In January of 2020 a faculty mentor introduced me to the nonprofit and U.S Embassy sponsored organization, Movement Exchange. Movement Exchange was founded in 2010 by Anna Pasternak and is dedicated to uniting dance and service both domestically and internationally through its network of university chapters, international dance exchanges, and year-round programs in underserved communities with affiliates in Panama and Brazil. Now, four months later, The Ohio State University has officially established a chapter of its own. The OSU chapter body consists of students ranging from undergraduate freshmen to graduate students; from dance majors to students majoring in mathematics, social work, clinical psychology, strategic communication, and exercise science; and from varying ranges of training experience including hip-hop, classical Indian dance, Russian Folk dance, ballet, modern dance, contemporary, and more.
But, with Covid-19 prohibiting in-person activities and international travel for the foreseeable future, what does community engagement in the arts–specifically movement–look like? In an age where screens overwhelm the walls in our restaurants and instagram replaces the counting of sheep before we sleep, I like to believe that there is hope and potential for adaptation.
On May 16th, 2020 Movement Exchange hosted its first-ever “virtual exchange” through the Carmen Canvas Zoom platform. Classes included improvisation, salsa, classical Indian dance, breakdance, ballet, and Panamanian dancehall; and dancers joined the exchange from all over the United States, Colombia, New Zealand, Panama, & Spain. In addition to the virtual exchange, Movement Exchange also offers free weekly classes on Instagram Live.
I had the pleasure of taking Classical Indian technique with instructor Supna Jain and participated from the comfort of my makeshift studio/office. This summer was supposed to be filled with teaching and taking dance classes in Panama, and learning about and exchanging culture through embodiment. Although I never imagined I’d be in front of a screen to do my research and engage in community, I am thankful for the opportunity to still be learning, growing, and moving with Movement Exchange.
With face masks, social distancing, and plexiglass shields taking over our daily lives, the future of community-engagement looks dismal. However, I like to think that we are more equipped today to tackle these challenges than ever before. With a digital spin on dance education, we are able to access and collaborate with communities from all over the world with a few keystrokes and some wifi. What happens, though, for those without wifi access? How do we dance a duet without touching? How do we keep our chapter members and their students safe? These are some of the challenges on the horizon for the OSU Move-Ex chapter.
Luckily, the diversity within OSU’s chapter body leads me to the belief that we have a plethora of unique insights which offer an innovative, multidisciplinary approach to creative problem solving. Covid-19 is affecting every community across the globe, although some communities worse than others. By coming together we have the potential to use this experience to uncover new ways of exploring dance, learning about culture, and building community that we otherwise may have never explored. In the meantime, as we strategize ways of offering service, it is important to remember that there are forms of service that do not require in-person activities. Advocacy, deliberative dialogue, philanthropy, socially responsible behavior, diversifying elements of daily life (e.g. the foods we eat, the friends we make, the books we read, the businesses we support) and formal political activities such as voting, are all valuable ways of contributing to social change that can be done at any time, pandemic or no pandemic. The future is uncertain, but what is certain is that we will all have to rebuild our lives and our communities. Now we have to envision what that rebuilding will look like, and take steps toward that vision through our actions.
~ Michaela Neild, Chapter Founder & Co-Advisor
Ohio State University
Originally published on https://mcneild.wixsite.com/michaelaneild.