Kalamazoo Arts Council grant takes WMU dancer to Panama

Contact: Sandra Hillring
Photo of Sarah Mills.

Sarah Mills (Photo credit: A. Deran Photography)

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—A passion for dance, a commitment to serve and an idea that began as a class assignment have taken one Western Michigan University dance major to Panama to explore the joy of movement with children in that nation's orphanages and centers for at-risk youth.

Junior Sarah Mills is in Panama City this summer with an organization called Movement Exchange to teach dance. She also has the opportunity to learn about culture, dance and life in that Central American capital city. Upon her return she wants to start a chapter of Movement Exchange at WMU.

Class project becomes real-world experience

The trip, the chance to work with Panamanian children and an opportunity to start a new chapter of Movement Exchange grew out of a class project in Mills' dance management course. In that class, she learned to write a grant proposal—something dancers and others in the arts and nonprofit sector depend on to help fund projects.

Her professor, Megan Slayter, later encouraged her to turn the proposal she wrote in class into a realized project, so she officially applied for funding through the Kalamazoo Artistic Development Initiative—KADI—of the Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo.

"With all the work I put into our class assignment grant, it was really quite simple to turn it in for real," says Mills. "Because of my enthusiasm to make this project a reality, I quickly jumped on the opportunity to apply for the KADI grant, and I could not be more grateful to have received full funding."

The chance to work with Movement Exchange added to her excitement.

"I've always loved entertaining the idea of combining my passions of dance and service," she says. "I love the service aspect of the nonprofit sector, and when I learned about Movement Exchange, I was immediately pulled in."

Mills gained experience teaching children to dance in her hometown of Warsaw, Indiana.

"I love dancing with children because of their natural energy, curiosity and vivaciousness, and I especially love working with children who may not be as privileged as other children," Mills says. "The way their eyes light up getting to do something that they have never done is incredibly rewarding."

Mills, who is pursuing a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in dance, says that she is getting so much more than she ever imagined out of that dance degree. From learning how many different paths are available in the dance world to gaining a rich knowledge of dance history and getting hands-on technical experience in lighting and staging, as Mills puts it, "We have the privilege of learning it all."

About Movement Exchange

Movement Exchange was founded in 2011 to create a global community of dancers passionate about local and international outreach. The organization finds success working with university students, who are empowered to have a positive impact on youth through dance—both in their own communities and around the world.

For more news, arts and events, visit wmich.edu/news.