Dance Exchange, the Takoma Park, Maryland–based nonprofit dance organization founded by Liz Lerman, returns this month to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to continue work on Off-site/Insight: Stories from the Great Smoky Mountains, supported by the National Park Service's Imagine Your Parks initiative.


Beginning with a weeklong residency in fall 2016, Off-site/Insight has brought together Dance Exchange's artistic team, park rangers and a group of local artists to create an intergenerational work slated to be performed in the park this fall, as a cornerstone of Dance Exchange's 40th anniversary season. The project follows the organization's goals of building community, achieving social justice and sharing dance in unexpected settings.

As part of last fall's residency, executive artistic director Cassie Meador and associate artistic director Matthew Cumbie taught park rangers at Appalachian Highlands Science Learning Center how to run elementary school workshops that teach ecology alongside dance. “Beyond the performance, we're really interested in how these embodied-learning practices and movement-based tools can serve the park and the rangers beyond our time there," Meador says, “and also build ongoing relationships with local artists—relationships that can support them in their work."


Dance Exchange artists leading a workshop. Photo by Jer Banks, courtesy of Dance Exchange

When they return to the park this month, Meador and Cumbie will reconvene the group of artists—mostly dance artists, but also filmmakers and Appalachian musicians—to determine which communities and groups will join this fall's final performance and a film associated with it. They also plan to finalize a creative research course at Warren Wilson College, in Asheville, North Carolina. The course is intended to draw a broader age range into meaningful engagement with Off-site/Insight, which seeks the stories and histories of older residents of western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee.

Some of the region's stories center on forest fires like those that ravaged the Great Smoky Mountains late last fall. Cumbie says the particular challenges and heartbreaks faced by the Great Smokies as a result of the fires will also become part of the final performance: “We're listening to how the work needs to happen and who needs to be involved, and shaping the work around questions at the heart of the people who are central to the project."

For more: danceexchange.org