Dance students return from service trip in Panama

Contact: Deanne Puca

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Twenty Western Michigan University students returned recently from a weeklong volunteer trip to Panama, where they provided free dance classes to children who wouldn't otherwise have access to arts education.

Photo of WMU dance students in Panama.

WMU dance students at the Reserva Cerro Ancón in Ancón, Panama. (Photo credit: Allison Yates)

This was the second year WMU students have participated in the nonprofit service program, Movement Exchange, which provides free, year-round dance classes at partner orphanages and at-risk youth foundations in Panama and the United States.

The student "dance diplomats" spent the week of May 7-14 dancing, learning and inspiring young people by taking and teaching classes with dance majors at the University of Panama, taking a contemporary/aerial dance class from a professional Panamanian dance company, and providing free dance education to children at Aldea SOS Orphanage in Panama City, Malambo Orphanage, Hogar de la Infancia, Fundación Danilo Perez, and the arts foundation, Danzarea.

Photo of Kelci Winchell posing with a child from the orphanage.

WMU dance student Kelci Winchell poses with a child at the Malambo Orphanage, Panama.  (Photo credit: Allison Yates)

"This trip has impacted me spiritually, mentally, emotionally and physically," says junior Madelyn Donovan, a WMU dance major from Fort Wayne, Indiana, who made her second trip to Panama this year. "Mentally, I observed a different lifestyle and approach to dance that has made me question my own view and approach to dance and life. Emotionally, I attached myself to the kids and culture making it extremely hard to say goodbye. Spiritually, I was challenged to live in a more fearless way. I'm leaving humbled and inspired to live life more mindfully."

"We have found that having access to dance education greatly improves the students' sense of self and creativity," adds Adele Switzer, Panama Fellow for the national organization. "Through dance, many of our students have found a way to express their emotions. Dance and the arts have become a form of expressing their anger, happiness, joy, excitement and fear."

Through dance, children are able to strengthen community bonds, improve their sense of self worth, and gain life skills that will lead to their success as influential members of society, says Switzer. Participation in this program not only provides free dance classes during the week, but also supports Movement Exchange's free year-round dance programming in Panama.

By organizing international dance exchanges and providing year-round dance programming in Panama, Movement Exchange promotes cross-cultural understanding and self confidence in the university students who attend the exchange as well as the children who participate in these programs.

About Movement Exchange

Photo of aerial dancers.

Aerial class at Xielo/Gramo Danse. (Photo credit: Allison Yates)

Movement Exchange is a 501(c)(3) organization that unites dance and service through its network of university chapters, international dance exchanges and year-round programs in underserved communities. Founded in 2010, Movement Exchange provides dancers the opportunity to travel to Panama to teach dance to children in orphanages and at-risk youth foundations. To support sustainable dance education, Movement Exchange provides free, year-round dance classes at its partner locations in Panama and the United States.

For more information about the WMU chapter of Movement Exchange, visit

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