Month: March 2016

Bridge of the World, Heart of the Universe

Reflecting on our last day teaching at Aldea S.O.S. (PTY) I truly feel a sense of community has been built through dance as a universal language. Dance has always been a form of expression and beauty for me, but until this exchange did I realize how influential of a tool dance is when building relationships and sharing love.

Although it was the end of the week and we were all feeling the fatigue begin to set in, we all rallied our last bits of energy for the children of Aldea S.O.S.. Some days are calmer than others; this was not one of those days. Following a hectic class, intense heat, injuries, and mild frustration it was time for the performance. My group was very unsure of how the performance would go given the way our class went. After some encouragement from Tinna, I took a look around and thought about what the children at Aldea really needed. Did they really need a technically accurate performance? Or a well rehearsed piece with exact formations and transitions? No. They needed to feel the bond that is made between individuals when sharing the love of movement together.

Our group took the floor with gusto, and a bit of confusion, but when we began our dance in a circle we all made eye contact and shared smiles, then I knew how impactful our presence was. My fellow dance diplomats and I guided the group through a two-minute dance that’s focus was more central to those around us and what was shared between us; a passion for dance and desire for human connection. After the dance the kids were thrilled with how well they did, and what fun they had. We celebrated their success with high-fives, smiles, hugs, and dance.

Dance serves as a bridge a bridge between worlds, between cultures, between beliefs, between life situations, and brings us together as people. Once we cross this bridge and consider the other side, what it looks like, feels like, moves like, we will begin to understand how we relate and how we can serve one another. These children taught us so much proving that this was a true exchange. When we were hurt, they tended to our pains; when we were confused, they lead us in the right direction; when we moved, they taught us how they move; and when we gave, they gave us ten fold and were the epitome of love.

Panama and the children we worked with taught me about mutuality and how important mutuality is to sharing love. We give and receive throughout life. However, a balance must be maintained. We must consider the needs of others and put forth the greatest love we can share.

What the children showed me (in a nutshell)

What the children showed me (in a nutshell)

When I came to this exchange, I had an idea of what I would be giving the kids I would be working with. I knew I would be giving them the gift of dancing. I would be giving them my presence and time. But I had no clue how much the kids would be giving me.

They showed me what its like to be a child again. Children do not care about your age, race, gender, what language you speak, how much you weigh, or what you look like. All that children care about is if you spend time with them. Something so simple but so forgotten in U.S. culture. Sometimes all you need to do is simply be present with someone.

They showed me their passion for playing. I think this is another thing we forget in my culture. Even as adults, we should continue playing. In my culture we place such emphasis on hard working and fitting into societal norms. But we all have an inner child in our hearts which we should nurture by playing and laughing as much as possible. Laughter truly heals.

They showed me how happy you can be without material things. The children have all of their needs met. They have food, water, shelter, medicine, even computers and internet. But they don’t keep wanting more. They are not addicted to buying and collecting material objects. They appreciate what they have. They find new games to play. They give their love to one another rather than physical objects. And their smiles are so bright. These children are so happy when they play with each other.

They opened up a new type of love in my heart. A love so strong and powerful, possibly greater than any type of love I have known before. These children have so much love to give. So much innocence and happiness and playfulness that they want to share with one another.

By the end of the exchange, I left with the greatest gift. A heart filled to the brim. I aspire to be more like these children.

Just some tidbits & reflection

IMG_1206As our last day of teaching dance in panama comes to a close, I could not be happier with all that I have experienced here. I will definitely miss all of the kid’s genuine smiles, laughter, curiosity, and strength while I’m back within the madness of New York City. Before teaching today at Aldeas SOS in Panama City, Tinna and all of the other dance diplomats had a tough but AWESOME discussion about this “white savior complex” most service trips tend to have. What gives us the right to feel like we have to “help” certain groups of people? Is it because we simply have the resources to go on a week long trip out of the country like this? What are the motivations behind the actions of people with this way of thinking? Who is really being helped in these types of situations?

I have been on more than a few service trips and mission trips, and after having this experience with movement exchange I am now seeing some if their flaws.  Normally, the term “help” comes with some type of expectation from both parties, and in the end where is the true value in that? What I have come to appreciate about the movement exchange program is that it is exactly what our name describes: an exchange. As dance diplomats we are leaving these kids with the outlet of dance, love, and the attention and affection that they deserve, while we receive so much in return as well.

We discussed how trips such as this can only be truly successful if we think of them as an exchange. This way, no group is superior to another, we are all just bodies living in this universe (sounds lame ik but true!). Some of us may have resources that others don’t, though that makes them no better, it simply means that the other groups strengths lie elsewhere. Sure I may have an abundance of material items, but these kids here are rich in so many other ways. As dancers, as diplomats, and as human beings, it is so so important that we hold onto these values and remember that we are all equals!




A Letter of Gratitude and Thanks

My dear Panamanian kiddos,

You may never see this post but in my heart I know that you felt the mutual connection from the wonderful past few days. It’s incredible how in less than a week a person can have so much personal growth. I saw it in you and I saw it in myself. This trip is truly an exchange—an exchange of dance, love, laughter, and play.

I saw your eyes light up with joy and your radiant smiles as we danced and played with you. It has been my pleasure seeing you grow even over two days at Malambo and Aldea SOS. The first day was difficult—we dance ambassadors were unprepared—but we persevered and you delivered. We challenged you with Step dance and Hip-Hop, Indian and Jazz. And, each time you enthusiastically rose to challenge.

Personally, before this trip I wasn’t a very emotional person. However, when you reach your small hands for mine wanting to hold hands, cling to me like precious monkeys wanting a piggyback ride, or insist upon playing airplane I can’t say no. When you approach me with big eyes and all smiles I melt with fuzzy love. Every. Single. Time. It’s these small moments that changed me. Suddenly, I have all these feelings and emotions; I feel more human and have a greater connection to my friends and family because of this trip. I want to give you all a million hugs and kisses, tickle you until you cry tears of pure joy, play pretend games, and laugh to the end of time with you. I love you all so much and hope the best for each and every one of you. Y’all made me a better person in such a short period of time.

I’ll end with a short and sweet Thank you. I’ve gained so much from this exchange. You’re all beautiful souls. Keep dancing your hearts out.

Much love and happiness,


6 things you learn on an exchange


1: The heat is no joke

Panamanian heat is a new level of heat. You learn that it is essential to wear sunscreen at all hours, embrace that frizz life, and convince yourself that sweating isn’t gross, but is a “toxin cleanse”.

2: Upper body strength is key

Silks class will test your will power and arm power, but not as much as the little ones who you play with before and after class. They ask for piggybacks, airplane rides, and generally to be picked up and flipped at any and every moment. I advise doing some major upper body work before your exchange for best results.

3: Your heart has much more room for joy than you ever thought it could

These children have no sense of the American idea that “play” is frivolous and unproductive. I haven’t seen children as simply and truly happy as the children at the orphanages who we got to play with. They derived so much joy from a game of tag, or a silly face, or a play fight. It will refresh your inner child and give you insight into how you can bring “play” back into your life and experience that simple contentment.

4: Intense conversations can happen in children’s playgrounds

Today we discussed a very serious topic: why we exchange and whether or not we have “savior complexes” or not. A quick summary is: if we receive as much as we give, see the children as equals and part of the human experience alongside us, and do not try to make them “exactly like us” or teach them the “right way” to live, we are successful. This exchange will make you critically think about why you volunteered and how you can better understand giving and receiving.

5: New friends will inspire you

Movement Exchange has a magnetic way of bringing together those who are passionate about the expressive and developmental power of dance. Each time I meet new Dance Diplomats, I’m inspired by their individual successes, dreams, giving hearts, and welcoming personalities. Once you meet the others on your exchange, you will connect like you’ve known them for much longer than seven days.

6: You won’t want to leave (again).

The first time I left an exchange, I had such a strong connection to a little boy named Alex. He was shy and quiet around the orphanage, but when he began to dance, he had a bright smile that never left his face until the end of the dance! We instantly became friends and I was devistated to leave him – wanting him to have so much more than I could give in a week. Then this week when we went back to the same orphanage, I saw him again! He is 15 now and has grown so much. He still has the exact same demeanor and smile and it is apparent that he has never stopped practicing. I took a picture with him on my first exchange and again on this exchange and it’s incredible to see how much dance has truly become a regular part of his life. Once you connect, you will have your heart filled to the brim with love and affection for these little ones.

Overall, you learn why you began dancing and continue to this day. I’m so thankful for the reminder that joy isn’t difficult to find, it is hidden in the every day moments which we often look past.

Besitos XOXO, Sarah


I deleted all of my social media apps as soon as I arrived in Casco Antiguo. So I have now gone five days without Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook and Twitter all buzzing on my smartphone as they usually do daily. I made this decision because I didn’t want any distractions from “the outside world” while I was here. And, more importantly, I didn’t want to distract myself by posting my Panamá experience more than I was actually living my Panamá experience. Another reason I didn’t want to post about the trip while here was that I was very concerned about making it seem like a touristy vacation. That was NOT my reason for wanting to come here and I didn’t want my family and friends to think that it was.

I had to take some time to think about why this made me so antsy. Why I had this phobia of portraying the trip in that way. Ever since arriving in Panamá I have felt this strange discomfort in my heart because I didn’t want this trip to be what they call “voluntourism”. I didn’t want to fly down to this new country and simply walk down the streets like I was watching a documentary. I didn’t want to see all the flashy, popular scenes and teach a dance class or two and then leave. I wanted to IMMERSE MYSELF in this culture and make true connections with the people here. My discomfort has been stemming from the fear that I cannot accomplish this immersion in only a week. And fear that the amount of fun I am having won’t equalize with the amount of giving I should be doing while I am here.

Luckily, I feel that as each day passes that discomfort is slowly decreasing because this Exchange has given me the most beautiful opportunities to immerse myself in Panamanian culture and life, and I am beginning to realize that we have given more love and positivity to the children through these dance classes than we will probably ever know or understand. In just five days I have learned so much about Panamá’s history, food, dance culture and more, and I have shared so much laughter and love with these children.

And who said that this immersion has to end after this week? I am looking forward to a journey that extends beyond these seven days. I feel that leaving Panama in a couple of days wont be the end. I am happy I have realized that I don’t have to feel like an outsider looking in. I can participate in and contribute to the life here as well, and I look forward to making the most out of that.

Dance is Forever

Today was our last day at Malambo Orphanage and as I sit alone in the kitchen of our hostel, I can’t think of many words to describe how I feel. I do know, however, that I have learned more from the children at Malambo than I could ever dream of teaching them. In just 2 days they have showed me what happiness, love, and dancing is truly all about. They find joy in a simple high-five, a game of freeze dance, a spinning piggy-back ride, and most of all, they find joy in dancing with the people around them.


In today’s time, it is easy for people to find most of their joy and happiness in material things. I mean, think about it, a child on Christmas morning, getting an upgraded iPhone, Netflix on Friday nights, the list could go on forever. The children at Malambo have very little material belongings, yet their joy is overwhelming and their smiles are contagious. As I left Malambo today, I didn’t know how I felt: proud of their dancing and learning, grateful that I got to meet them, or sad that I may never see them again.


The last feeling made me wonder: Am I just becoming someone/something else that comes into their lives and leaves shortly thereafter? Yes, I am leaving but I am also leaving something behind. As dance diplomats we are contributing to the process of giving orphans around Panama City something intangible to love and cherish that can never be taken from them: dance. As the end of my time in Panama gets closer, I find solace in the fact that although I am leaving them, dance is not, and never will. anna3