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The Universal Language

The Universal Language

Teaching your peers is one thing, teaching your peers in a different country is another. Teaching at the University of Panama was an experience beyond words. Prior to going in and prepping beforehand, we didn’t know what to expect. We were nervous about the reception of our choreography and how the students would react to it. Also, how well we would be able to teach it considering the language barrier and cultural differences. We were overall scared hoping the students would like our choreography and be able to understand it. However, once the class begun it felt like any other class we have taken/taught before. The entire class was solely about the movement and good vibes. This experience and class was a prime example of the power of dance and how dance really is a universal language. It was incredible to see how we were able to communicate without directly speaking at all. We had a translator, but it almost wasn’t needed. Just through dance, the students were able to interpret what we were saying and execute the piece flawlessly while adding their own style to it. The students understood simply by watching our moves and listening to us recreate the beats in the music. All dancers have an unspoken connection and understanding where talking isn’t necessary to be all together in one space to dance. We feel, we move, and we dance together no matter where we are from.

– Aja Loo, Dance Diplomat from UC Irvine

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Mediation Through Dance

Mediation Through Dance

Today was a very busy day! We started with a 6:30 am wake up call and set out to hike Cerro Ancon, a hill on the outskirts of Casco Viejo where we are staying. Not only did the hike offer beautiful views of Panama City and Casco, but it was rich in historical value from when the Americans forces occupied Panama’s Canal Zone. There was interesting information about bunkers built into the hill as a precaution for potential attacks on the canal during WWII. Having studied European History extensively, I was fascinated by the impact it has had as far as Central America. I am constantly in awe of the beauty of Panama’s flora and fauna, as well as skyline and overall wonder. The hike allowed us to appreciate all of the above, and even see a toucan!

Next, we headed to the University of Panama to teach a class to the dance majors studying there. This was my first time experiencing dance in a university setting internationally! Sam and Aja taught a hip hop routine, including improvisation at the start. It was so fun to see the Panamanian dance majors, our peers, throw themselves into the choreography and improvise alongside us and with us. Their passion and dedication was clear, and it was inspiring to us all as dancer majors and dance diplomats.

Finally, we returned to Aldea orphanage to teach again. Today was special, because they remembered us and were familiar faces to us as well. Many even remembered our names! Teaching felt a lot more natural, and I felt my Spanish growing stronger. Growing up in a Spanish immersion program, I have a background in Spanish that I am hoping to improve, especially my conversational skills. Speaking with the kids is so beneficial as they are not afraid to correct you or tell you the word you are searching for! I love watching my fellow dance diplomats teach, and I feel so much love and support from each of them when I am teaching in turn. The environment here is so comfortable and kind, and truly fosters learning and growth. Watching them interact with the children warms my heart, and I can see everyone is truly invested in the mission of this organization. Our day at Aldea was bittersweet however, because we had to say goodbye to the kids we met. They were each so unique and beautiful and several tears were shed by the dance diplomats of love and appreciation for our time with them. I felt such a strong connection to the students instantly, through their warm smiles, physical affection, and enthusiasm for life. I am so thankful to Movement Exchange for fostering such a loving environment that is such a rewarding experience. As an international studies and dance double major, it is fascinating to me to see how dance connects to global citizenship, the nationality and culture of a nation, and the impact the arts have on a nation’s identity. It is truly amazing to be able to communicate with another nation simply through movement and expression, and no words. I am especially thankful for this opportunity to combine both my passions in this way. I will remember my time teaching, dancing, and learning about Panama firsthand forever!

– Sonya Thrasher, Dance Diplomat from UC Irvine

Radiant Faces & A Vibrant City

Radiant Faces & A Vibrant City

Day 3. We started off our day in Panama with a break dancing class. It’s a style that is out of my comfort zone, but today our teacher, Hernan, was very caring and he helped all of us individually. He corrected us one-by-one and he was so genuine. His ease made me feel so comfortable that it allowed me to open up and try the break dancing moves without feeling shy or judged. Also with it being day 3, I already feel so close and open with everyone in our group and that allowed me to open up and feel free to try moves in the studio without fear of failing. Then after class, we had a quick lunch and headed straight to Malambo Orphanage.

When we arrived, our group gathered together for a little bit before seeing the children, and one of the things we discussed today was the difference between volunteerism and voluntourism. An example of voluntourism is exploiting an organization for selfish reasons, or being ignorant of the culture that you will be going into and being disrespectful. For me, I want to become more knowledgeable about Panama and the Panamanian culture. I also want to become fluent in Spanish. But anyways, I digress….

So after our meeting, the first thing we did at Malambo was go to the toddlers’ room and get to play with the little ones for a little bit. When we got there, immediately, one of the little girls attached herself to me. The first thing she did was come up to me and just sit on my lap. She didn’t say much but I knew she just wanted love and connection. So for the rest of the time, that is what I did, I picked her up and held her as long as I could. She was adorable. Since we were outside and the sun was beating down on us, it was very hot and carrying her very close to my chest made me very sweaty, but I dared not to put her down.

I was an orphan once too, but I was adopted at 20 months from an orphanage in China. I know what it is like to want love, affection and human touch. All of what we crave, when we are babies, from our mothers. I know that after I was adopted, I was inseparable from my mother. I had separation anxiety, in fear that I would lose my mother again. Because being in a orphanage as a baby, and not understanding anything, it’s like your mother died and you don’t know why or where she went and she never came back for you. (oh and also as a side note, being on this exchange is the first time I have ever seen an orphanage since being in one, about 19 years ago. I am 20 now.)

So I felt that I had a deep indescribable understanding with the kids in these orphanages. I know that they are craving human touch and they just want to be loved. And that’s what this little girl wanted. When I had to go, I realized maybe I shouldn’t have attached myself because saying goodbye was the hardest part. She didn’t want me to go and she started crying. I could hardly tear my self away. It broke my heart. I am upset with myself that I couldn’t say that I would be back on Thursday to see her again, and that I couldn’t comfort her with words. But my peers helped me so much in translating, and I am forever grateful. (after this it is a goal of mine to become fluent in Spanish) But even with the language barrier, I know the girl and I had a deeper connection that words can not express. That is why I love dance. It is a universal language.

After saying, “Chao,” I went to go teach the older girls. At first I taught them a short ballet class and it was so wonderful and pure to watch them dance. They were so happy. The girls today were superb. They all mostly participated and were really interested in learning. Also for the second half of teaching the older girls, another dance diplomat, Aja, and I taught them a fun combination to “Crazy in Love” by Beyonce. They loved it. Their faces were radiant. And getting to see them dance was so pure. Their faces were so joyous.

Next I helped assist the younger girls’ class, and there were only about four girls. Unfortunately the rest were sick or had pink eye, so we had a small class. But it was still fun. In this class, we played games more and didn’t dance as much, but still being with the girls and seeing their happy faces was amazing.

Seeing all these happy faces these last two days is just breathtaking and beautiful. I know they are young and they just want to have fun, and I want to give that to them. But also, I want to give them so much more. And for only having been here for 3 days, I already know that I am going to come back next year. I feel that there is so much more to say, but it is hard for me to formulate words. I only hope that I have given you a little taste from my experience. Panama has opened my heart and my soul so much. And also aside from the children, being able to walk around and experience Panama is wonderful too. Panama is a vibrant city with an amazing culture. I am in love.

– Jaliya Wilkinson, Dance Diplomat from UC Irvine
Language of Dance

Language of Dance

We kicked off our second day in Panama with a flying low technique class, which was taught by a college student named Adrian. I’m personally not fond of floorwork but it was fun exploring out of my comfort zone and getting down on the ground (and I learned that I really need to work on my tricep muscle strength). He didn’t speak English, but the language barrier wasn’t an issue because just watching him demonstrate the movement was enough to know what he was looking for in the exercises.

After lunch we headed to Aldea SOS Orphanage for our first day of teaching the kids. Once our bus pulled up, my nervousness melted away. I expected to see shy faces, but many were very curious and were immediately clinging to our arms, touching our hair, and asking to take pictures on our phones. I was beginning to look forward to teaching them. However, a majority of the children vanished once we began class. It was honestly very discouraging for me, but the children who did stay behind were so genuinely eager to learn that the feeling went away. I wanted to ask them what they did today, what their favorite color is, whether they are a dog or cat lover. For someone whose basic knowledge of Spanish comes from watching Dora the Explorer, it was frustrating and I was disappointed and even ashamed with myself for not learning the language. But when I saw them laughing as we danced and played games, I realized we didn’t need to share words to create a bond. All we needed was the power of dance and our passion for moving. Even after several years of dancing, it still warms my heart to know that the language of dance has the ability to bring different people together. I can’t wait to see these children again and continue building our relationship through movement… and the occasional silly selfie!

– Jerica Tan, Dance Diplomat from UC Irvine

Love at First Sight

Love at First Sight

Day 2. I am absolutely in love with this city, its people, and its vibrantly beautiful culture.

The day of our departure to Panama I felt overwhelmed with nerves and a shaky sense of excitement. I had no idea what to expect, but I knew that this experience would change my life.
I’ve been through every emotion possible in just two days of being in this new world. And I’m learning that it’s okay, to just be. It is okay to feel whatever it is I’m feeling in each moment, and to allow myself the space to vulnerably be my self. I quickly realized that my three years of Spanish in high school would only slightly help me to get around, but I am building up every ounce of courage in me to practice without fear every chance I get. If there’s one thing I’ve learned so far, it is that fear will not help me here. There is so much freedom in letting confidence and awareness of my surrounding take the forefront of my experience. I’m refusing to let myself to be ruled by the anxious feelings that arise with being in an unfamiliar place, and instead empowered by them. Yes, I’ve cried at least five times so far, but I’ve also laughed until my belly hurts, and danced until my legs felt like they were going to give out on me. And I am so in love with everything I feel, every beautiful face I’ve encountered, even the humidity (I have not stopped sweating since we arrived.)
Today was our first adventure visiting the Causeway, seeing the breathtaking views through the windows of our sweet little Movement Exchange bus, walking along the water, riding a six person bike and laughing the whole way. We experienced our first dance class, learning the incredible style of Folkloric, and my heart was instantly filled seeing the bright, smiling faces of my group of amazing dancers overflowing with the joy of sharing new movement over the colorful streets of Casco Viejo. We ended class and were greeted with a tropical downpour most of us had never experienced, and I think that moment will be one of my favorite memories, running through the streets, screaming and laughing all the way to our hostel, arriving at the doorstep dripping from head to toe, with the biggest smiles you’ve ever seen. We are already growing so close as a group and I feel overwhelmed with the support, and love pulsating through our group of beautiful individuals.
Tomorrow will be our first day teaching at the Aldea orphanage, and everything in me feels unprepared, yet more ready for this than I know.
This feels like home. In the most unfamiliar way. Everything feels right and my heart is pulsing with the radiance of Panama.
– Nashalah McNamara, Dance Diplomat from UC, Irvine
Leading to Serve

Leading to Serve

Service and leadership have each played an integral role in shaping my interests and passions.  As my experiences as a service leader have grown, I have come to realize that my work in service has greatly developed my work as a leader.  In the fall of 2014, I embarked on my journey at the University of Cincinnati as a Ballet major in the College-Conservatory of Music with a second major in International Relations.  Within my first few weeks, our dance department was visited by a group called Movement Exchange, a national organization made up of university chapters that promote sustainable dance outreach domestically and abroad.  Their mission, to make dance education accessible to all, inspired me and encompassed three of my greatest passions—dance, service, and global awareness.  I quickly decided to take on the challenge of starting our very own campus chapter of Movement Exchange at the University of Cincinnati.

After overcoming the usual hurdles that arise when building an organization on campus from the ground up, our chapter slowly gained momentum growing in number of members, outreach partners, and service opportunities.  Now, after three years as an active chapter, we have held two international dance outreach exchanges to Panama and built relationships with three local organizations including the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Cincinnati, WizKids and Cincinnati Big Brothers Big Sisters.  Throughout this journey of developing service opportunities for our organization as the founding and acting president of Movement Exchange at UC, I have learned more than I could have ever imagined about myself as a leader.

As a leader, it is often challenging to find the balance between your own needs and the needs of your organization.  However, I have found that as a leader in service, it becomes simple to put the needs of the organization and its beneficiaries ahead—the success and growth of the members and beneficiaries becomes highly dependent on the leader’s ability to time manage and delegate. For example, at the start of our third year as a chapter, we lost the entirety of our executive board to study abroad programs, co-ops and transfers.  While I had two members step up to fill a few of the leadership positions, I found myself to be the only experienced leader of a group of twenty service-minded dancers.  Their opportunities to serve our community hinged on my ability to create partnerships and direct efficiently to make our mission possible.

Not only did I have the challenge of creating domestic outreach partnerships, I also had the responsibility of organizing our second annual international dance exchange to Panama.  The tasks associated with this were much more suited to my experience with the Panama exchange the year before.  Thus, we quickly appointed a domestic outreach chairperson and split the work involved with organizing outreach between the four of us. Before we knew it, we had established connections with Cincinnati Big Brothers Big Sisters and The Boys and Girls Club of Greater Cincinnati.  With these partners, we began providing monthly dance workshops specifically geared toward Cincinnati Big Brothers Big Sisters’ bigs and littles as well as weekly creative movement classes at the Boys and Girls Club.

Through this challenge, I learned the importance of delegation in leadership.  While it might be necessary for the leader to take part in each task delegated, so much more can be accomplished when the burden of responsibility is distributed.  In this case, the driving factor for problem-solving and delegation was constantly the desire to serve our community by sharing our passion and gifts.  We were able to send five dancers to teach in Meteti, Darien Panama while also establishing and maintaining service with our domestic partners.  Thus, not only were we able to share the gifts and learning benefits associated with dance with over fifty students in Panama, we were also able to begin serving over thirty children at the Boys and Girls Club with weekly dance lessons.  Moreover, our leadership provided our chapter members with more opportunities to share their talents and serve our local and global communities through dance outreach.

The lessons that I learned about delegation were developed through challenges but also through the lessons and inspiration that I acquired through actively serving.  Leadership can be a daunting task, particularly when juggling schoolwork, jobs and other daily needs.  However, each class or workshop that I teach is a beautiful reminder of why I push myself to serve and lead others to do the same.  On my first exchange to Panama in 2016, I was able to see the improvements that just one week of dance training had on our students in Meteti.  The children were happier, more social, and visibly more outgoing by the end of the week.  This inspired me to work toward sustainable domestic partnerships to touch more young lives and provide more members with the experience of teaching and inspiring students right in our local community.  After only my first three classes at the Boys and Girls Club as an instructor, I noticed that the kids were practicing what they learned at home and coming in each week excited that we were back to teach them.

Through my service as an instructor, I learned how to lead humbly and how to connect with diverse populations.  Dance is a universal language, an innate desire through which we can all relate.  Service through dance has allowed me to share this with communities that otherwise would not have had access to such an organic form of learning and creative outlet.  I take pride in using my passions to inspire others and to provide like-minded individuals opportunities to serve the community as well.  This passion has driven me to lead and provided me with numerous lessons in leadership including delegation, perseverance, and overall time-management.  I look forward to allowing my love for service, leadership and dance guide me through the upcoming chapters of my life with Movement Exchange and beyond.

– Brenna Sweeney, University of Cincinnati Chapter President

“Move-Empowered”

“Move-Empowered”

E-ducation is a dialogue
M-aking connections
P-ower is in hope
O-utstanding leadership
W-omen are bad-ass superheroes
E- nriching lives
R- emember why you serve
E- ndless work, but…
D- etermination is the starting line

We’ve just completed day two of the 2017 Move-Ex leadership conference, and I am already swamped with information, inspiration, and ideas. I know, after interacting with such a vibrant and accomplished group of women, that I have a lot of greatness that is required of me as well, not only with Movement Exchange, but simply as a human being.

It has been quite overwhelming to be honest. Discussing curriculum, marketing, branding, teaching methods, missions, goals, etc. Constantly evaluating the “why?” we do this and a lot of the “how?” we do this as well. But despite that overwhelmingness, the one thing I’ve taken away from the conference thus far is a strong sense of empowerment. I truly believe that I AM competent enough to bring the passion and hard work that it takes to truly make a positive difference in this world. And this conference is giving me the tangible tools to hit the ground running.

The acrostic poem I have written above is a reflection on that word “Empowered” and what it has meant to me this weekend. While I won’t take the time to explain each and every letter, I believe that the last two are a beautiful summary… dance diplomacy is “endless work”; we should constantly be evolving and growing and finding new ways to make an impact. And that can undoubtedly be difficult and tiring at times. However, with the determination to achieve your goals, anything – literally anything – is possible. And that is absolutely empowering for me.

Armoni Moody, Dance Diplomat from Barnard College
2017 Move-Ex Leadership Conference Participant