Moving to Change: A Trip to Panama with Movement Exchange

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by Rae Michaud with Jazley Faith

I became involved with Movement Exchange in 2015 after seeing a flyer advertising the opportunity to travel abroad and serve a community through dance. Movement Exchange gives undergraduate students the opportunity to travel to Panama and teach dance classes to at-risk youth. I had previous experience working with children, but this seemed like the perfect opportunity to incorporate my dance major.

My first international exchange in Panama proved to be more impactful than I could have ever imagined,  and for that reason, I have returned to Panama for three consecutive summers. There is something truly powerful about spending an extended amount of time in another country, and with its people. Though I did not speak their native tongue, I found a connection and an understanding with the other dancers I engaged with. Dance is not often perceived as a language; however, it became evident to me that there were certain phrases and gestures that are  universal amongst dancers. For example, the counting of music by saying “five, six, seven, eight” is understood by tone of voice, regardless of the language being spoken.

There is an intimacy in dance that creates a bond between those who are moving together. When you give students the opportunity to share this  closeness with someone from a different country, you give them a chance to connect.  It teaches, in a visceral way, that maybe we aren’t that different from each other. Although we live in separate countries and speak unique languages, we are more similar than one would expect.

For me, this is why international exchange is so important. This experience challenges undergraduate students by taking them to an unfamiliar place. During our time in Panama, our group spent the majority of our time with local Panamanians, instead of isolating ourselves on the outside as observers. For this reason, we got to experience some of the lifestyle and learn the country’s history in an immersive way.

All students should  strive to learn about cultures that are not their own. Without Movement Exchange, I do not think I would have ever taken the time to explore dance outside of my studies. For me, the dance component is what propelled my experience abroad to be so impactful.

As we embark on our fifth year as a chapter at UCI, it is our mission to reach out to students outside of the dance department. Although we are a club that utilizes dance for civic engagement, we do not require those involved to be dance majors (nor do we prefer it). This year, we are focusing our efforts on expanding the club to all dance enthusiasts, with or without any formal dance training. We are also focusing on the outreach we do locally. Since the exchange in Panama, we realize that every geographic area has specific needs that can be filled through service; we want to focus on how we can make a difference in our immediate community. We believe it is important to share dance everywhere, as that is what Movement Exchange represents: we are moving to change.

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