Month: June 2013

Dancing in Jaffa…

Renowned ballroom dancer Pierre Dulaine returns to his hometown in Jaffa, Israel taking his belief that dance can overcome political and cultural differences, applying it to 11 year-old Jewish and Palestinian Israelis. A truly magical and transformative documentary!

This belief stands as a true testament to the power of dance to unite even the most divided of worlds. A message that goes well beyond the dance community and touches on our collective humanity .

Pierre is a deep inspiration and Movement Exchange continues to draw from these virtues to inspire the children and communities we work with, to foster cross-cultural understanding, self-esteem and social awareness, offering a perfect window into their lives.


Ayer y Hoy.

Ayer y Hoy.  (Yesterday and Today) Written 6/26/2013

Yesterday and today have been pretty much the same logistically but two different worlds mentally and emotionally.

We began both mornings by eating a quick breakfast and scurrying over to a studio where we got to work with a choreographer named Luis Alfredo while we learned a lot of different things about the modern technique of flying low. It essentially consists of feeling the floor, gathering and sending energy, being one with the earth, making the most of your space, and others’ space as well. Although it was foreign to many of us, it was amazing to all of us.

This morning was our second (and final) class with Luis and we were extremely sore (and are now even more sore as I’m writing this). He began class by telling us to partner up with each other and have one partner lay on the floor. Then he proceeded to show us how we would be massaging our partners in order to loosen them up. It was a blissful experience. It reminded me of three years ago when we worked with the choreographer Diguar Sapi and he went around and personally massaged each of our feet. So darn hospitable. And that hospitality is consistently present in so many places in this beautiful country.

Can I also, just say that the soundtrack of his class was amazing?

On both days, after the class with Luis we headed off to the University of Panama where we would be working on the piece that we perform all together on Friday at the big show. Yesterday was my APU girls’ day to lead, and I think we did a pretty good job. It is so amazing to see diverse dancers teaching choreography, learning choreography, and helping one another without letting the language barrier preventing them from doing so.

Yesterday and Today at Malambo were Hard and Wonderful in the best and worst ways.

Yesterday, we were expecting the same little angels from the day before that were attentive and sweet. And while they are very sweet (most of the time) I’m not sure attentive is an adjective I would use to describe them yesterday. It seemed as though all of the distractions of the universe had a meeting and all agreed to meet at Malambo from 4-6. When we arrived, there was leftover tea in the room from a meeting that the nuns had. So naturally, all of the girls ran in with little mouth rinsing cups, made some tea, poured about 23094823480 packets of sugar in it, and drank it. There were also other volunteers there that day that were leaving so we gave them an opportunity to say goodbye and wound up having a giant party with the kids and the other volunteers, which was obviously really cool. After they left, we tried our best to get the kids focused back in on learning the dance and they just weren’t having it. Everything else was calling their name. The other volunteers had given them temporary tattoos so of course they had to put those on and give us some as well. Then out of no where came supplies to make beaded bracelets, and then the bracelets broke and beads went everywhere, and so we all pitched in to clean up. So eventually, Madison, Alyssa, Brittany, and I made the executive decision to give up on choreography for the day and play a couple of games.  

Note: Musical chairs got a little violent and we had to stop in the middle, pero Steal the Bacon went really well.

Needless to say, it was a very fun, yet extremely unproductive day.

In reaction to yesterday, today we decided to try and snake charm the children into being calm and focused. When they came into the room, instead of having Beyonce or Cheetah Girls playing on the radio for warm up, we had Gavin Degraw and Adele. When the chicas came in the four of us were sitting at the front of the room with our legs crossed and told them to do the same. We led a very slow stretch/warm up and the kids were silent and attentive. It Worked! And we were SO amazed. We kept their attention for most of the day and finished the rest of the dance and still had lots of time left over to play. While productively today was amazing, emotionally the girls and I were a wreck. In the beginning of class, one of the girls’ that is around 6 years old named Milagros who had grown particularly attached to Brittany, said to her “Tu vas a ser mi madrina” which basically means “You’re going to be my Godmother.” With conflicting emotions of shock, flattery, and heartache, Brittany replied “te amo chica,” and that was that. It was a difficult thing for all of us to hear. Later on in the day Monica and I (my 17 year friend from the last trip) were playing around and she said to me “Como se dice mejor amigas en ingles?” and I replied “mejor amigas= best friends in English” and she said to me in English “You are my best friend.” I’m still processing what all of this means, but it was a very overwhelming ride home.

Everyday after we all get back from our respective orphanages, the twelve of us sit around in a circle and have a reflective period where we share the good and bad in our day. It is one of my favorite times in the day. We have such a wide variety of dancers in our group from all different backgrounds, and all different ages. There is so much wisdom and so much love that is present in this group, and for that I am grateful.

We are nearing the show on Friday and there is still a lot of work to be done and a lot of love to be shared. Thank you to all who have been praying for us and thinking about us and the kids during this trip.

 “When I dance, I don’t want to make the audience feel happy, I just want them to feel something.” -Carina Image







Best Friends.


Chelsey y yo.



Cheetah Girls in Panama.


My Sun. 


Dia Dos.


It has been such a full day and I am in EXHAUSTED. (In a good way 😉 So exhausted that I am very surprised that I am still blogging, but I would love it if I would be forgiven of any typos or grammar errors. Gracias.

Well, we had a late start today (which we were all very grateful for) and we were at our first destination, The University of Panama by 10:30am. The girls here from Arizona State University (Elena, Sarah, & Riley) led a wonderful class of dancers from both Panama and Movement Exchange. And what a beautiful exchange it was. Everyone was so eager to learn and try and try again. No one was afraid to get outside of their comfort zone and no one was afraid of failure, which is refreshing to see. It was fun to see things that are universal in the dance world. During one of the progressions that we were doing across the floor, Riley said “okay now let’s do it on the left,” and everyone, dancers from both Panama and Move-Ex, burst into laughter at the difficulty of doing ANYTHING on the left side.

After class we headed to lunch in the cafeteria where we had some authentic Panamanian food and some even more authentic conversation and then it was off to drop everyone off at their various orphanages that they would be working. This year Move-Ex is working with three different foundations, so all of the volunteers split up each day and work with the same foundation all week to prepare for a huge performance with all of the groups on Friday. My girls from Azusa Pacific and I will be working at the Malambo Orphanage with a group of 12 girls from ages 5-17. This is the same orphanage that I worked in three years ago, so you can imagine how anxious and excited I was on the drive over. Just for a little background info…Malambo is an orphanage that keeps boys and girls with ages ranging from infancy all the way to age 18. These kids vary from children with HIV, children whose parents can no longer afford to take care of them, and many other at-risk youth. I am the most fluent in Spanish out of everyone working at the Malambo orphanage (and I don’t speak Spanish, like at all…hahaha) so we knew that we might have a few challenges with the language barrier.

Upon arrival, with butterflies eating away at arroz con pollo in my tummy, we took a self-led tour of Malambo and Juliet and I both experienced a peaceful feeling of “its been to long,” while the other girls were blown away and the beautiful facilities. We at the last minute changed our song to The Cheetah Girls “Strut,” and later found out that it was a good decision. The chicas are all about it. We sat in a circle, and speaking Spanish we introduced ourselves saying our name and age, and those sweet little girls all introduced themselves in the little English that they knew. We did a warm up to some Spanish version of Queen-B, and then played musical chairs which really got them going. Whoever got out did not pout or whine, but they simply just joined the dance party going on the other side of the room.


After we got them nice and warm be split them up into groups and began choreography and my oh my are they some little hard-working ballerinas. For the last ten minutes, we just played. And it was fun. Not like OMG scrolling on tumblr is so fun, or like wow let’s go shoe shopping this weekend fun, but like FUN. Pure, innocent, simple, bruise-forming-FUN. At one point I was a jungle gym. I named one little girl “mi chiquita adhesivo,” which basically means my little sticker because she would not let me go.

During this time I also got to talk to Monica who was 14 when I met her and is now a beautiful and bright 17 year old. She was definitely a highlight of my day. She asked about all the volunteers from three years ago and asked what they were doing in life and then asked me to bring a copy of the song that we danced to three years ago, and I agreed. After muchas muchas besitos we were on our way back to the Hostel. We had dinner in a beautiful gourmet pasta restaurant and then hurried home to get dressed for a surprise that Anna and Carina had planned for us. We got all dressed up and then Supresa! Dancing with the Stars Panama! And it was SO much fun.

After listening to each other’s apples and onions of the day we all split up and got ready for bed and what not. I’m so excited for tomorrow! Brittany, Alyssa, Madison, and I will be leading class at the University of Panama!

Inside jokes of the day:



I’m learning a lot, living in the moment, and laughing ‘til it hurts.

Hasta Mañana 

(Sorry there are no pictures today…it’s a process that is too long when I have to be up in 5 hours. )

And I’m lovin’ every second, minute, hour, bigger, better, stronger, power…

I can’t believe it’s already day the end of our 2nd official day of Movement Exchange! Yesterday we had the opportunity to spend time at the Aldea SOS Orphanage in Colon, Panama. SOS Children’s Villages International is a Non-Government Organization who offers innumerable services for impoverished communities all over the world, with an emphasis on child welfare. We spent the day yesterday playing movement games, leading follow-along dance combinations, having impromptu dance parties, giving countless piggy-back-rides, and acting as audience to the choreography they’ve developed working with their weekly dance teacher. The children were amazing to be around and it was the perfect introduction into the Movement Exchange experience.

As someone on my first Movement Exchange, I didn’t know any other volunteers who would be on the trip and as with anything, I wasn’t quite sure what I was getting myself into. Yet upon the first meetings and greetings at the airport, I felt welcome. There is something intrinsic to dancers that makes introductions somewhat easier than with other strangers. There is a common vocabulary and universal experiences and basic passion for movement that don’t need to be stated or explained as might be the case with non-dancers.

Aside from feeling this comfort in a new community, our first day at Aldea SOS in Colon brought us together immediately. From quick problem-solving to inspirational creativity to laughing with the kids, this shared experience set the tone of our journey here and showed everyone’s personality.

This morning, we started our work with the dancers from the University of Panama dance department, whom we will be sharing the stage with in our big performance on Friday night. I’ll expound on that experience later…

This afternoon, our larger volunteer group was split into smaller groups to work with three separate organizations, with groups of kids that we will choreograph for and perform with on Friday. My group was at Aldea SOS Orphanage in Panama City. This is the first year that Movement Exchange is working with this organization. We learned that the children we’d be working with have had zero exposure to dance. So we started at the very beginning (as Julie Andrews would say, a very good place to start…) We led them in a simple warm-up to fun, upbeat music with things as basic as “step-claps” and “step-turns.” At the beginning, we probably were leading 40+ students in this movement exercise.

As you have probably guessed by now, this is a far cry from any experience most dance teachers will ever know. The kids have no “dance etiquette” about standing in lines or even simply continuing the class, because no one has ever taught them. A decent chunk of class was spent practicing going across the floor 5 dancers at a time with the next group starting after an 8 count. These kids don’t know what an 8 count is. So part of the experience was letting the ones who weren’t interested stand to the side and watch, or keep the free spirits who moved to the beat of their own drummers safely out of the way of the other children. I was consistently amazed at my co-teachers’ enthusiasm, patience, and creativity. Once we started the choreography, we continued to lose a few bodies here and there, but by the end of class, we still had about 32 dancers doing the choreography we had prepared for 10. I was blown away. It was truly one of the most wonderful things I have witnessed and have had the opportunity to help facilitate in my life. The two other teachers and I had pieced together some ideas to the song “#thatPOWER” by Justin Bieber and and were prepared to modify things as needed on the spot.

The result was more than I would have ever imagined, if I even would have known what to start imaginging. That’s super cheesy, but it has to be said. It’s not only about the visual of the large group of kids moving together, it’s the complex beauty of the situation. It would be an adorable piece of choreography done in a studio in a suburb of [insert major US city here]. But the bodies in that room had never danced before, never had that movement experience–and their joy and excitement was contagious. The most profound thing to note, though, is who these kids are, and what these bodies represent. For varying reasons, these children are living in group housing and being cared for from very early ages through adolescence. They don’t necessarily have a mom or a dad or their own bedroom or the cliché things we #firstworldproblem about. They vie for attention and affection because as much as there is and as amazing as their caretakers are, there is never enough to go around.

Dance cannot be a privilege for the lucky few. Whether in an expensive studio, or in an orphanage in Panama, kids crave movement. Giving them the time and space and structure to develop dance skills is invaluable. Ultimately, most kids who train in dance do not go on to be professional dancers. But dance provides fundamental skills that translate into all aspects of their lives. I recently wrote about these benefits in response to the “recital” phenomenon in US dance studios this time of year.

Coming to Panama, all of that pedagogical mumbo-jumbo continues to ring true. It’s an incredible opportunity to share all the dance I can possibly give to them. Yet in so many ways it breaks my heart that I don’t have more to give these kids. A few days of my time and attention doesn’t seem like enough. The hug of a little kid is always one of the most genuine physical exchanges you can have in daily life. The hug of a kid that has just met you and trusts you completely, wants you to stay, wants to know your name, wants you know their name (even if you butcher it with a terrible English accent), wants to be picked up and held and not let go, the feeling of the same kids running up to you again and again or waving at you across the room simply because they feel seen… we need to make up a new word for that feeling.

This also evokes ideas about dance in all communities. Within a mile of my home in downtown Chicago, children are shot and killed by teenagers (who are for all intensive purposes, just older children). Schools are being closed and 30,000 kids are being displaced. Arts education is very often one of the first cuts in budgets. I know a lot of great teaching artists and organizations in Chicago, but there aren’t enough and there aren’t enough resources.

Why are things like this? We know dance benefits at-risk youth. That’s not a point of debate anymore. As a new generation, as “dancers without borders” as one of Movement Exchange’s founders likes to refer to us as, it is our duty to continue to advocate for dance education. If you still have a hard time getting on board with these concepts, I suggest you come to Panama, and we’ll show you the joy and creativity and confidence and problem-solving skills kids get within one dance class.

I feel very lucky to be doing this kind of work if only for a short while. It is so important and I’m so grateful Movement Exchange exists to facilitate these relationships with the organizations in Panama. I look forward to the rest of this trip as I’m sure there will be surprises, learning and teaching, and continual affirmation that, while I might meander at times, the path I’ve chosen to follow in life is bigger than I am, and there are many who want to walk this path together.

To Touch, To Move, To Inspire…

As a new-“er” dancer, I am often charmed with inspiration. Learning to feel and think about movement in different ways – movements born from the flow of my body, but also the flow of my heart – is a magical feeling. I find dance to be soft and cumulative in intention, organic to oneself and to a group. Dancers can go through 5 phases during training: learning – discovering – growing – loving and ultimately *living. Living is the utmost joy that comes with sharing personal virtues of dance, and being an inspiration to those around you.

To tune into the magical moments of serendipity, I was incredibly humbled to meet Anna and the team of Movement Exchange. An organization run by a small group of dancers, all uniquely talented and tenured in practice inspired by a common thread of flowing grace and sensitivity. The team collectively is changing the rhythmic color of community by offering dance exchange trips to Panama to teach at-risk youth and orphans.

For new dancers, dance enthusiasts and seasoned dancers, this is a Panamanian journey ripe with meaning. The volunteers’ commitment and service stir these children’s spirit to unfold meaning and love with every plié, lift of an arm, turn of the head, and reach of a gaze. These are all dedications that lend to the children, the embodiment of self-confidence, cross-cultural understanding, and individual growth.

These beautiful children who learn and perform burst with enthusiasm as it takes courage for them to bring their deep down dancer self and imagination to a movement.  The dances the children ultimately perform at Panama’s National Theater transform their families, friends and spectators into active collaborators who actually move in sympathy and love with them onstage; at such moments, energy flows back and forth and exciting, unpredictable things can happen. 

Being one of the only dance organizations that offers sustainable dance education year around, Movement Exchange not only preserves the integrity of movement and service, it also nurtures these children to live, engage and inspire these virtues to everyone around them.

Move-Ex is committed to expand this vision globally. In the meantime, I encourage you to become a Move-Ex diplomat by helping to support the ongoing exchange trips, become a volunteer or a social ambassador on Facebook, Twitter or Tumblr, by sharing our mission with your friends and networks.  

“To touch, to move, to inspire. This is the true gift of dance.”

Nisha, Move Ex Volunteer

Dame un paseo del caballito.

It’s raining right now. Which means I’m happy.

Today we woke up around 7:30am and had breakfast on our beautiful balcony and we were out the door by 8:15. We went to SOS Aldea orphanage in Colon, Panama. A very poor, yet very beautiful place filled with a population that has dance embedded into their spirits. Because of the city’s innate love for dance, we thought it would be an easy task to get the kids involved in what we had planned (or what we made up on the spot, rather) for the day. But, as usual, we were wrong. We got there and split up into groups with the idea that the kids would also be in groups and rotate in stations with us. Well, it was hot, muddy, the music was low and they were not excited. After an hour of pulling kids and saying “baile conmigo por favor!…por que no?!” we readjusted our situation, got a louder boombox and got the party going. When I came to panama three years ago, I was lucky to have Barb and Chavez both who spoke Spanish alongside me the whole time to assist me whenever I needed help translating. With this group, however, the only person out of all twelve of us that is fluent is Anna and she’s always running around like a busy little bee, so its left up to us to figure out how to communicate. And honestly…I know WAY more Spanish then I thought I knew and I won’t say it was easy, but it was challenging, and rewarding.

Note: Fist bumps are a universal thing.

After dancing with the kids for a couple of hours, we decided to take a break and just play.

In the cutest little voice, and the saddest little eyes, they would come up and say “Dame un paseo del caballito” which basically means, “give me a piggy back ride.” You’d give them one, put them down, and then they’d go on to the next big person they saw and again say “dame un paseo del cabillito.” Once they had made it around to just about every single one of us, they would come back and ask each of us again. Well, needless to say, it is extremely hard to say no to those big brown eyes, so we were some very tired caballitos by the end of the day. After dancing and playing and giving the kids our cameras and phones so that they could take 23049820582459345038 pictures, fight over the various technological devices, and be photographers and models in their own fashion show, it was time to go. We are not going back to that orphanage for the remainder of our trip, so it was already a sad goodbye. It’s crazy how quickly attached they get, and how deeply attached we get.



We stopped off for lunch at a little vendor stand in Colon for coconut rice, black eyed peas, and chicken and took it to the beach where we got to gaze at abandoned ships and pretend to be The Cheetah Girls (I’m Galleria obviously) and then we headed home to Casco Antiguo where our hostel is. After resting for a while we had a debreif about the day and a review of what the rest of the week would look like to get ourselves mentally prepared and excited. We did happy’s and crappys, or roses and thorns, or apples and onions (whatever you want to call them) and I feel like our group is really getting to know each other. 🙂 Then we  headed off to dinner at Rene’s Café where Rene himself served us our 5 course meal complete with tres leches cake that Lili and I were crying tears of joy about.Image

(I’m obsessed with Lili by the way. She’s hysterical.)

After we stuffed our faces and laughed a whole bunch Anna took us on a late night tour around Casco where we got to see and learn so much about the rich culture that Panama has to offer. And we saw a crab on the street.Image

We headed back home, and are still currently preparing to teach at our various locations tomorrow! Tomorrow my group (Alyssa, Brittany, Madison and I) will go to Malambo to work with the girls that we will get to dance with for the rest of the week until our big show performance on Friday!

Abrazos y besitos! 


We’re here. Safe. and Happy. :)

Maybe it makes me seem overeager because I’m posting on the first night, but okay,well I am overeager and overexcited. 

Can I start by saying that I have no idea what time it is right now in America or here in Panama…but I think that’s a good thing. My computer and phone are dumb and think that its 9pm and I know that’s not right…but whatever, I digress…

At 3am yesterday morning, my dad began to drive Brittany, Madison, and I to the airport in order to be there at 4am so that we could make our flight at 6am. Little did we know, we would have a flat tire around halfway there. After lots of elbow grease from my dad and his friend that had come along for the ride, we finally continued our journey to LAX. Going nearly 100 mph on the freeway we got to the airport at 5:15am, and although we were scolded by airport worker-people (I know there is another word for that but its too late for me to know what it is) for our untimeliness, we made our flight nonetheless. After a six hour flight to Miami, which the girls and I slept through, we had a 4 hour layover that turned into a 7 hour layover due to some “air conditioning issues” and “radar problems” whatever that means. We finally boarded our plane and had lots of delirious fun on the three hour ride to Panama, which included a music video featuring me sleeping, coffee, selfies, and video instagram posts.  We thankfully safely arrived in Panama around 11:00pm where we were greeted by friendly familiar faces and pizza while we waited for the others to arrive. We left the airport, loaded up in our van, and had a beautiful drive to our hostel where we will be staying for most of the week. As we drove, conversations with Juliet (someone that was on the trip with me the first time I came) helped all of the memories to come flooding back to mind. We arrived at our beautiful truly luxurious hostel and had a quick introductory meeting about what we would be doing tomorrow and the rest of the week. (I’ll save that information for future blogs so I don’t repeat myself 🙂 )  At the hostel, we were greeted by Carina’s beautiful smile and besos y abrazos. (Carina is another person I met the first time I came on the trip.)  After our introductory meeting, Carina offered to walk around town with anyone that was interested. Anxious to remember what I thought I had forgotten, and catch up with an old friend, I took Carina up on her offer. The two of us walked around the city, talked about dance and where life had taken us in the past few years and it felt as though nothing had changed. Being here makes my heart smile and I can’t wait to encounter all of the people that are going to become a part of this new journey.

 I’m so tired but I want to stay awake and soak up every bit of Panama. I am excited to remember old experiences and welcome so many new ones. I am surrounded by likeminded, yet uniquely gifted individuals, with a passion for dance and service; I can tell that this is going to be an extraordinary ten days.

After many hours of stressing about whether returning to Movement Exchange was the best decision for me right now, I can confidently say that this is where I’m supposed to be.

I just figured out that it is 2:40am and I should probably go to bed. We’ve got lots of work to do this week 🙂 Besos! 

Those of you that know me know that this is Elle’s second trip to Panama as well and he really enjoyed riding on the elevator at the airport. ImageImage

Cotton candy skies.