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The Green Life: Dancer Walks 500 Miles to Find Coal Mines

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March 21, 2012

Dancer Walks 500 Miles to Find Coal Mines

CassieMeador_power_croppedCassie Meador is on a quest. She has decided to take a little walk — a 500-mile walk,to be exact — to trace the source of the energy she uses in her Washington D.C. home. It all started with a bit of research that led to a disturbing conclusion. 

"Learning that my power comes from a mountaintop-removal coal mine left me completely shocked. I realized that I was responsible for what was happening in those communities, part of the choices I make every day."

Meador, the artistic director of Dance Exchange may seem like an unlikely champion for the environment, but her love of dance has intertwined with her love of the planet for many years. The messages underlying her performances have made people take notice. "I grew up in a family of scientists," she says, "so that taught me to look at the world in a certain way." At one point, she considered returning to college for an environmental science degree, but then an unusual opportunity presented itself. 

"I was invited to co-teach a tropical ecology class in Guyana with an environmental scientist. The university there was studying the impact of global climate change on the eco-system. They were looking for new ways to bring their research to the general public," she says. Dance performance turned out to be an exciting way to engage the community about environmental issues.

"Living in the rainforest, I was surprised at how little I actually needed to be comfortable," she remembers, "If I needed water, it came from the river or the sky, if I needed light, it came from the sun. There's something about seeing and putting your hands on these resources; I was able to understand more clearly the relationship between what I use and what nature provides."

CassieinGuyana_croppedPaulHortonReturning to the states, she was surprised at how uncomfortable she felt in her own home; she realized she had no idea where the resources she used came from, or how her resource use impacted the environment. "I wondered what it would be like to use the power of my body to make that same journey  and what I would learn from doing it. What it would mean to engage communities along the way — to think about the choices we make in our homes and their impact on others.

Meador's "Sunrise Sendoff" is April 10. During her 500-mile quest, she will collect 500 stories, which she'll share on her website. Meador plans to use those stories to create a stage production for a dance company tour when she returns. Along the way, she will hold  Moving Field Guides as part of a program developed in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service to encourage participants to get outdoors along the walk and discover the world around them. (Some of these events will engage with Girl Scouts Troops in the area.)

Her route will take her from Washington DC, through Maryland and Virginia (with a stop at Virginia Tech University May 19-20), and ultimately into the mountainous coal mining regions of West Virginia. She will tour the Dickerson Power Plant and visit the Virginia Center for Wind Energy, where she hopes to hike the ridge that provides a view of both wind turbines and smokestacks from a coal-powered energy plant. During the preparation, she actually drove right up to the front gates of some of the coal mines; some mining operators were willing to speak with her, others wasted no time in calling security.

She will conclude her journey close to one of the mountaintop removal sites, although she admits they "won't exactly be taking me on a tour." She was surprised by how camouflaged the sights are while driving through West Virginia. "You can see much more on Google Maps, because when you're driving, the sights are often camouflaged behind the next ridge or somehow not in clear view."

Meador says there is so much more to this endeavor than simply making the journey, beyond engaging with local communities and beyond the final stagework. "I don't want to make the same choices. I don't want to live my life in the same way. I feel I have to cover this distance in order for some of that to change."

There was a time, she says, when we were connected to our community and the resources we had in it. And we used our bodies to make things from those resources. "We're losing our connection to our planet and part of that is losing a connection to our bodies. We can't disconnect the health of our bodies from the health of our planet."

Follow Cassie Meador and read the 500 stories she learns along the way, as she discovers How to Lose a Mountain.

--Cyndy Patrick/images by Matt Mahaney and Paul Horton

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