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Austin Sanitation Workers Featured in ‘Trash Dance’ Documentary

by Jon Melegrito  |  April 02, 2012

Trash Dance
A scene from Trash Dance. (Photo courtesy of Andrew Garrison)

How can a garbage truck dance? And how do you convince trash collectors that there’s beauty and grace in their movements?

These questions occurred to choreographer Allison Orr as she watched sanitation workers in Austin, Texas one day. She came up with the idea of a dance performance and approached employees of the City of Austin’s Department of Solid Waste – all members of AFSCME Local 1624 – and convinced them to collaborate with her.

After months of rehearsals in between shifts and second jobs, they put together an extraordinary dance spectacle: 16 garbage trucks and 24 sanitation workers set into elegant motion on an abandoned airport runway that moved and inspired an audience of thousands.

Dubbed Austin’s “best art event” last year, the story behind the collaboration was filmed by independent filmmaker Andrew Garrison who titled the documentary, Trash Dance. He followed Orr and the sanitation workers on their daily routes for eight months, listening to their concerns and hearing about their families.

“For so many of us, this work is invisible,” said Garrison. “We only notice when a truck is in our way as we drive to work or if something has spilled on the street. Through the film you meet and really get to enjoy the people at work every day for us. I have had people in test screenings and web screenings say things like, they really appreciate their trash collectors now, and how it makes them feel proud, and how this film could be something important in places where public employees are under attack.”

Recalling her own experience with an overnight crew on a trash and recycling route, Orr said she learned a lot about the day-to-day work of Austin’s unsung heroes – the men and women who keep our city clean, who are used to being ignored or looked down upon when on the job, and whose voices are rarely heard.

Virginia Alexander, a member of Local 1624, was among the two dozen workers who volunteered for the project.

“I participated because I want to help the city understand the importance of the work we do,” said Alexander, 50, who has been driving a trash truck for 16 years. “Most of the time people just complain. Now I get good vibes from folks every time I do my rounds. It may be a dirty job, but I’m proud of the service we provide to the city.”

The “Trash Project” was meant to honor and celebrate the hard work and dignity of Austin’s sanitation workers. The film had its world premiere at the famed South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin last month.

See the Trash Dance film trailer here:

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