Month: June 2015

Open Call 2015 – A Dancer is Born

Let me preface this blog post by saying that until I went to Panama, I hadn’t taken a formal dance class. I haven’t been trained in any specific style, nor have I ever considered myself to possess the skills necessary to dance well. For all intents and purposes, I am not, and never have been, a dancer.

But Movement Exchange completely altered my definition of a “dancer.”

When I applied for Open Call, I did so mostly at the insistence of a friend. For years, she had raved to me about the power of an exchange, the meaning of the work carried out over the course of a week, and the inspiration provided by the children at each orphanage, and I finally caved. Besides, I had an itch for adventure begging to be scratched, and this seemed the perfect remedy.

Once accepted, I panicked. What in the world was I thinking, going on this volunteer trip geared toward dancers? Where would I find a place among a group of women whose passions centered around dance? How would I contribute? And of course, rather than confront my worries and fears, I buried them, even as I boarded the plane that would thrust me into the Open Call whirlwind.

Every troublesome emotion imaginable bubbled up and coursed through my body those first few hours in Panama, but they dissipated the moment we arrived at Aldea SOS Colon on our first full day. A young girl took me on a tour of one of the buildings, showing off everything down to the laundry soap on a shelf above the washer and dryer; we lunched on delicious chicken and rice generously served by the tias of the orphanage; and we dove into our first dance classes with the children, feeding off their enthusiasm and reveling in their spirits. Smiles were given freely, and all inhibitions disregarded. Magic isn’t a strong enough word to describe what those interactions felt like, but magic is all that comes to mind.

From there, I settled in and found my niche — goofing around with the kids, making them feel comfortable with different movements, and translating when necessary. What I lacked in technical skills, I made up for in silliness, watching grins spread from cheek to cheek with each extravagant move I came up with as we played freeze dance and easing nerves as I fumbled through choreography. I wouldn’t trade this contribution for the world, however small or insignificant it might have been. To me, it was everything, as I hope it was for the kids.

The classes we took throughout the week, though, were the time slots I originally feared the most. I didn’t want to make a fool of myself, or be the sore thumb among talented dancers. Naturally, my fears were unfounded. I plunged headfirst into each and every class, attempting different moves and trying again and again despite confusion or failure. Not once was I ridiculed. Rather, I was pushed to move my body in ways I never imagined possible, reassured of my capabilities, and cheered on all the while by nine sensational dance diplomats who embraced me as one of their own.

Simone, my gracious encourager. Caeli, my exuberant burst of energy. Kate, my level-headed companion. Ruby, my constant ray of sunshine. Olivia, my source of inspiration. Hayley, my gentle role model. Jen, my balanced comrade. Kim, my rambunctious warrior. And Tinna, my Panamanian soulmate and motivator.

It is because of these women, the children we had the honor of getting to know, and the gorgeous country of Panama, that I now consider myself a dancer.

Because we’re all dancers. We’re all lovers. We’re all dreamers. These universal languages, among others, unite us, empower us, and motivate us, and they will continue to do so for centuries to come.

xoxo, Kourtney

IMG_1899(Photo courtesy of Hayley Shannon)



Dancing, Laughing, Eating and Sharing: Move-Ex Open Call 2015

Each day in Panama was an honor, each smile from the children was a blessing and each laugh from my fellow dance diplomats was a joy; my experience during the Move-Ex Open Call this past week was priceless. My time in Panama with Kourtney, Kate, Ruby, Simone, Olivia, Kim, Jen, Hayley and Mama T (Tinna!) was a unforgettable and I hope that by sharing my reflections, others will by inspired to participate in their own experience.

Day 1: It had only been a day in this gorgeous country but I had already learned and seen so much. Our leader, Tinna, made me promise to learn at least 20 Spanish words a day, but from the looks of it, I’m in for much more. Working with the kids in Colon today felt extremely difficult. Not only were we facing the humidity and torrential rain, but the language gap was enormous. Yet looking into the children’s beautiful faces forced me not to give up, dance is universal and we can always connect through movement. And at last, we did. With the rain pouring and thunder and lightning that seemed to strike over head, we all danced together Step Up 2 style! My favorite moment of today was when I was trying to engage one of the girls to dance by bumping hips and soon after, another one of the more shy girls joined us. We became a beautiful hip bumping sandwich.

Day 2: Today began with a whirlwind of dancing and making connections. During the contemporary/creative movement class taught by Hayley and Kate, I felt a sense of comfort in taking class as usual in addition to curiosity at how the students at the University of Panama would respond. I was excited to see that the students were eager to learn and excited to dance with us. I was especially honored when one of the dancers came to me for help in breaking down one of the steps; he and I did not talk but could communicate perfectly through gestures. While at the Malambo orphanage, I enjoyed practicing my Spanish with the girls. I appreciated how one little girl took the time to find a way to communicate her question to me in Spanish. Another beautiful moment was when amongst the chaos of teaching dance to a large group of screaming little girls, there were a few minutes of silence while all of them focused on their sticker craft. It was peaceful and wonderful to see their genuine commitment to their activity.

Day 3: I like to call this day, “another gorgeous scorcher”, as each day though hot and sweaty gets better and better. It began with a hike, that while complaining the whole way up was probably my favorite part of the day. The view, the plant life, the animals (including a sloth and its baby!) were all amazing. Afterwards, we took an incredible class taught by Olivia and Kim. It had an Afro-fusion style that left me eager to do more; I fell completely in love with the movement and could not wait to dance the combination with a dancer I met and partnered up with during the class. At Aldea that afternoon, there was still a little difficulty holding the kids’ attention but amazing moments of focus and dancing were so much fun. I am unbelievably proud of our kids for learning and performing the combination that we taught.

Day 4: This must have been the longest day for me, but it had a fabulous end. I enjoyed the morning contemporary class, it was like a sweet taste of home. Amazing connections were made during the folklore class, I felt that after dancing with the university students for the last 3 days allowed us to become friends and know a little about how each other having shared so much through movement. At our second day at Malambo, I had a fantastic time with one young girl wearing a pretty lavender shirt where we would practice the steps together and then I would ask her if she was ready and she’d give me a beautiful smile and say yes! We did this throughout the whole class and it was so much fun. Finally, we ended the night with a salsa party! There are no words to describe how much fun we had that night and it was beautiful to see my fellow diplomats dancing socially with a taste of their personality in the way they move. Salsa in Panama is a must!

Day 5: Our last day of dancing in Panama and it was perfect. We began with a crazy intense aerial class that left me hungry for more! I felt strong and beautiful while sweating in the heat but it was an experience I can’t wait to have again. I am confident that this one class has prepared me for a long career with Cirque du Soleil. Then we had the most delicious snacks and refreshing juice right before a full hour of shopping (my kind of activity!). After a gorgeous lunch brought by Mama T, we headed to Aldea one more time. Things ran smoothly with teaching and I had an amazing moment with one of the girls. We had a conversation in both Spanish and English in which she told a little about her schooling and her background, then while we were leaving she ran up to me, gave me a hug, and told me how much she enjoyed our conversation in English. I have never felt more thankful and blessed.

Day 6: This was our last full day in Panama and it could not have been more unexpected and fun. With each progression of the day, it kept on getting better. We began with a boat ride where we saw the wildlife including monkeys, baby crocodiles, spiders, turtles, birds and boa constrictor. Then we got the opportunity to jump into the lake, and received challenges for different trick jumps from the little kids of the families on the adventure with us. For lunch we had chicken with pineapple that I have no words for besides delicious and perfect. After a breath-taking kayak trip down a creek and precarious walk across the bed, we arrived at an even more beautiful waterfall that we got to jump off of! It was a level of fun and excitement that I cannot explain. Then, after returning to what could be the considered the “real world”, we went to see authentic Panamanian attire and consume the best street-side snacks. There is no end to the surprises Panama offers!

One week, that felt like months in the beginning, seems to have flown by. I am so grateful to have seen this gorgeous country, met such wonderful people and shared so many amazing memories. I will never forget my time during the Movement Exchange Open Call 2015 and I am honored to call this week one of the best of my life so far. I cannot wait to see what comes next, move to change!

MoveEx Day Two

This morning I was nervous. At 10:30am I was to teach a class at the University of Panama with one of my awesome cohorts, Kate, who I met only two days prior. Also, I barely speak the language of the students. And yet, within a few minutes into the class, it felt like home. The university students were so open and kind, and excited to dance! The hour and a half class was full of smiles, personal connections beyond language, and sweat. The environmeimagewas free of judgement, and full of hard work and fearlessness of failing. It was so powerful to see the interpersonal exchanges between the nine diplomats and the university students – we really became a cohesive group who helped each other, cheered for each other, and inspired each other. We ended by expressing gratitude in Spanglish and universal hugs. I personally was inspired by the students’ willingness to try it all, and acceptance of a new style and new teachers (me and Kate!) who could barely speak their language. I could see their kindness, willingness and passion for dance in their eyes. I’ll never forget it.

As if that wasn’t enough to *make* a day in Panama, we then headed to the orphanage Malambo after a delicious meal at the university (meal time is my favorite…Panamanian rice and beans anyone!?). First we took a tour of their lovely property; including through the baby rooms where niños less than one year old lay in their cribs. I peered into one crib and met the bright eyes of a tiny baby girl, and with some loving talk and touch the little girl burst into the most beautiful smile. Tina, our amazing coordinator tore us away from the babies and we got ready to dance with the kids! My group with Oli, Kim and Simone began with the teens. The energy was rambunctious and excited. After a circle warm up, a percussion activity and across the floor, Simone took the stage to teach a belly dance combo. The girls were mesmerized Simone’s subtle yet expressive moves with Iranian music had their attention.

In Move/ex we talk about our onion, apple and strawberry moments during each day. Watching the kids watch Simone dance for them at the end of class was a strawberry moment for me today. They were raptured by her expressiveness, and you could see in their eyes how they admired her. Simone is a wonderful person to admire!

With the little ones in our next class, my teaching team enjoyed doing a freeze dance, a partner combo, and an epic obstacle course. Another strawberry moment were the besos I received when saying “Hasta luego” to these warm and bright niños.


Another incredible day of growth and connections with Move/Ex. I am so proud and grateful to be a dance diplomat with Ruby, Jen, Kim, Caeli, Oli, Simone, Courtney, Kate and our leader, Tina. Besos!

Movement Exchange June 2015- First day success! 😄

Today was Movement Exchange June 2015 Open Call’s first day and it was a huge success!

After Tinna, Kim, Kate, Jen, Ruby, Hayley, Simone, Kourtney, Caile and I (Olivia) all piled into our big, happy yellow bus, we made our way to Colón to meet a group of incredibly loving, beautiful, and naturally talented kids ranging from about 4-15. image

We split our group up into two groups, one working with the younger ones, and the other with the pre-teens/teens.

I personally worked with the teen group first and it didn’t take much time at all for them to warm up to us and fly across the dance floor (sometimes the grass! Lol). They were all so eager and hungry to learn, and had so much natural talent and energy to give back! Although some were more shy at first, by the end everyone was rockin out to an Azonto inspired choreography by Kim!

After this we switched groups are were working with the younger ones…and that’s when the downpour started! But no one was phased by the rain we kept on dancing regardless:). We ended up doing a multitude of many different activities with them from drawing to hula hooping to obstacle courses to hugs to just talking to them like old friends. They were just so energetic and full of love.

We followed this up with a spectacular showcase of what they had learned that day… In the Pouring rain! It was a like scene straight out of the movie  Step Up 3! Of course after this we couldn’t just stop moving and continued on to a dance cypher with everyone stepping in to showcase their fortes and dance with each other as a whole group. This was by far my favorite most soul-fulfilling moment of the whole day. It reminded me that, as they say, life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass…it’s about learning to dance in the rain! And that we most definitely did today 💃🏽💃🏽💃🏽💦💦💦=😊😊😊

Goodbye Staten Island, Hello Panamá!

Hello everyone!

My name is Simone and I’m so excited to volunteer with Movement Exchange.

I live in Staten Island, NY and recently transferred to Hunter College as a dance major! Being a part of Move-Ex is really unexpected and I can’t wait to meet everyone. In ten minutes I’m about to say goodbye to my grandma and then I’m off to Newark Airport.

This is a really short post because I have to leave soon, but I just wanted to introduce myself 🙂 I’ll be more in depth later on!