What began as a small idea has now grown into a nationwide community of like-minded dancers who are empowered to give back to the world. We hope this exchange will further develop your relationship to dance by sparking your desire to be an ever-evolving teacher and inspiring you to advocate for dance’s ability to change lives. We admire your commitment to movement and global service, and we look forward to witnessing how your individual perspective will enrich our time together. Below you will find information on Panama and what to expect during the dance exchange. With eight years of experience hosting dancers in Panama, we look forward to welcoming you to the Movement Exchange family.


General Information

Welcome to Panama, a Caribbean isthmus connecting North and South America. With 10 provinces, 8 officially recognized indigenous groups , and a population of about 4 million, Panama offers a rich cultural and environmental diversity.


Panama has a tropical climate, with temperatures ranging between 75-85°F. Panama is extremely humid year-round and almost all of the rain falls during the rainy season from April to December. Panama’s rainforests hold the most diversity of all the countries in Central America.


In 2010, the population of Panama was 65% Mestizo (mixed white and Native American), 12.3% Native American, 9.2% Black, and 6.7% White. Panama has had different waves of immigration from Jamaica, China, Palestine, South Asia, and Syria, adding to the cultural diversity of Panama. While Spanish is the official and dominant language of Panama, many citizens speak both English and Spanish or their native languages.

Panama Canal

From the moment the Pacific Ocean was “discovered” by Vasco Nuñez de Balboa in 1513, the Europeans had hopes of building a bridge between the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean. The French began building the canal in 1881, but due to disease and inefficient equipment, the French declared bankruptcy and abandoned the project. The U.S. took over the project and completed the canal in 1914. In 2016, the Panama Canal expansion project began, allowing for the canal to double its capacity and allow larger ships to pass through.

U.S. and Panama Relations

During the construction of the canal, the U.S. acquired the Canal Zone, 10-mile-wide strip across the isthmus. Over time, tensions grew between U.S. and Panamanian citizens and on January 9, 1964, riots broke out, killing twenty Panamanians and leaving over 500 wounded. In 1977, the Torrijos-Carter Treaty was signed that allowed for the complete transfer of the canal from the U.S. to Panama by 1999. However, tensions continued to rise and in 1989, the U.S. invaded Panama in order to bring down its dictator Manuel Noriega for drug trafficking. The mission took hundreds of Panamanian lives and damaged parts of Panama City. Noriega surrendered and was tried, convicted, and jailed on drug trafficking charges. In 1999, the U.S. ended nearly a century in Panama and closed all of its military bases and turned over control of the canal. Approximately 20 years later, U.S. and Panama relations have neutralized and cultural and economic ties between the two countries are strong.

Safety and Security

Panama is one of the safest countries in Latin America. Upon arriving in Panama, the Movement Exchange team reviews travel safety and emergency procedures with each group. Participants should always travel in groups and safeguard valuables and cash while sightseeing, shopping, or dining.

Recommended Readings

  • The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal by David McCullough
  • A People Who Would Not Kneel: Panama, the United States and the San Blas Kuna by James Howe
Kuna Yala San Blas islands


Travel Arrangements

Flights should be arranged to Tocumen International Airport (Airport Code: PTY). Use an online booking site such as to find the best fares from your city to Panama City and send your itinerary to Movement Exchange for approval BEFORE booking your flights. Participants should arrive in Panama at designated times as there will only be one group pick up and drop off at the airport. If participants are unable to arrive during these designated times, Movement Exchange will arrange for a secure ride to or from the airport, but this expense will not be covered by Movement Exchange.

Entry/Exit Requirements

To travel to Panama, you will need a U.S. passport with validity of at least 3 months past your exchange start date and a return flight either back to your home country or an onward destination. Review this information from the U.S. Department of State. Participants with a passport issued by a country other than the U.S. must contact a Panamanian Embassy to inquire about their eligibility for entry into Panama.

International Health Insurance

All participants must have personal health insurance that covers international travel. Please check with your U.S. carrier regarding international travel coverage. International health insurance typically costs around $50 and is available for purchase online.

Vaccines/Shot Requirements

There are currently no required vaccinations to travel to Panama. For more information, visit

Submitting the Program Donation

A $500 non-refundable deposit will be at least three months before the exchange. Program Donations can be submitted via Movement Exchange’s PayPal or via Move-Ex’s online fundraising platform. For more info, email

Packing List

  • Passport and two photo copies of passport
  • Important documents: insurance information, photo ID, and reservation information, if applicable
  • Dance clothes and shoes (bring a variety of t-shirts, tank tops, shorts, and knee-length legwear)
  • Music for classes downloaded on your phone and on CDs or USBs
  • Small CD player/iPod player
  • Games and activities to play with and/or gifts
  • Flashlight or head lamp
  • Non-perishable snacks
  • Insect repellent in wipe form (>30% DEET)
  • Prescription medication/travel medicine (recommended: stomach soothers and anti-diarrheals)
  • Lightweight pants, light sweatshirt
  • Umbrella and/or raincoat
  • Closed-toed shoes
  • Hat, sunglasses, sunblock
  • Camera/video camera
  • Refillable water bottle (water in Panama City is safe to drink!)
  • Shower sandals
  • Towel
  • Travel-size toiletries
  • Swimsuit
  • $100–$300 in spending money in U.S. dollars. Allocate enough extra cash for yourself to cover the designated dinners on your own, souvenirs, etc. Panama uses the U.S. dollar.

How to Pack

  • Panama is hot, humid, and wet, so be sure to plan accordingly.
  • Bring smaller bills, such as $5’s and $10’s, as some vendors do not have change for larger bills.
  • Leave hair dryers and other such beauty products at home. You will not need them.
  • Pack light. A large backpack or duffle bag should provide plenty of room for everything that you need to bring. Try to bring only carry-on luggage.
  • Medicine: keep them in their original prescription bottles and always in your carry-on luggage. Be sure to follow security guidelines if the medicines are liquids.
  • Bring some plastic sandwich bags to keep your camera, wallet, etc dry.

Preparing your Lesson Plans

Prior to an exchange, Movement Exchange will be sending you a teaching sign-up sheet where you an pick the dates and times you would like to teach. All participants should teach about the same amount of time. About 1 month before the exchange, (if you’re not on your university chapter exchange), we’ll be putting you in contact with your group in order to collaborate with other participants! If this is your first time teaching, don’t worry! You won’t be alone, and the Movement Exchange team is happy to give you advice and ideas for teaching.



All participants will be staying in shared room accommodations throughout the exchange. Most participants stay at Magnolia Inn, a luxury hostel located in the heart of Casco Viejo, the colonial neighborhood of Panama City. If the exchange includes travel outside of the city, participants will be notified of their accommodations ahead of time.

In-Country Travel

Movement Exchange provides daily transportation between youth foundations, orphanages, and activities. Participants are not responsible for transportation within the itinerary. If participants wish to travel throughout Panama City during their free time, Movement Exchange team members will help them travel safely to and from their destination.

Teaching and Learning

Learn more about the places you will teach and take dance class on our partners page.

Contacting Home

Dancers will have access to internet throughout the exchange, however, access to internet is not guaranteed every day of the program.  We recommend downloading the application “WhatsApp” or “Skype” for communicating over wifi. If you choose to bring an unlocked cell phone, phone cards are available for purchase. You may also look into an international service plan for your phone if desired.

Life in the Caribbean

Welcome to the Caribbean! The itinerary will change, rain means people show up hours late, and the general pace of life is much slower. We will stick to the itinerary as much as possible, but remember that the itinerary is always subject to change!

Emergency Contacts in Panama

+507 207-7000 US Embassy in Panama

911 National Medical Emergency

103 Fire Station

104 National Police

455 Red Cross

355 Medical Rescue

Extending Your Stay

Below you will find some suggestions for extending your travel to Panama.

• Magnolia Inn:
• Luna’s Castle:

• El Caribe on Via Argentina in the neighborhood of Cangrejo for some coconut rice and fish
• La Jarana for great Peruvian in the neighborhood of San Francisco
• Coca Cola Café for an inexpensive Panamanian dinner in Casco Viejo
• Beirut for your Lebanese fix
• Mi Ranchito for Panamanian food with a great view on the Causeway

Two sites worth visiting if you have extra time:
• Bocas del Toro Archipelago (Afro-Antillean population speaking Wadi-wadi)
• San Blas Islands (where the indigenous Kuna live)
Both of these archipelagos are on the Caribbean side of Panama and although quite a drive and boat ride from Panama City, they are definitely worth the trip to learn more about the diversity of people and landscape in Panama.

Shorter day trips could include:
• A visit to Isla Grande in the state of Colon (Caribbean side)
• Pacific beaches of Panama such as Gorgona, Malibu, and Punta Chame


Note: If choosing to extend your stay, you are required to sign a separate Release of
Liability form. Movement Exchange is not responsible for you during your extended time as a tourist. Movement Exchange is not responsible for your airport transportation if your travel dates extend beyond the program dates or
if you arrive outside of the set time frame. Please check with the Move-Ex team before you book your flights.


LMU University Chapter Exchange 2019

Violeta Martinez

Panama Country Director

Bio coming soon!

Dana Vanderburgh, Executive Director

Dana Vanderburgh

Executive Director

Dana was introduced to Movement Exchange in 2014 as an undergraduate student at Indiana University right at the moment she decided to stop pursuing her professional ballet training due to a series of chronic injuries. Getting involved with Movement Exchange, as both a member of the IU chapter and as a contracted member of the organization's administrative team, helped her discover how to translate her passion for dance into a passion for exploring and advocating for the power of dance to empower individuals and communities. During her time with Move-Ex at IU, Dana attended three international dance exchanges to Panama and became highly involved in leading the chapter's local dance service initiatives in Bloomington. All of these experiences led Dana to pursue an integrated BA/MA degree in International Studies at IU where she did research on the role of dance in generating social change. She is now a PhD student of Social-Cultural Anthropology at Indiana University where she hopes to continue her academic research on themes of dance, reconciliation, and environmental justice. She is thrilled to return to Movement Exchange as its Executive Director and looks forward to bringing her expanded knowledge about dance service and empowerment back to the organization that started her on this life changing journey. Move to change!


Spanish basics for travel to Panama