This past May, a group of 17 WMU dance students ventured to Panama as a part of Movement Exchange, an organization which brings dance education to under-privileged children. Many of these "dance diplomats," as Movement Exchange calls their volunteers, simply hoped to experience a new culture and end the academic year with a week-long adventure in Central America. In reality, they arrived back on campus with more than just stamps in their passports.
While some participants experienced career path epiphanies, others were able to finally break down barriers and stresses in their personal dance practice. The common takeaway among the 17 dancers: The power of dance.
On just her second day in Panama, Madelyn Donovan, the new president of WMU's Movement Exchange chapter, had realized the connecting nature of dance. Madelyn shared her revelations and experiences in the following blog entry:
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.
I'll 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 Orphanage. 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 happiness.
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 heartwarming. 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 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.
What moves you? Learn more about Movement Exchange and other dance-related student organizations active on campus here.