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Students plan to help children through dance group Movement Exchange

Dance sophomore Allyson Yoder has been passionately studying dance since childhood. To her, dance is more than just an art; it's a way of life.

Yoder first learned about the nonprofit organization Movement Exchange last spring from another dancer. She co-founded the ASU chapter in September with a friend who had been on a Movement Exchange trip before. Yoder took the presidency when her co-founder stepped down in November.

“I’m really interested in the way that dance can really transform individuals and really transform communities,” Yoder said.

Through Movement Exchange, Yoder and students like her are able to experience firsthand the effect dance can have on individuals and communities. The program allows dancers to use their skills to help communities.

“Movement Exchange is an international nonprofit organization that works to promote cross-cultural awareness through dance education,” she said. “We are Movement Exchange at ASU. Our goal is to travel to Panama this summer to volunteer with Movement Exchange, and we’ll be spending a week there teaching dance and teaching leadership through dance.”

To students like Yoder, artistic movement and dance has the power to change a person’s life from the inside out.

“We believe that studying dance and having access to dance education gives children in particular a sense of emotional stability and well-being by giving them an outlet to express their emotions,” she said. “It promotes physical health. It gives kids a sense of self-worth and identity to study the arts because they have something that they’re skilled at that they can be really proud of.”

Many impoverished children around the world do not have access to the arts or a chance to learn about and explore dance or music. Movement Exchange students can share their passion and hope to impart a sense of identity and beauty to children who would never experience such things on their own.

“It’s providing access to the arts to kids who wouldn’t otherwise have it,” Yoder said. “It comes with so many other benefits.”

While students are traveling to Panama to help underprivileged children, they realize that people are in poverty everywhere in the world, including in the U.S., she said.

“It’s important to recognize that poverty and inequality doesn’t just exist in ... developing nations, that is here in the U.S. as well,” Yoder said. “It’s really important to me that we understand that. There are a lot of kids in the U.S. that also don’t have access to these dance opportunities.”

Travel and community service experience among the 11 dancers planning to travel this summer varies tremendously. Some, like Yoder, already have experience volunteering in other countries, while some have never left the U.S.

No matter the level of prior experience, the trip has the potential to forever change the way these students view the world. Yoder said she hopes that seeing the way people are changed by dance will encourage her fellow students to become more active in their own communities.

“I hope what the trip will spark for us is a dialogue about ... what (we can) do about (poverty) here,” Yoder said. “I feel that we could really make an impact in our own communities.”

Making the Panama trip actually happen will require substantial funding. The cost for each person to travel is about $2,400. Dancers are seeking support from the community and fellow students.

“We’re definitely looking for support from the community right now because we have a pretty hefty fundraising goal,” she said. “They can make donations online to our cause and those go directly to Movement Exchange.”

The group also plans to host several fundraising events on and off campus in the months leading up to the trip.

“We’re also putting on a lot of events on campus for students,” Yoder said. “We really want to make it accessible to students.”

The two largest scheduled events are a Zumbathon on March 21, which has a $5 admission fee, and a weekend dance workshop. The workshops will give students of all dance levels a chance to learn multiple forms of dance for a small fee.

In addition to raising funds for the trip to Panama, students hope to establish enthusiasm and support for the ASU chapter of Movement Exchange.

“Our long-term goals are to establish a sustainable chapter of Movement Exchange on campus that every year will not only do this, but also provide opportunities for students who are dancers and want to get involved in travel and service through dance,” Yoder said.

Psychology freshman Michelle Marji, an ASU Movement Exchange member, is excited to travel to Panama this summer, because she knows from experience what it is like to not have access to the arts.

“It’s really important to me because when I was younger I couldn’t afford to be in dance or anything like that,” Marji said. “The only reason I got involved in dance was because they offered it at my middle school, and I really wanted to try it, and it was free. So, if I didn’t have that free experience, I wouldn’t be dancing now.”

Marji said having the chance to learn and get involved in dance shaped her life. For her, it is a way to express herself and deal with what may be happening in her life. She wants to share dance with the children in Panama because she knows the power it has to change people’s lives.

“I think it’s really important that all kids have that experience,” Marji said.

Movement Exchange at ASU is already growing. Psychology freshman Elaina Espinosa received an email a few months ago detailing the Movement Exchange program and decided to get involved.

“They were talking about dancing and volunteering and traveling, and those are my three main passions in life,” Espinosa said.

She brought her friend to a Movement Exchange meeting and has been involved ever since.

Espinosa is excited to travel and see how the dance affects children in a different country. She said she thinks she will bring a lot back about how the children are living and how they are using dance to express themselves and get through some of their struggles.

“I’m just super, super excited to go,” Espinosa said. “I think it’s gonna be a really eye-opening experience.”

Reach the reporter at or follow her on Twitter @Melissa152163.

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