Let me preface this blog post by saying that until I went to Panama, I hadn’t taken a formal dance class. I haven’t been trained in any specific style, nor have I ever considered myself to possess the skills necessary to dance well. For all intents and purposes, I am not, and never have been, a dancer.
But Movement Exchange completely altered my definition of a “dancer.”
When I applied for Open Call, I did so mostly at the insistence of a friend. For years, she had raved to me about the power of an exchange, the meaning of the work carried out over the course of a week, and the inspiration provided by the children at each orphanage, and I finally caved. Besides, I had an itch for adventure begging to be scratched, and this seemed the perfect remedy.
Once accepted, I panicked. What in the world was I thinking, going on this volunteer trip geared toward dancers? Where would I find a place among a group of women whose passions centered around dance? How would I contribute? And of course, rather than confront my worries and fears, I buried them, even as I boarded the plane that would thrust me into the Open Call whirlwind.
Every troublesome emotion imaginable bubbled up and coursed through my body those first few hours in Panama, but they dissipated the moment we arrived at Aldea SOS Colon on our first full day. A young girl took me on a tour of one of the buildings, showing off everything down to the laundry soap on a shelf above the washer and dryer; we lunched on delicious chicken and rice generously served by the tias of the orphanage; and we dove into our first dance classes with the children, feeding off their enthusiasm and reveling in their spirits. Smiles were given freely, and all inhibitions disregarded. Magic isn’t a strong enough word to describe what those interactions felt like, but magic is all that comes to mind.
From there, I settled in and found my niche — goofing around with the kids, making them feel comfortable with different movements, and translating when necessary. What I lacked in technical skills, I made up for in silliness, watching grins spread from cheek to cheek with each extravagant move I came up with as we played freeze dance and easing nerves as I fumbled through choreography. I wouldn’t trade this contribution for the world, however small or insignificant it might have been. To me, it was everything, as I hope it was for the kids.
The classes we took throughout the week, though, were the time slots I originally feared the most. I didn’t want to make a fool of myself, or be the sore thumb among talented dancers. Naturally, my fears were unfounded. I plunged headfirst into each and every class, attempting different moves and trying again and again despite confusion or failure. Not once was I ridiculed. Rather, I was pushed to move my body in ways I never imagined possible, reassured of my capabilities, and cheered on all the while by nine sensational dance diplomats who embraced me as one of their own.
Simone, my gracious encourager. Caeli, my exuberant burst of energy. Kate, my level-headed companion. Ruby, my constant ray of sunshine. Olivia, my source of inspiration. Hayley, my gentle role model. Jen, my balanced comrade. Kim, my rambunctious warrior. And Tinna, my Panamanian soulmate and motivator.
It is because of these women, the children we had the honor of getting to know, and the gorgeous country of Panama, that I now consider myself a dancer.
Because we’re all dancers. We’re all lovers. We’re all dreamers. These universal languages, among others, unite us, empower us, and motivate us, and they will continue to do so for centuries to come.