As I sit here reminiscing on all that I was experiencing just over 24 hours ago, I can’t help but be immensely grateful. In just a weeks time, I was not only reminded of the many reasons I fell in love with this passion of mine in the first place, but I was also reminded of how powerfully dance can impact anyone and everyone in an infinite number of ways. I arrived in Panama City, Panama hoping that I’d make a positive influence, share my passion, and find inspiration, but I left with much more than I could have ever imagined. I left with an entirely new perspective on how dance can be used, with a much greater understanding of what it truly means to be patient, with an awareness much larger than myself and my own culture, with a desire to give every single child and teen I had the privilege of meeting the love and attention they deserve, with a newfound appreciation for all I’ve been blessed with in my life, and with an incredibly full heart. I believe there are few moments in a persons life that can be pinpointed as the moment a part of them changed forever, but I believe this trip was one of those moments for me.
I have always had a colossal love for dance. I love it for the feeling it gives me, for how good it is for me, for how much fun it is, for being able to use it as an expressive and emotional outlet, and for all of the positive qualities it continues to instill in me every single day. This trip, however, made me realize how self-centered my love for dance has been, especially in the last few years. This trip reminded me how important it is to share what I am passionate about so others can also experience its boundless potential for good. Movement Exchange is about so much more than sharing dance between cultures; it is about making a change no matter how minuscule or vast it may be. During my short time in Panama, I saw little changes occur in the young girls and boys I had the privilege of working with throughout the week that left me inspired and with a perpetual smile stretching from ear to ear. At the Malambo Orphanage in Arraijan, the girls would stand a little taller, hold their heads a little higher, smile a little bigger, and dance a lot more when they realized they could do the movements we were teaching them. Each day they came with a greater enthusiasm to dance than the day before, and the joy on their faces alone when they saw us each day was enough to encourage and inspire us to give them all we possibly could. They became empowered and would radiate a sense of self-accomplishment that was enough to give me goosebumps from head to toe. At the Aldeas SOS Orphanage in Panama City, a group of tween/teen girls I was working with erupted with screaming, jumping, and a contagious excitement when they finally did the dance all the way through without messing up the difficult footwork of a complicated section we had been working on. From this moment on, these girls danced their hearts out and even became confident enough to improv with me before and after the choreography they learned. There is something special about witnessing how positively dance can impact someone in front of your very eyes. I quickly realized that for all of the reasons I love dance, there were ten additional reasons gained to share my passion with these kids.
Even more than sharing my passion, I was able to simply share my capacity for love and compassion. I traveled to Panama to meet up with seven students embarking on the same journey from Florida State University. Solely because of our desire to love on the children at these orphanages, we became undeniably close. We cried, laughed, and experienced moments together that left us inspired, touched, and not wanting to leave. We learned more about each other through the vulnerability of our experiences than any of us could have imagined. Together we experienced the amazing truth behind the saying that dance is the universal language. The language barrier did not keep us from spreading the joy of dance, and even more than that, it didn’t keep us from giving these kids and teens the love they deserve. If anything, the language barrier brought us a greater sense of what it means to be patient, and it allowed us to find different ways of expressing what it was we were truly feeling and wishing to accomplish with these children. The language barrier also forced us to show these kids that we loved them through action rather than words. Isn’t that all what we really want and need anyway?
One of the FSU ladies, Nicole, brought a bunch of little $1 bouncy balls that lit up with her and handed them out at the Aldeas SOS Orphanage in Colon. For hours these kids were smiling, laughing, and having a blast simply because they got to play with us and these simple gifts. I couldn’t help but compare this to how privileged many children are today. So many kids and teens nowadays require iPad games and the newest “things” to make them happy, whereas these children, who have already dealt with more pain in their lives than many will ever encounter, are happy with so much less. More than “things,” these children needed to spend time with people that would love on them. Even last night as I was laying in my bed looking around my room at all the stuff I’ve accumulated over the years, my mind kept racing back to the beautiful souls I had to say goodbye to at the orphanages that have far less than I’ve ever experienced. At first I felt guilty of all I have and that I have two parents who love me relentlessly, but then I realized that rather than feeling guilty, I should instead just not take all I’ve been blessed with for granted. I can use my privilege and the love I’ve been given and taught to give from my parents and my amazing Creator to help in any way I can. Those children at the orphanage in Colon needed the love we were able to give them that day, and I will be eternally grateful for how much they touched my heart when I was there to touch theirs.
All in all, dance has so much more to offer than meets the eye, and I’m so grateful to have found an organization that sees the power and ability it holds. This trip with Movement Exchange has by far been the most rewarding experience of my life thus far, and I feel exceptionally lucky to have gotten the chance to be a part of it and to combine my passions of service and dance. While I loved getting to take in the Panamanian culture through classes given to us and teaching at the university to students that were incredibly eager for the classes we created for them, it was the time I spent at the orphanages sharing my passion and love with these kids that left a permanent imprint on me. I wish I could dance with and show these kids what love looks like every single day. If I impacted any of them even a fourth of the way they impacted me than I accomplished much more than I set out to do. This trip was a beautiful experience with a beautiful group of people. I could write paragraph after paragraph about the happiness, love, challenge, heart-break, and inspiration I experienced in every moment of this adventure, but words would simply not do it justice. It is a beauty that can only be experienced.