Today was our last day at Meteti, performance day. Watching the students prepare to go on stage was truly amazing. The performance went absolutely amazing, and the work that the students have put in over the past few days was evident. They have all grown so much. After warming up, the older group began practicing their leaps and turns that we had been working on with them earlier in the week. This made me so happy, and so proud. In other words, seeing them working so hard made me realize that even though we are leaving, we are still leaving a lasting impact. I firmly believe that dance has the power to change lives. I surely changed mine. I think my favorite part of the day was listening to one of the boys from the older group named, Lincoln, gave a small speech after the performance. He gave it in both English and Spanish, and the gratitude he showed warmed my heart. Throughout the performance, seeing the smiles on each child’s face and they energy in their movements was wonderful. No words can accurately describe the joy in that room today. All in all, this trip has truly inspired me to continue using dance as a way to connect with others. It is so empowering and it can bring an entire community together and I find that entirely amazing.
Month: January 2017
I am a third year college student studying ballet and business, and I work at a diner on the weekends and teach ballet on the side. I wanted more involvement with the community so I joined movement exchange recently and absolutely fell in love with the mission statement and values. I decided to participate in this experience of traveling to Panama because I wanted to grow as a dancer and teacher, share my love of dance, and learn more about this organization. I can tell you that this is one of the best experiences of my life. I was not prepared for the impact it would have on me. Today was the fourth day of classes for the students and three words that describe this experience thus far has to be growth, smiles, and rewards.
I have been working with the youngest age group of 5-8 year olds and the middle group of 8-12 year olds, teaching various genres of dance including ballet, jazz, and creative works along with a couple set dances. The first day the students appeared to be timid and cautious, not fully participating to their capacity. My teaching partners and I really encouraged them to dance and have fun. We created a safe and fun environment to bring out confidence in their creative side. By the fourth day, I saw monumental growth in these students. I saw genuine smiles with sparkling eyes, confidence in their dancing and knowledge about dance, and a change in the way they were taking chances, trusting us and even themselves.
Because of their confidence and commitment to this week they allowed themselves to smile and have fun. When I look around the room at these dancers they appear to have the time of their lives. One little smile can change your whole day, and I cannot tell you how many smiles were expressed even just today. I truly felt happy that I was sharing my love of dance and this art form. My favorite moment today was when they put on their costumes for the presentation that is tomorrow. All the students faces lit up and expressed gratitude for the leotards that Movement Exchange was able to provide for them through Misty Copeland’s company. This leads into my next category.
Rewards. Their are always rewards in being a teacher; however, being a dance teacher is such a different reward. As we were doing our dress rehearsal, I realized how far they have grown, how many smiles were on the young faces, and how happy I was to be a part of it. Even though my Spanish is not so good, dance is a universal language that we were able to share. They shared their culture and we shared ours, yet we were one in the minutes we all danced together.
This exchange helped me learn about a different culture, helped my dancing and teaching, and most importantly helped me develop the appreciation and love I have for dance. These students have made such an enormous amount of growth and improvement throughout these days and I am grateful to be apart of it.
Our photographer has been doing an amazing job documenting our experiences here in Panama. But in addition to taking candid photos and films, he is also conducting interviews with the students taking our classes, and us, the teachers. He asked some really great questions that highlight the uniqueness and therefore the value of Movement Exchange.
I have trained intensively in classical ballet. And I am absolutely in love with ballet, I really am. People like to say, “Ballet is my boyfriend,” because it is something that you are utterly enamored with, and it brings so much joy, but sometimes the relationship can be destructive. It is almost paradoxical. Ballet has given me so much self confidence, more than anything else I can think of, but has also stripped of that self confidence. Dance is such a tough industry that can instill a fear of failure coupled with an intense, obsessive work ethic. I think so many dancers work so hard, until they’re dripping with sweat, their feet are bleeding, and their muscles are so sore that they can’t walk, all in the name of “love” of dance. Movement Exchange is the first program I have ever been exposed to that eliminates all of this unnecessary, dangerous negativity and emphasizes the joy in dancing, moving and feeling. I think dance connects one’s body to one’s intellect and to one’s artistry in a way that is so totally unique. However, too many dancers lose this in the struggle for perfection that the dance industry itself so often demands. Being in Panama, teaching, moving, and connecting with new people is rejuvenating. It lays a foundation for a productive relationship with dance, with one’s future, and with oneself.
In this way, dance is empowering. We talked as a group about one of the older students today who is growing up to become a community leader and using dance as a tool to do so. He values our classes so much, but is also valuable in the classroom; helping other students pick up choreography or translating when we can’t communicate well enough. So many of the kids we teach seem shy, scared or hesitant at first. It makes sense- new people who look very different from you come and try to get you to strange things with your body… But I think becoming comfortable with dancing and with us has been really positive. We have been remarkably well received, but we are also seeing changes in the kids. They can pick up choreography better, they pick up on details, they are flexible, they practice steps without encouragement, they are vocal, they are accomplishing something they were unable to do just a few days prior. All of these skills are applicable to pretty much any situation you encounter.
While everyone was definitely tired and sweaty today, the classes were very smooth. Teaching is rather stressful for me at least because I don’t feel like I know what I’m doing, but the positivity and productivity from everyone today was especially encouraging. It has been three days and it is very apparent that we’ve done a lot here- and we still have a show to put on- but even though we aren’t here for very long, but everyone will gain something from dancing here. We’re not here to dance around for a few days and leave. We need to leave something behind.