Spotlight: Anna Pasternak, Founder of Movement Exchange

What is your background in dance?

I started dancing as wee little thing at family parties. I couldn’t get enough of moving my body to music. I always wanted to take dance classes, and finally as a ten year old I enrolled in my first jazz class. From there, I branched out to ballet, modern, Afro- based dances, and partner dances. I attended San Francisco’s School of the Arts for high school, and thought that I was going to become a professional dancer until I was accepted into Harvard which changed my life trajectory. However, I still managed to take some time off from university to tour in Japan with a Brazilian samba company and Kenyan human pyramid makers. To this date, it’s the most ridiculous life experience I’ve ever had.

 How did you get involved with Movement Exchange?
I birthed this baby! It’s a dream come true.

 What is your fondest memory of your exchange?
The very first exchange definitely impacted me the most. We didn’t know what to expect, and every dance diplomat was also there on a huge leap of faith since we didn’t have a website nor anything to prove that we were actually legitimate. We were all united around the idea that we wanted to use dance to make a difference. It didn’t know there were so many of us dancers out there that cared, and were looking for an avenue to serve their local and global community. The orphans we were teaching had never had any dance class in their life and it was a huge challenge to get many of them to come out of their shell enough to talk to us. It’s amazing to think how much confidence these same kids have gained. These are the same kids that after 8 days of dance workshops were on stage at the National Theater in front of an audience of over 400 people. We all cried backstage together after our first performance. I’ve never felt so overwhelmed by emotion.

How do you define Dance Diplomat?
A person who spreads joy, understanding, and goodwill through dance locally and/or globally. Someone who uses the power of dance for social change.

What has Movement Exchange taught you?
Movement Exchange has taught me what compassion truly means. It’s also taught me to give and  love at a level deeper than I knew I was possible of.

Who is your favorite choreographer?
I saw Alvin Ailey’s ‘Revelations’ as a ten year old, and fell in love. I have had other favorite choreographers since then, but, the only piece of choreography that still makes me cry like the ten year old me is still ‘Revelations’. I enjoy being nostalgic.

What is the most compelling performance you have ever seen?
Movement Exchange’s first performance starring over 100 at-risk youth and orphans at the National Theater of Panama. I’ve never witnessed so much pure joy on a child’s face, nor such a palpable sense of community backstage.

What’s your biggest accomplishment so far?
Helping to create a family of dancers who are united in their desire to make the world a better place. I’m inspired daily by the people Move-Ex’s mission has brought together. Our team of volunteers strengthen my faith in the good of humankind through their dedication to helping others.

Where’s the most exotic place you have been?
This is too hard to answer! I’ve been to a lot of places that have blown my mind. Jeez, just visiting the place of my own thoughts is pretty exotic!

How many languages do you speak? Which ones?
English, Spanish, Portuguese, and dance.

What is one thing on your bucket list?
I’d like to adopt one of our dancers at Malambo Orphanage in Panama. I’ve seen many of the girls there grow up since Move-Ex’s conception, and I wish I was in a position to provide a home for all of them.

What’s something most people don’t know about you?
I surf. My dad taught me how to surf many years before I ever started dancing. People who watch me surf now say that it actually looks like I’m dancing on my board. So, I guess dancing has influenced my surf style! Who knew!

If you could time travel, where and why?
I’d love to take a trip to the future. I look at how much our world has changed in the life of my 85 year old Danish grandmother, and can’t even begin to imagine what life will look like in a half a century. I want to believe that organizations like Movement Exchange do not even need to exist because we have created an equal and just society where we all can reach towards our full potential.

What are some of your other hobbies?
I have so many! I love to surf, forage for food and eat it, talk to strangers, travel like crazy, learn new languages, get better at diving for abalone (my breath control is horrible), and acquiring new hobbies!

 If you had a tagline/motto what would it be?
I’ve never thought about this before. Hmm.. how about “stay curious”? I think it’s important to have an endless curiosity in order to challenge yourself and challenge our world.

What three words come to mind when you think of India?
Enchanting, Raw, and Aromatic (I think of curry, of course!)

 Do you think Movement Exchange would be valuable in India? Why?
India has a lot to offer the world through its art forms, and is also a place with a numerous population of disadvantaged youth that could gain a great deal from ongoing arts education. India, more so than Panama suffers from extreme inequality. It is our hope that through dance education and therapy we can improve the emotional, physical, cognitive and social aspects of the children’s lives that we work, and give them a reason to dream for a better future. There are amazing organizations doing profound work in the area of dance therapy currently, and we will support them in their work by building a larger community of dance diplomats working together to share best practices.

Why do you dance?
It makes me feel alive. Dance makes me feel closer to who I truly am and to something much larger than myself. I dance because it makes me feel at one with the world.

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