Month: April 2014

Spotlight: Mei-Ling Murray, Program Director of Movement Exchange

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What is your background in dance?
 I am predominantly classically trained, beginning with ballet since age 5. I studied under American Ballet Theatre, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and the San Francisco Conservatory of Dance. I attended the University of Arizona on scholarship for dance, where my focus turned more towards contemporary and modern dance. I am currently a company member for Project B dance company in the San Francisco Bay Area.

After college, I was adamant about traveling, and for 4 years, took off each year independently on around-the-world trips. It was during this time abroad, that my definition of dance completely transformed. My focus on dance became less of a technical and artistic endeavor, and more of a cultural language. I literally walked into communities where I didn’t speak the language, and found myself with lasting friendships because of my background as a dancer.

How did you get involved with Movement Exchange?
I had recently returned home from a long leg of travels, and was feeling inspired as ever about how dance connected me with culture. I googled “international dance exchange” and found information about Anna and the young program she had created. Realizing she was based in Northern California, I immediately reached to out her. A few days later we spent hours over coffee connecting about our passion for dance as a tool for social change. It was magic!

What is your fondest memory of your exchange?
I must say it is the sisterhood that I have developed with a particular girl at Malambo Orphanage, Gabby. Her and I simply are connected. It is proof that you don’t need to be geographically close, nor from the same upbringing to be linked to another’s spirit.

How do you define Dance Diplomat?
A dance diplomat is someone who uses dance as a means for helping people, for seeing the world, for communicating with those from a very different background.

What has Movement Exchange taught you?
Movement Exchange has taught me that there is a whole world of dancers out there that want to give back!

Who is your favorite choreographer?
Jiri Kylian, Netherlands Dance Theatre

What’s your biggest accomplishment so far?
My biggest accomplishment thus far is being a part of Movement Exchange, and helping it grow. There is nothing more important to me than spreading connection, understanding, and empowerment through dance.

Where’s the most exotic place you have been?
India.

How many languages do you speak? Which ones?
English and Spanish

What is one thing on your bucket list?
I must spend a significant amount of time in Patagonia and Chile.

What’s something most people don’t know about you?
I am half Chinese, half Scotch-Irish.

What are some of your other hobbies?
I play guitar and piano. I model. I hike.

If you had a tagline/motto what would it be?
All I need is half of a plan, and good company!

What three words come to mind when you think of India?
Rich. Color. Culture.

Do you think Movement Exchange would be valuable in India? Why?
Absolutely. There are already numerous foundations in India that are spearheading this kind of work, making dance education available to underserved communities, and developing unique ways to use dance as therapy, and community empowerment. And Movement Exchange would fit right into that! We have so much to give and LEARN from this incredible country.

Why do you dance?
I dance to find my silent strength. I dance to let go. I dance to nurture my discipline and work ethic. I dance to connect with others.

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Spotlight: Anna Pasternak, Founder of Movement Exchange

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What is your background in dance?

I started dancing as wee little thing at family parties. I couldn’t get enough of moving my body to music. I always wanted to take dance classes, and finally as a ten year old I enrolled in my first jazz class. From there, I branched out to ballet, modern, Afro- based dances, and partner dances. I attended San Francisco’s School of the Arts for high school, and thought that I was going to become a professional dancer until I was accepted into Harvard which changed my life trajectory. However, I still managed to take some time off from university to tour in Japan with a Brazilian samba company and Kenyan human pyramid makers. To this date, it’s the most ridiculous life experience I’ve ever had.

 How did you get involved with Movement Exchange?
I birthed this baby! It’s a dream come true.

 What is your fondest memory of your exchange?
The very first exchange definitely impacted me the most. We didn’t know what to expect, and every dance diplomat was also there on a huge leap of faith since we didn’t have a website nor anything to prove that we were actually legitimate. We were all united around the idea that we wanted to use dance to make a difference. It didn’t know there were so many of us dancers out there that cared, and were looking for an avenue to serve their local and global community. The orphans we were teaching had never had any dance class in their life and it was a huge challenge to get many of them to come out of their shell enough to talk to us. It’s amazing to think how much confidence these same kids have gained. These are the same kids that after 8 days of dance workshops were on stage at the National Theater in front of an audience of over 400 people. We all cried backstage together after our first performance. I’ve never felt so overwhelmed by emotion.

How do you define Dance Diplomat?
A person who spreads joy, understanding, and goodwill through dance locally and/or globally. Someone who uses the power of dance for social change.

What has Movement Exchange taught you?
Movement Exchange has taught me what compassion truly means. It’s also taught me to give and  love at a level deeper than I knew I was possible of.

Who is your favorite choreographer?
I saw Alvin Ailey’s ‘Revelations’ as a ten year old, and fell in love. I have had other favorite choreographers since then, but, the only piece of choreography that still makes me cry like the ten year old me is still ‘Revelations’. I enjoy being nostalgic.

What is the most compelling performance you have ever seen?
Movement Exchange’s first performance starring over 100 at-risk youth and orphans at the National Theater of Panama. I’ve never witnessed so much pure joy on a child’s face, nor such a palpable sense of community backstage.

What’s your biggest accomplishment so far?
Helping to create a family of dancers who are united in their desire to make the world a better place. I’m inspired daily by the people Move-Ex’s mission has brought together. Our team of volunteers strengthen my faith in the good of humankind through their dedication to helping others.

Where’s the most exotic place you have been?
This is too hard to answer! I’ve been to a lot of places that have blown my mind. Jeez, just visiting the place of my own thoughts is pretty exotic!

How many languages do you speak? Which ones?
English, Spanish, Portuguese, and dance.

What is one thing on your bucket list?
I’d like to adopt one of our dancers at Malambo Orphanage in Panama. I’ve seen many of the girls there grow up since Move-Ex’s conception, and I wish I was in a position to provide a home for all of them.

What’s something most people don’t know about you?
I surf. My dad taught me how to surf many years before I ever started dancing. People who watch me surf now say that it actually looks like I’m dancing on my board. So, I guess dancing has influenced my surf style! Who knew!

If you could time travel, where and why?
I’d love to take a trip to the future. I look at how much our world has changed in the life of my 85 year old Danish grandmother, and can’t even begin to imagine what life will look like in a half a century. I want to believe that organizations like Movement Exchange do not even need to exist because we have created an equal and just society where we all can reach towards our full potential.

What are some of your other hobbies?
I have so many! I love to surf, forage for food and eat it, talk to strangers, travel like crazy, learn new languages, get better at diving for abalone (my breath control is horrible), and acquiring new hobbies!

 If you had a tagline/motto what would it be?
I’ve never thought about this before. Hmm.. how about “stay curious”? I think it’s important to have an endless curiosity in order to challenge yourself and challenge our world.

What three words come to mind when you think of India?
Enchanting, Raw, and Aromatic (I think of curry, of course!)

 Do you think Movement Exchange would be valuable in India? Why?
India has a lot to offer the world through its art forms, and is also a place with a numerous population of disadvantaged youth that could gain a great deal from ongoing arts education. India, more so than Panama suffers from extreme inequality. It is our hope that through dance education and therapy we can improve the emotional, physical, cognitive and social aspects of the children’s lives that we work, and give them a reason to dream for a better future. There are amazing organizations doing profound work in the area of dance therapy currently, and we will support them in their work by building a larger community of dance diplomats working together to share best practices.

Why do you dance?
It makes me feel alive. Dance makes me feel closer to who I truly am and to something much larger than myself. I dance because it makes me feel at one with the world.