How I Spent My Summer Vacation by Dance Exchange

This summer, Dance Exchange experimented with going to a slightly reduced contract schedule in order to reduce costs and allow staff and artists to have some time away from the organization.  Inspired in part by employees having creative flex time at 3M and Google, we thought having some time and space away from the organization might be good for both the individuals and the company as a whole.  Check out how some of us used our time below!

Fourth of July at Dance Exchange


John Borstel, Senior Advisor, Humanities: In June I joined my partner Charles for a trans-continental train trip to Glacier National Park in Montana, where we hiked into snowbanks, ate huckleberry everything, and caught sight of one bear, two moose, and a few dozen scraggly mountain goats. Then I went to Vermont for a bucolic week on campus at Goddard College, where I’m pursuing my MFA. Since then I’ve been busy preparing artwork for a photo installation at Strathmore, enlisting several Dance Exchange colleagues as co-conspirators — I mean, collaborators.

John and Charles at Glacier National Park

Ellen Chenoweth, Managing Director: I had some amazing experiences this summer with my time away from Dance Exchange.  I met some great artist/dancers in Hornell, New York, where I got to climb on ladders and help hang a set, enjoyed some perfect beach time in Cape May, New Jersey, and had some lazy days in Brooklyn as well.  I came back to the office refreshed and energized for the exciting season that we have in store.

Ellen's cabin in Hornell, NY

Matthew Cumbie, Resident Artist/Education Coordinator: This summer I spent a lot of time living out of my suitcase, traveling and moving in a rather gypsy-type manner. After moving from New York City to Washington, D.C. for this job and to start our Summer Institute, I spent three weeks in Maine at Bates Dance Festival working with a number of brilliant artists from all over the map. I then went to my parent’s house in Texas to relax and reclaim my dog Lucas before coming back to D.C. and settling in for the long haul. It was a most enjoyable, exhausting, and extremely rewarding summer.

A sweaty Matthew and Sarah post-class at Bates

Sarah Levitt, Resident Artist/Communications Coordinator: I spent three weeks in Lewiston, Maine at Bates Dance Festival. It was a very sweet return to the festival for me–I met Cassie and Liz there five years ago when I took their Creative Process class, and that is how my involvement with the company began. Although I danced hard every day, it was nicely balanced by lots of relaxation time on the porches of the houses all of the older students lived in, trips to the beach, long walks, and one memorable lobster dinner. I was really energized by the artists I met there, too, and left feeling really confident about the direction of the dance field because of my intelligent, informed, wild and ambitious peers.

Matthew and Sarah dance in Sarah' work in the informal student showing at Bates

Cassie Meador, Artistic Director:  I couldn’t have asked for a better summer to mark a decade with the DX.  It kicked off in July with the opportunity to make my first full-time artistic hire as the artistic director of Dance Exchange. We welcomed our newest resident artist Matthew Cumbie with homemade peach ice cream at the annual 4th of July parade in Takoma Park.  The parade passes in front of our studios and you can see us here watching the parade below the new Dance Exchange sign. In my time off, I went on a grand southern tour to visit family, continue research for my current project, How to Lose a Mountain, and to see my baby brother get married in the mountains of North Carolina. Thanks to everyone who helped make 10 wonderful years at Dance Exchange possible–we celebrated in August at the Emmylou Harris/John Prine concert at Wolf Trap.

Cassie and her uke

Shula Strassfeld, Resident Artist/Healthy Living Coodinator: I spent my time off a caregiver for my 92 year old Father who suffers from dementia. I made it my goal to find activities that could keep him alert and interested during the day in the hope that he would then sleep less in the day and be better able to sleep at night. I was somewhat successful. One of the projects he helped me with was making a sort of paper quilt as the set for a short excerpt I showed at Chautauqua of a piece that is in development about Rachel Carson. We spent many happy hours working on that quilt and talking about old memories.

Shula dancing at Chautauqua

Emily Theys, Communications and Development Director: While most of the dancers and staff were away from Dance Exchange for a few weeks, I was holding down the fort here at the office and getting my ducks in a row for the fall, when I’ll be taking maternity leave. In just a few weeks, my husband and I will welcome our first little one into the world and so our summer was really about preparing for the arrival and relaxing while we can! We did manage to sneak away from the office for a few days— into the woods to stay at a yurt on a farm in the Blue Ridge Mountains (where I spent some time with my spirit animals) and to the shore of the Outer Banks for some family time (here we are sending a beachy message to our baby). We don’t yet know what our baby will be, but we know he or she will be loved… and will wear a DX onesie with pride!

Emily and Jon at the beach, thinking of baby!

About Ellen Chenoweth

Ellen Chenoweth has been with the Dance Exchange since 2009 and is currently Managing Director.