that I was using; that those narratives had been stripped from [everyday items],” Meador said.

With that, she began researching the origins behind some of the conveniences we use day-to-day, such as running water, electricity and produce. She found that a good portion of the power she was using for her home was being provided by coal that is being removed from mountaintops only 500 miles from where she lives.


As she walks the path of her electricity, Meador will be rethinking the environmental costs of everyday conveniences.

Meador explained she had little awareness of the community or the land that her everyday choices affected.

“I wanted to see what it meant to cover that distance,” Meador said. “Could I not only make that journey myself but [also] involve artists, designers and the community along the way?” she wondered.

Meador explained that she’s had a lot of practice training her body for dance performances, and she hopes that conditioning will carry over to this challenge.

“Living with what’s just on my back is the challenge that interested me about doing this walk. To see what it will mean to strip down for a period of time. I hope that that will impact my choices when I come back, I don’t want to live my life in the same way,” Meador said.

During her travels, Meador and her collaborators will connect with communities they face on the way in order to share and collect 500 stories, which will be posted and viewed on an interactive website: 500miles500stories.com.

According to the Dance Exchange website, the walk will serve as a community engagement tour and will be used as research and development time for a dance production planned for spring of 2013.

How to lose a mountain

Dance Exchange performs Cassie Meador's "How To Lose A Mountain" at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center. Photo by Zachary Z. Handler.

Meador explained that she and her team will be building stage work and video to go along with the dance performance from the collection of stories and their experience of being out there on the walk.

“It’s not only a story about this one mountain or one region in my home but its actually something that’s happening in many places in our country and around the world,” Meador said. “It’s really about power — both the power we use in our homes and the people, places, and experience that power us.”

To help fund the journey, the Dance Exchange teamed up with United States Artists, an organization that  facilitiates community donations. Donors may receive gifts for their contributions, such as postcards from the trip or a deck of “500 Miles 500 Stories” playing cards pertaining to the stories and experiences.

About the Author

Amanda Ziadeh is a spring 2012 intern at the Voice. She is currently a sophomore at the University of Maryland majoring in journalism with a focus on print and magazine. She writes for two university publications: Unwind! and Her Campus. Amanda loves fashion, trying new things and UMD sports — Go Terps!