Panama Movement Exchange: School of Dance Students Engage in Arts Advocacy

May 03 2017

By Guest Writer: Rachel Luebbert

An ever-pressing heat swirls in the air, while Reaggeton music seeps out of windows like curling smoke, and the people fill the streets—talking, moving, dancing. These are the streets of Panama City: never silent, never still, always caught in relentless movement

Over Spring Break, nine School of Dance undergraduates, two graduates, and Assistant Professor, Jennifer Weber and Assistant Librarian, Lorelei Rutledge traveled to Panama to engage in a movement exchange program. During this trip, each student taught a dance or creative movement class while also, collectively taking various dance classes and learning about the role of dance in community engagement and advocacy.

Brianna Lopez (second year, modern MFA) explained that this trip taught her the importance of being proven wrong, “Before we left I had this idea of going to orphanages without resources and teaching really sad children that I would need to motivate and empower. However, I was immediately proven wrong. At every school the children were happily living their important lives and so eager to move and dance.” Lopez taught improvisation to students aged 10-18 at Aldea Infantiles SOS, a protective home for children in Panama City. Lopez’s class was investigatory including different partner activities that explored the body that culminated in a showing of these duets.  What emerged was the collective creating and sharing of dance that developed from such a beautifully natural and honest place.

Later at Escuela San Jose de Malambo, a primarily, all-girls orphanage, Gloria Morin (senior, modern BFA) taught a creative movement class to children ages 5-9. Morin led the students through exploratory activities, theatre games, and a group combination that was performed on the final day. Morin explained, “As I was preparing, I wrote many phrases down in Spanish so that I would know the vocabulary, but I still expected to be very dependent on a translator. However, when it came to finally teaching, I found that I could teach most of the class without outside assistance.” Like Morin’s success with teaching in Spanish, Jennifer Weber explained that every student that embarked on this trip had a moment where they overcame an obstacle and had a transformative experience.

Webber taught two classes at Gramo Danse, a professional dance and aerial company in Panama City. During the second day, Webber facilitated improvisational duets between U students and Panamanian dancers, “I watched as raw conversations and trust emerged between two bodies who did not speak the same verbal language.” Nicholas Daulton (junior, modern BFA) reflected, “During this class I felt deeply connected through my body to another human being. This is what life is about—connecting and being.” This connection to humans and the change possible through movement is accessible everywhere: in Panama, in Utah, and in any community filled with moving bodies.