Why I Dance: Cassie Meador

May 19, 2010

A dancer of quiet radiance, Cassie Meador performs, choreographs, and teaches with the Liz Lerman Dance Exchange in Takoma Park, MD. She
has danced all over the country and taught at such schools as Columbia College Chicago, Brown University, and Wesleyan University, as well as at summer festivals like Bates and ADF. She grew up in Georgia, graduated from Ohio State University, and in 2002 joined LLDE, where she currently serves as a project director and choreographer. She has presented her own work at various venues in Washington, DC, as well as in Ireland and Japan, and received the 2009 Metro DC Dance Award for emerging choreographer. Recently she team-taught a course on tropical ecology at Wesleyan, and traveled to Guyana to work with students to address similar topics using the arts.


I often think that I became a dancer because I grew up in a family of scientists. My parents, a neurologist and a biology professor, encouraged me to explore my surroundings. I remember looking through a microscope on our kitchen counter and realizing that an entire unknown world existed within a small sample of pond water. I have learned that, like the scientific process, the creative process allows us to work at the edges of what is knowable. Dancing allows us to navigate our surroundings, to cultivate our senses, and to discover a kind of rare wildness in this world.


My first memory of dancing was around the age of 5 when I came across my parents’ record collection. My siblings and I would move the furniture to make space for dancing, and when the house got too hot our dancing would spill out into the back­­yard. I wanted to dance in every moment and in every place I found myself. I started begging my mom to send me to dance classes. She signed me up at the Augusta Ballet School, where I came to love the rigor and structure of the classical form.


There were times that my family could not afford to send me to dance classes. When I lost the structure of formal training I was determined to continue dancing. It was during this period that I have my first memories of making dances. Rather than spending hours trying to move like others in a ballet class, I attempted to move like the things I observed in my environment: the resilient squirrels in my yard, the way the magnolia trees bent down during a storm, the walking ritual my 88-year-old neighbor took to the edge of her drive each day, and the speed of land being cleared along the Savannah River.  It was these tiny and grand expressions that I hungered to dance about. When I returned to classes years later, I wanted the curiosity I experienced outside the studio to continue. This meant finding the connection between the act of dancing and the act of questioning.


That’s what led me to the Liz Lerman Dance Exchange, where I have spent the last eight years as a dancer and choreographer. Dance Exchange’s mission asks four questions: Who gets to dance, Where is the dance happening, What is it about, and Why does it matter? At times the work at Dance Exchange pushes me to my physical limits while performing with dancers from their 20s to their 70s. Other times I make dances in museums, senior centers, on farms, and in classrooms.


My own dancing continues to be inspired by the scientists who hunt, gather, and interpret the evidence of change all around us. In order to study they must leave their labs and traverse the fields and mountains. I am interested in how dancing can also pull us out of the studio to explore known and unknown territory. Recently, I’ve been collaborating with ecologists and environmentalists. We’re encouraging people to think in new ways about their relationship to the changing environment.


Each of us has the right to move through our lives, to travel great and small distances with the power of our own bodies. Each step, each leap, and each gesture offers a window into our place in this world. Ultimately, perhaps, we arrive at the understanding that we are not separate from the environment. Dancing allows us to braid our personal stories with the larger conditions that shape our times.



Photo by John Borstel, courtesy LLDE