Month: May 2016

Listening to silence, you hear so much

I have been teaching dance for the past year for two programs in West Michigan. Aside from dance technique, I place heavy significance on self motivation and hard work towards both short term and long term goals. I often find myself becoming frustrated with students who don’t make consistent effort in weekly classes and show a disinterest in dance. It is hard for me to not become personally offended because dance is such a deep passion of mine.
This past week, I taught many students who approached class discouraged, unmotivated, and fearful of dance. Rather than feeling my typical reaction to their energy, I felt determined to show them how welcoming dance would be. I would enter each class very observant, and my eyes consistently were drawn to the quiet, reserved student in the corner of the room who had yet to introduce themselves to a new friend from our group. I approached them with a smile, hug and a tickle and immediately made it my mission to encourage them to become involved in the class. Every time, whether it took five minutes or two hours, I saw the students transform in front of my eyes through the motivation of movement.
Sure, they learned how to chassé and leap, but what I was focused on was their increased socialization with their peers and me, expressive facial expressions, and positive energy that supported their movement quality. It was impossible to not notice the difference the classes had on these naturally shy students. By the end of the day, they were much more confident, outgoing, experimental, and expressive than they were at the start of our classes.
This was by far the most fulfilling experience of the trip for me. I was so proud to see these kids passionately approach dance, which is meant to be an inclusive art form that generates a sense of community. I want to continue to bring that into my classes as I teach back home and into my own dance practice. It’s hard not to get wrapped up in obsessing over technique, auditions, casting, etc., but it’s important to remember why I am passionate about dance…this trip was an amazing reminder.



I had a conversation with a few of my friends while I was here about how much this trip has changed us, even outside of the dance aspect. We talked about our lack of traveling to different countries prior to this trip, and why that was. We talked about how we had no idea what Panama would bring us, and what we would bring to Panama. We talked about the kids, and how we couldn’t wait to teach them, but it turned into more than just teaching for us.

What came out of this talk was that we realized that fearlessness had been instilled in us in just a week. We talked about the kids at Malambo, and how they let go of all inhibitions. We talkedi about the people we met in Chepo, and how they were just as emotional as we were when leaving. We realized how these human beings that we bonded with in just a day or two helped us discover our passions, and really fulfilled our passions, just like we had hoped to do for them. We realized how much just a week has changed us with these amazing, kind hearted people, and the kids who gave their all in every dance class. These kids showed their hearts and opened up to us more than I could have ever imagined. This fearlessness inside of me will keep growing every time I think of these kids and this amazing, unforgettable experience, and I know that light will never burn out.

Fluent in Love

Fluent in Love

Growing up I have lived an incredibly privileged life. I have been given amazing opportunities, received endless support, and have been constantly surrounded by family and friends who love me. While I am very thankful for the life I have lived, I could not help but question on this trip why I have been so lucky. I cannot even count the number of wonderful people I have met here that deserve so much more than what they have been given. I am eternally grateful that Movement Exchange has given me the chance to not only make connections with so many new people, but to have so many lives touch my heart and fill it with a raw and delightful joy. There have been so many special moments and people that it’s hard to encapsulate them all into one single blog post, so I’m only going to shed light on a few of the brightest.

Uno. Teaching my very first class to the girls of Malambo. I was a little nervous at first to take charge, but as soon as I saw their bright eyes and beautiful faces all my worry washed away. I knew instantly that all I wanted to do was give them a class that would make their day brighter, and with my fellow group members by my side  we did just that. It was incredible to see their passion for movement and I fed off of their energy to keep the class fun, focused, and full of positive energy.

Dos. Meeting my favorite little amigo at Aldea SOS. I spent two classes with this little boy and felt our connection was the strongest one I had made the entire trip. During the first class he was very melancholy and non participatory, so I first made it my mission to make him smile. Once that goal was achieved he was attached by my side for the rest of the day and our interactions were effortless. Although we couldn’t communicate with many words, the little nugget stole my heart and I am so glad to have spent our small amount of time together. I wish nothing but the best life for my little amigo and pray he is given a family that loves him endlessly.

Tres. Alessandro and Dilan.
These two were the definition of selfless and compassionate. Alessandro’s passion for giving the kids at his studio dance education was exhilarating, and he was just simply the kindest man to have little quirky interactions with. He acted as a father figure to all of his students as well as our group for our two days together. Dilan will always hold a very special place in my heart because of his genuine nature and silliness. While he is only 12, he already has comprehended a level of sincerity and maturity that is very rare for boys his age. He is going to do so many amazing things and I cannot wait to visit and see how much more wonderful he becomes. Both of their souls are so exquisite and unique and I am honored to have become their friend.

This experience has not only given me a new outlook on the complexity of dance, but shown me the true power of love. Love is the tears that ran down Alessandro’s face as he said goodbye knowing we will all most likely never meet again, the singing of ‘Work’ and ‘Hotline Bling’ with Dilan completely out of tune, and the long and bumpy bus rides filled with snacks, games, and belly aching laughter. Most importantly love is the moments I have shared with all of these beautiful people that I will always keep in my heart. The power of love is unique, fearless, and fully encompassed in Movement Exchange.

Love Always,
Alyssa Smith



This is the fourth day of our trip and my heart is heavy.

Looking into their eyes, I see my sister or nephew, but more importantly, I see them. I see them for the beautiful people they are. They are so willing to give so much, as they lean their head on my lap and I move the hair out of their faces with a deep longing inside of me to be able to be there for them forever.

I don’t want to change them, I don’t want to make them better, I want to nurture the amazing creatures that they already are, and allow what is already inside of them to grow. I want the joy, love and zest for life to continue. They have a wealth of knowledge to teach me and I wish that I could be here to learn more.

My gratitude for every child I have interacted with is overflowing; it comes out in tears on the bus ride home.

Bright Lights and Full Hearts

Bright Lights and Full Hearts

What a soul filling day it has been. I am experiencing the powers and wonders of dance like never before.  Yes, it’s only day two…but my heart is already bursting with love for these Panamanian dancers-both young and old.

Ill be honest, yesterday was tough. The language barrier was a bigger barrier than I anticipated. I wanted so badly to connect with the teen girls at Malambo. I wanted to be able to peel back the layers and encourage them to dance with us! However, the more I tried to talk to them, the  more I felt we were growing apart.

Today was much brighter. I truly came to realize that there is no reason for words. The body speaks and in doing so, it has the ability to create deep emotional relationships. As we danced with the teens again, the energy was much different. When the music was on, they were moving! I was filled with joy to see them dancing with such freedom and happines.

Because it was our last day at Malambo, we ended our stay with a show and a dance party. It made my heart full to see the girls expressing themselves through the different dances. While performing, the layers were pulled away and the walls were down. They were letting their lights shine. After the show, I stood in awe as everyone danced around the gym. Each dancer was engaged and having fun. There was swinging, partner dancing, basketball playing, hair braiding, tickling, hugging, and lots and lots of laughing! Every little dancer had a new big friend. The connections in the space were absolutely heart warming. Personally, I was able to really connect with two of the little dancers. How crazy it is to think that I just met them yesterday. We formed an intimate bond strictly based on movement. Dance never fails to amaze me.

Although the connections were fairly easy, the goodbyes were extremely hard. I’m a crier to say the least…but I was not prepared for the tears that flooded once our time at Malambo was done. I gave them as much love, passion, and sweaty hugs as I could in these two days, but it just wasn’t enough. I wanted to give more. I never wanted the dancing to stop! I pray that those sweet souls will continue to shine their lights.

My heart was filled and broken all at the same time today. I came to Panama to share my passion through service in hopes of shining my love, joy, and excitement for dance onto those around me. I am very quickly learning that I am here to not only be a light, but to receive the Light. The light that shines in every big smile after they catch on to the quick footwork, in the contagious belly laugh they release when you tickle them during the “animals” game, in the “shake shake shakes”, in the eager and excited little faces, and in the big sweaty hugs.

Love, Madelyn

Uniting in Dance

In only my first full day in Panama working with the children from Malambo and the University of Panama students I have already had my expectations for this trip exceeded. Being able to interact with dance students at the University of Panama really showed me that dance truly is a universal language. We were all so united as a community by movement and our passions for dance. Even with the language barrier between our group and the university students or the children at Malambo, we were able to communicate by working together with movement. The kids at Malambo really showed me the importance of playing and having fun, which is something I often forget.

Coming on this exchange I had an idea of what I would be giving the children with movement and attention, but I had no idea that they would be giving me so much in return. They showed me how a simple smile can be used as an invitation to begin to build a bond with someone. They showed me how important community is, and that all the support you need is in the people around you who care about you. Most importantly, they reminded me why I love to dance because it creates such a deep connection between anyone who just loves to move.image