After a modern/contemporary technique class on Friday morning (taught by yours truly) the students at the University of Panama were all smiles, we banged our chests and shouted against the walls of the small basement studio – they crouched down and began beating on the floor with their hands, in true Utah Dance fashion. They gave us presents, with tremendous thanks for bringing our unique perspectives on dance into Panama, and we hugged and took photos, exchanged Facebook profiles, and thanked them for the opportunity to come, teach class, and learn from them as well. It was a chance to share everything that we love with hungry minds and bodies longing to move; I will miss their fire and passion, their drive to explore…

 

A brief stop on the beach, swimming in the Caribbean, and a lunch of fish – then we travelled on to the town of Portobelo to work with a la Escuela del Ritmo; it’s a school dedicated to the improvement of life in this small sea-town, and it’s doing it through music and the arts. It was magnificent to see, in the midst of an ancient town gripped by post-colonial poverty, multiple studios filled with instruments and music classes, dance classes, and a new “palacio” under construction for Conga performances and art shows: as I looked around I saw the old edifices of buildings made from coral, children rambling through the alleyways, and many people in small dugout canoes fishing in the sea. I am constantly reminded of all that we take for granted, the multitude of access to the arts and the many luxuries of life that are available in the States; to see it being build and fostered here in rural Panama was an absolute inspiration.

 

And an impromptu performance with the orphans of Malambo, choreographed and organized in just one week, which was the high point of this morning, this bright and hot Saturday. The girls performed the choreography beautifully in matching red sashes, to an old Michael Jackson favorite. Soon we’ll be leaving, with only the memories of this beautiful week – the University, the Calicanto Foundation, the schools, the orphanages, all the incredible experience of dancing, teaching, and working in this cross-cultural exchange. And it truly has been an exchange; true, we have been teaching and working with at-risk youth, bringing our expertise and skills into communities of dancers and children across the Panama City area – but we have also been changed, beautiful experience we’ve had here of a place so different, of the communities so open and willing to house us and feed us… I think we will only be able to quite fathom how much we’ve learned here until much later, when we’ve had time to process, reflect, and remember.

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