Wow! What a week full of laughs, tears and endless smiles. This was my second exchange to Panama with Movement Exchange. When I left last year, I knew that I had to come back. I spent all year working with my fellow dance diplomats on the Move-Ex board’s fundraising committee to make sure that I, along with many returning and new dance diplomats, could revisit this beautiful country. At the beginning of this week, I gave myself a goal to reconnect with my passion and love for dance. Stepping out of my comfort zone is something that I have always struggled with and I wanted to push myself to do this. If you know me well at all, you would be surprised to hear that the breakdancing class we took was one of my favorite classes. The class concluded with a cypher, where each dancer goes into the middle of the circle one at a time and lets the surrounding energy guide their movement. The energy in the room was so high which created such a safe space for everyone to go into the middle of the circle and dance. Not one person felt uncomfortable to breakdance in the middle of the cypher. This shows how this exchange has created such a supportive environment as well as friendships and memories with one another that I will hold close to my heart forever.

A huge learning point that I had on this exchange was the actual “exchange” that went on and improvements that I made as a teacher. Since I do not speak much Spanish, there was a huge language barrier which made it very hard for me to teach. Each day I would challenge myself to teach an across the floor combination to school, foundation or orphanage that we went too. By the end of the week I was able to communicate my combination in Spanish and the dancers understood. There was a specific moment with a little girl at the Foundation who liked to show off the English words she knew and she would help me with understanding the Spanish words I did not know so that we were able to communicate with body language as well as with the actual languages themselves.  

One of my favorite moments this week was watching the girls at Malambo Orphanage perform three self-choreographed dances for us on our last day with them. Their contagious smiles lit up the entire gym. As I was watching, I started to tear up because these kids were so genuinely happy to share their hard work with us. I started to think about how not only do us, as dance diplomats, inspire the kids we work with here, but we are inspired by them, and this week these kids made such a huge impact on me. The positive energy and light that fills up the room when they are dancing with us reminds me why I do what I do and why I am pursuing a career in dance. I want to continue to positively influence others like how these kids have influenced me this week. Each individual dancer that I worked with this week had such a unique personality and passion for dance. This exchange has taught me to stay true to myself which is something that I often forget. I will be carrying these memories and special moments around with me forever.

- Kylie Vinitski, WMU Dance Diplomat