Familiar Faces

Familiar Faces

After drinking copious amounts of Panamanian coffee in attempt to rid my body of the previous day’s soreness and exhaustion, it was off to the university for the first activity of the day. On the itinerary for the day was a typical Panamanian folkloric class with a professor from the university. In true Panamanian style, there was no class room available and so the class took place in the middle of the hallway. This meant lots of intrigued onlookers observing us struggle through steps of the dance. Although we never master the steps, far from it intact, we entertained many and enjoyed ourselves thoroughly.
After class it was down to the studio for rehearsal for the piece we would be performing in the upcoming show. Even in air conditioning the fast paced warm up had the entire class drenched in sweat in the first fifteen minutes and for the next hour and a half nothing got easier as we worked through choreography and practiced lifts. Dancing and connecting with the Panamanian dance students was great and everything felt much more comfortable now that we had danced with them once before.
Sweaty and full from lunch we loaded up the bus for our last class at Aldea. We were greeted with familiar faces of kids eager to dance. Although working with a large group of mixed aged kids presented certain challenges, we practiced and polished the opening number for the show and the kid’s hard work really showed. It will be amazing to see everything come together Friday night.
In the midst of all the craziness and hard work the whole group found several moments to relax and just play. We jumped around a small playground and played soccer with kids, the fact that we didn’t speak the same language and were years apart in age not mattering at all. We were friends just the same.
– Ella Donovan, Dance Diplomat from Ball State University
An Eye-Opening Experience

An Eye-Opening Experience

My experience here has been eye opening. I believe that I’ve learned so much from just being here a few days. The kids at Aldea and Malambo have taught me more about myself than I truly realized. I see that language barriers are real but it doesn’t mean that it can stop a connection from happening. They have also taught me patience, versatility, and   how important the community is for development. It’s such a pleasing feeling seeing them interact with each other and with us, as well as them showing their love for dance! I think it definitely has made a positive influence in their lives and I’m happy to be apart of that. Taking classes here also has given me the inspiration to travel and dance and continue to grow to learn different dance styles.

– Alexandra Stewart, Dance Diplomat from Frostburg State University

Con Niños

Con Niños

This picture, like the kids of Aldea, is full of life, imagination, and inspiration. It was wonderful working with the children of the orphanage and working beyond the language barrier using whatever Spanish I knew, combined with the help and understanding of these kids.



It was 2am and all I could think about were two things:

How I had never heard anyone snore so loudly in my entire life, and how badly I wanted to release my body of the pretzel it had been in for the past seven hours. And not the soft Auntie Anne’s either. But the ones you buy in a bag that are stiff and break upon snapping. “What am I doing here?,” I thought as I reflected on the craziness of my journey after spending the past 2 weeks backpacking in Costa Rica. Then I remembered what I was doing on a bus to Panama, and a wave of nervous excitement washed over me that made it all worth it. Later that day I would be meeting ten other dance diplomats from all over my home country of the United States to engage in a Movement Exchange.
After napping for a few short hours on a couch in the lobby of the hostel where we would be staying, I let my energy drive me towards exploring Panama City before the rest of the crew arrived. As the day went on, I was continuously touched by people I encountered on my solo adventure towards Cerro Ancon, a nature reserve that we would enjoy as a group later in the week. One of them was a man living in the hostel with Parkinson’s disease. After learning about what I was there for, he told me about how much movement has helped him with his terminal illness. While at one point he could barely get out of bed, he says that now it’s all he can do to move his body so that he will continue to be able to move it. After that point, every conversation we now have is about music and the importance of dance.
The other friends I made came about as I had gotten lost on my way to the park. Long story short, I ended up receiving papayas, bananas, and mangoes from them (a few days breakfast for a frugivore like myself!!), in addition to lots of laughs, and dancing in the street. In a country where I don’t speak the language, communicating bits and pieces with natives is how I learn the most. And besides, dance doesn’t need a spoken language for it to be affective.
Finally, it was early evening and time to meet the fellow diplomats that I would be bonding with for the rest of the week. After dinner together, we got together in a studio to start moving as a group. And let me tell you, there’s nothing like music and dance to break the ice and get us pumped for the week. We spent a bit of time reflecting on the week ahead and again the question came up for me, “What am I doing here?” I found the international exchange through an email from my dance department at Virginia Commonwealth University. I had been searching for an opportunity to dance abroad for much of the school year, but no program caught my eye like Movement Exchange did. Through teaching at orphanages and collaborating with local university students in Panama, I would get to combine my passion for youth, teaching, and dance, while challenging myself through the lens of a foreign culture. Plus much of the program costs would go towards benefitting the mission of the program year round. I was sold. So basically, that’s what I’m doing here. I recently realized that my relationship with dance draws towards being service oriented. While I love performing and choreographing, my true authentic self is most fulfilled by sharing dance with others and rejoicing in the power of it to bring out the qualities that unite us all as human beings. With all that being said, let’s get this week started!
(Photos are of the views of Panama, and passing through the border)
– Taylor-Leigh Adams, Dance Diplomat from VCU
Movement Exchange Blog

Movement Exchange Blog

When I walked off the plane and into the Panama City airport, I jokingly thought to myself, “I’m not in Kansas anymore”. It was my first time ever stepping onto non-U.S. soil.

The night before the flight, I had been worried about potential weather and culture shock, my inability to collaborate with an unfamiliar team, and my lack of dedication to an art form that I had slowly been distancing myself from. I had started studying dance when I was three years old and proceeded with professional training all the way throughout high school. When I went to college, however, I decided that I wanted to study child psychology instead – mostly because I was really interested in the topic, but also because I had grown emotionally exhausted from years of harsh  self-critique, physically demanding technique, and little opportunity for creative expression. Long story short, I had become dissatisfied towards the seemingly self-absorbed world of dance… that was until I came across the Movement  Exchange table at my school’s club fair. After hearing about their mission of dance diplomacy, I resolved to shift my viewpoint  towards dance outwardly. I craved an experience that would show me how dance can be used to establish community and bring joy to people who might not otherwise have the opportunity to perform. Over the course of the year, I taught periodically at my local Boys and Girls Club – later realizing that it would serve as  preparation for my time here in Panamá.

Teaching here in Panamá has been the most amazing experience. Not only because I’m seeing dance as more than just a commodity for the elite, but also because I’m being immersed in a true cross-cultural exchange. I’ve been able to practice connecting with people who speak another language and live a totally different life than me. I’ve been humbled to learn about the tense history between my home country and this land who suffered the consequences of its invasive influence. I’ve both met and been inspired by members of my team who have chosen to contribute their strength and light to this important cause. I’ve been challenged to focus my energy on my original intention, even when unexpected conditions like rain, exhaustion, or miscommunication have tried to drain me of my motivation.

All in all, I’ve been stretched in directions that have forced me to grow as a dancer, a leader, and a citizen of the world. I will never forget the impact this trip has had on me, and I hope to let it inform my future as a representative of MoveEx’s honorable vision of artistic humanitarianism.

IMG_0726– Rebecca Mattern, GMU Dance Diplomat


First Day at Aldea

First Day at Aldea

Today was an amazing day! We started out with an awesome folkloric dance class at the Panamanian University where we learned more about the culture of dance in Panama as well as cultural differences in general. After lunch we headed to the Aldea Orphanage to teach two dance classes and spend time with the kids. Our connection with them was immediate as they welcomed us into their home with open arms. We offered a challenging hip-hop class for the older kids which they did great at despite the rain and heat! Afterwards we taught “cotton eye joe” to the little ones, they were so motivated they often asked if they could do it for us rather then with us. Last we spent time playing games and running around, which really wrapped up the day nicely. I felt an overwhelming amount of love and joy asI felt myself reliving my childhood with laughter, imagination, and dance. Overall it was my favorite day thanks to my new friends, Move-Ex leaders and most importantly the beautiful kids!

– Olivia Cara, University of Delaware Dance Diplomat

An Abundance of Butterflies

An Abundance of Butterflies

The third day in Panama, and my second time returning to this special place… 

I often find that coming back to things a second time around allows me to peel back a few more layers and better understand what it was that drew me to it in the first place. Since coming to Panama last Spring in 2016, the story of the formation of the Panamanian isthmus has stayed on the forefront of my mind- serving as inspiration and hope whenever a situation seems unfeasible. 

Today, we delved into the history of Panama- one of my favorite parts of the exchange. With my own country’s name so intricately and painfully laced throughout Panamanian history, I find it important to hold respectful space as an American traveling here. It’s important to know what has come before you and how you can best work towards humbly building new relationships of trust, peace and positivity in a place where the intersection of our worlds has previously been one of great tension. 

The Isthmus of Panama stands to this day as one of the greatest natural events in the world. Quite literally rising from the bottom of the ocean due to shifting tectonic plates, Panama’ks beginnings are adorned with symbolism and strength. The land that arose

And became Panama created a dramatic impact on the biodiversity of the world. For the first time, animals and plants were able to migrate between the North and South Americas. Next time you see an opossum, armadillo, or porcupine, think of Panama and know that those animals would not be in North America had Panama not bridged the two worlds. As I walk through the streets of Casco Viejo, so many cats skidder through the alley ways, and I know that the only reason is because cats (among dogs, bears and llamas) migrated from the North. 

This migration reminds me of the migration the Move Ex diplomats make to Panama for our exchanges. Had it not been for Panama, I would not have made this journey towards understanding the power that dance holds to unify and bridge worlds. 

The word Panama has been interpreted in a few ways- some thinking the first settlers in Panama came during August, the butterfly season, and that the words means “abundance of butterflies.” This seems fitting to me, given that the country has undergone great transformation as it shifted from one regime to the next, enduring times of great tension and struggle with the United States, with Columbia and even internally with dictators like Manuel Noriega (who coincidentally died at 83 last night). From darkness comes light, and Panamanians know this well. Just like the butterfly emerges from the darkness of the cocoon, so too does Panama emerge from the darkness of its past.

Others believe the name to have derived from the Kuna word “bannaba” meaning distant or far away. This evening we watched Hands of Stone, a recent movie about the Panamanian boxing world champ Edgar Ramirez. In the beginning of the film, Edgar’s wife says “We come from different worlds,” to which he replies “It’s all in the head.”

While the kids we teach at Malambo and Aldea are so different from us (one might even say we come from different worlds), in our moments of dancing together we are no different. No water separates us, and no borders of the land define us. Panama has connected the Americas and fostered a world of connection and new relationships. Movement Exchange has connected two worlds to one another and shown that just like the abundance of butterflies, we can all undergo change and transformation that leads us toward a life where separateness and differences are “all in the head.” 


By Beth Whelan, GMU Dance Diplomat