Dance and arts education in general have an amazing ability to allow children to discover their strengths and bring people together. More than just physical movement, dance is a medium for so many emotional and psychological benefits such as creativity, leadership, and self-confidence.

There are more tangible benefits as well. A study that examined 90 students from three different magnet high schools in Florida revealed that cumulative GPA was significantly higher among dancers than non-dancers, and research has found that students who participate in dance consistently show higher aptitude for originality and abstract thought.

At Movement Exchange, an organization which brings year-round dance programs to underserved communities in the U.S. and Latin America, one of our values is sustainability. We believe that the skills learned in a dance class will be useful in kids’ personal lives, school, work, and relationships.

While the young people we work with may not have access to the best education or have a traditional family to support them, one thing they do have is dance — and what they learn will continue to lift them up.

In the past eight years, we have:

  • Engaged over 1,838 dance volunteers in 38,463 hours of local and international dance service.
  • Expanded chapter models to 20 universities in the United States. Chapters commit to domestic and international service work year-round.
  • Provided over 2,136 dance classes taught by local instructors throughout Panama. In one survey we conducted of the students participating in this region, there was increase in teamwork by 30%, while 86% said they could be friends with people from another country and 100% reported a positive self image.

Moving With Impact

In keeping with the organization’s vision of sustainable education, we staff the programs with local pre-professional and professional instructors, providing jobs in the community. And, from 2010-2015, our pro bono services generated the equivalent of more than $820,000 toward community impact.

Here’s just one example of the impact our programs can have. In May 2017, a group of students from Western Michigan University traveled to Panama to teach dance at our partner locations. These dance “diplomats” taught classes in the afternoon at Malambo Orphanage. One of the girls at this orphanage, Dairy, had arrived about a year prior to WMU’s visit and was extremely shy: She hadn’t really seemed to connect much to any of the other girls at the orphanage. One of the diplomats from WMU, Madelyn, noticed something special in Dairy and immediately started dancing with her. Although the two of them couldn’t speak the same language, they could connect through dance. Watching Madelyn and Dairy part at the end of the week was something bittersweet — we could all tell that both of them had been changed forever.

Since last May, Dairy has become one of our star students in breakdance class and now smiles bigger than ever before. She has friends in the orphanage and everyone cheers her on while she’s practicing her footwork. Dance not only allowed her to connect with those around her, but has made her more confident, creative, happy, and fearless.

What You Can Do

Don’t underestimate the power of the arts. When funding gets cut, the arts are the first to go. With so many amazing benefits, we want to encourage everyone to support the arts. Whether it’s donating, volunteering for a program, or teaching community dance class yourself, you can make a difference.

Appreciate the art of performance. When you see a kid dancing on stage, imagine what the process may have looked like for them to get there. From stepping into that first dance class to spending hours practicing with their peers, the process that it takes to perform in front of an audience is long and difficult. Be sure to support the young people in your own lives that are putting in such hard work.

Dance like nobody’s watching. That same sense of joy and empowerment is what we’re striving to bring to all.