Dance students return from moving experience in Panama

Contact: Courtney Clancy
Photo of WMU students dancing with children in Panama.

WMU students engage children in dance while in Panama.

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—What started as a class project has now evolved into an active student organization on campus, an annual service trip to Panama and plans to bring dance education to at-risk youth in Kalamazoo.

Last year, dance major Sarah Mills was tasked with writing a grant proposal in her dance management course. With encouragement from her professor, Department of Dance Chair Megan Slayter, Mills submitted her proposal. A dream became a reality when Mills was awarded full funding through the Kalamazoo Artistic Development Initiative to start a chapter of Movement Exchange at WMU and venture to Central America to share her love of dance with underprivileged Panamanian children.

Since returning from her eye-opening Panama trip last summer, Mills has been an advocate for dance accessibility and a passionate leader of Movement Exchange on WMU’s campus. Through fundraising efforts and grant funding from the Western Student Association, Mills returned to Panama as a recent graduate last month for another week of exploring movement in Panamanian orphanages. This time, Mills was accompanied by 16 fellow dance majors who are now equally enthusiastic about the organization’s impact and potential.

"I came back incredibly changed from this experience last year with momentum to do stuff here," she said. "Now, [the other WMU Movement Exchange members] all have this fire lit inside them too."

Madelyn Donovan, the newly-appointed president of Western’s Movement Exchange chapter, was one of the 16 students to realize the power of dance on this year's trip.

"It sounds cliché, but dance is the universal language," Donovan said as she described overcoming a language barrier to communicate and connect with the Spanish-speaking children and teens. "Movement gets into them deeper and so much quicker than words could."

On her second exchange in Panama, Mills was again touched by the power of dance.

"Movement is vulnerable. To move with someone and share that with each other; to see them realize their potential; the amount you connect in such a short time; it's beautiful. It's moving."

Mills plans to continue blending her passions of dance and service as she pursues a professional dance career in Chicago. Meanwhile, Donovan and the other Movement Exchange student participants hope to bring Movement Exchange programming home to the at-risk youth in Kalamazoo and continue to change the world through dance.

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.

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