Panama, You Have My Heart

By May 15, 2018 May 25th, 2018 International Dance Exchanges

This is my third time on an exchange and honestly, I didn’t expect to cry this time, but I sure did. My chest feels heavy, full, and numb all at the same time. I don’t know how to describe the feelings I have for these kids and this organization. However, I do know that the body doesn’t lie. “The deepest things in the human heart require the language of the body.” My heart is in Panama, and these kids steal my heart more and more every time.

During this exchange, I have felt so content. All week I couldn’t stop smiling. I am also proud. Proud of the dance diplomats who have come to Panama three years in a row—for giving their hearts time and time again. I am proud of our second timers for coming back and growing into such confident and brave leaders. And, I am proud of the newbies for taking the risk, jumping in and moving to change. Most importantly, I am proud of the kids. I am so proud of their HUGE smiles, their beauty in their own personal and unique expression, and all of their successes—big and small.

The events of this week are so, so special. It’s special that we’re able to teach and dance with these kids, but oh my gosh how special it is to see the joy in these beautiful, precious, unique, expressive, sassy, and blossoming humans. THEY ARE LITTLE GEMS! Each and every one of them. How special that we get to be a part of their growth and that they are willing to let us into their lives, enter in their journeys, and reveal to us who they are through their movement.


Here are a few lessons I have learned in Panama:

1. No Spanish, no problem!

Well, maybe not a problem, but definitely a struggle. But my favorite struggle because I think that it produces the most growth. The first couple of days of the exchange can be frustrating. But as the week progresses, you start to create these special moments of conversing completely without verbal language. Relationships and connections are then based on movement or dance or these little games made up on the spot. These kinds of moments are special because they use creativity, patience, acceptance, and compassion.

2. Go with the flow.

Sometimes, class starts a half hour late, the gym floor is being painted so you have to have class in the grass, you’re sharing space with a cooking class, or your lesson plan flies out the window. But guess what? The show goes on, the kids still smile, everyone still dances, and all is well!! Being flexible is important and going with the flow can be fun once you learn how to jump in and go with it.

3. Everyone is a dancer!!

Before Movement Exchange, I thought you had to be in a company to be a professional dancer and you were only valid as a dancer if you were a professional. I have learned that to be a dancer is to be human. And dance can be whatever it needs to be in your own personal journey. It’s a language of the soul within everyone.

4. The baby steps count.

I’ve gotten to see some of the same kids 3 years in a row. Their growth is so inspiring and exciting to see. During my first exchange, I met a quiet little girl who was too shy to dance. I tried for 2 days to get her to join the class, but instead she sat in the corner of the gym hiding her face every time I looked her way. When I returned last year, the same quiet girl who was not so quiet anymore ran up to me, hugged me, and asked me my name. I was astounded with her big personality. She participated in all of the classes with enthusiasm, and when she performed, she had such a beautiful joy and the biggest smile. When I got to see her this year, we got to practice our break-dance freezes together. She is now a break dance ROCKSTAR who doesn’t hesitate one second when it comes to jumping into the middle of the cypher and working her moves. TALK ABOUT GROWTH!

5. The smiles will never get old.

Every time I watch those kids perform, I get teary eyed. They wear expressions of accomplishment and pure JOY.

6. Go to Panama and move to change. Your life will never be the same.

XOXO, Madelyn Donovan
WMU Dance Diplomat