Almost a year ago, I found Movement Exchange at Western Michigan University while at my first-year orientation. I felt driven to be a part of the organization because of its union between dance and service. After hearing about the exchange to Panama, I knew it was something I’d like to do. I enjoyed listening to the experiences of other dance diplomats that had been to Panama in past years, and I felt eager to be a part of something bigger. As the days until the exchange dwindled and the anticipation grew, I thought I had a grasp on what to expect. However, no amount of lesson plans, bulleted lists, or go-to tactics could prepare me for what was to come.

Upon reflection of the last four days of our exchange, I have been humbled by the wonderful experience that Movement Exchange provides us as dance diplomats. With each day comes new challenges, and in turn, calls for patience and diligence on both our behalf, but also on behalf of the young movers. The dancers that we are impacting have given me more than I could ever hope to give them. They are strong, curious, and talented movers that have inspired me to change the way I view dance. In light of this, this exchange is exactly that: an exchange. The dancers have overwhelmed us with gratitude, joy, and fulfillment. In return, we hope to empower them by giving them the opportunity to foster creativity and self-expression through the great art we know as dance.

There aren’t enough words in the world to describe how thankful I am for the organization, the exchange, the experiences, and the people. However, if I could pick two they’d come from a conversation I had with one of the kids at the beginning of the week: para ti (for you). We sat together and with each dinosaur sticker he peeled from the paper, I asked him, “¿Para ti o para mi?” (For you or for me?). I was in shock when he answered with, “para ti” nearly every time. I thought, “This boy has an entire sheet of stickers to himself, yet he chose to share with me.” His big heart has encouraged me to be more selfless and mindful of who is benefitting from my actions. The next time I ask the question, “¿Para ti o para mi?” I intend to answer it with the same selfless words as the young boy I connected with. I feel incredibly blessed to have the opportunity to answer the question with “para ti” in the last few days of our exchange, and I am eager to apply the same mindfulness in our local dance outreach programs when we return home. Move to change!

– Sydney Leatherberry, WMU Dance Diplomat