JUNTOS recently returned from Mexico for the 10th year in a row. This was the first time JUNTOS has conducted two trips at once:
A two-week volunteer trip that conducts outreach across Mexico and works with several diverse communities, working in Oaxaca, Juchitán, San Cristóbal de las Casas, and Tuxtla Gutierrez.
A one-week trip for returning volunteers that want to develop their leadership skills and dive deeper into our work in a singular community. The Immersion group works with a youth ballet folklórico company for a week in Oaxaca, teaching contemporary classes and learning classical Mexican dances, and conducting outreach together in Oaxaca.
JUNTOSImmersion moves one step beyond JUNTOSAbroad. It introduces local dancers of tangible ways to use their art through social service, with the hopes they might develop their own programs within their communities once JUNTOS has departed.
With both groups traveling simultaneously, our schedule was jam-packed! Here is what our first week of intercultural exchange looked like…
domingo 6 enero
Our Abroad students arrived in Mexico today and had the opportunity to meet the Immersion students right away. All volunteers were eager to begin outreach work, and the Abroad students were especially excited to work with Alumna and choreographer Liv Schaffer, who will be resetting Paloma Negra, a piece which has been in JUNTOS Repertory for over five years.
lunes 7 enero
JUNTOSAbroad volunteers rehearsed in the morning at Casa de la Cultura in Oaxaca. A crowd of local students gathered, and were thrilled to watch the dancers rehearse, expressing their excitement to be helping with the JUNTOS outreach activities this week.
After lunch, the volunteers had rehearsal with Liv Schaffer. After a little bit of downtime, both Immersion and Abroad dancers were off to work with a local folklorico group. The JUNTOS volunteers conducted icebreaker dance games to get to know the group, and discussed the week ahead of cultural exchange. During introductions to the group, all participants answered the question: why do you dance? The answers were varied and included “I dance, because it heals me,” “I dance because it is my way to express feelings words do not exist for.” Yet another moment reminding us that people love art for similar reasons.
Both groups conducted a quick debrief after dinner and spent the rest of the evening prepping for their first teaching workshops the following day. New JUNTOS participants were nervous yet excited about teaching their first dance classes in Spanish!
martes 8 enero
Today was a long day for all dancers, while also being incredibly fulfilling.
Early morning, JUNTOSImmersion taught a workshop to ballet and contemporary dance students at Casa de la Cultura, before meeting up with the JUNTOSAbroad students to go to Casa de la Nina, a foster home for young girls. The folklorico group that they were working with at the cultural center came to help with teaching, and they were incredibly interactive and helpful! Casa de la Nina was a difficult place to visit for the students: this home, run by the church, is very low on funds and staff members. The foster girls (ages 5-11 years), loved creating their own choreography and sharing it in groups. In past years that JUNTOS has visited Casa de la Nina, the girls were shy and contained, yet this year many of them remembered our previous visits and were excited to be dancing with us again!
After lunch, both groups went to Escuela de Santa Cecilia, a music school outside of Oaxaca city that has a truly unique story: the school was started in a neighborhood best known for its location next to a garbage dump, where a group of friends started a band. Many of the children from the neighborhood started attending band rehearsals and were inspired to learn how to play an instrument as well. Noticing the lack of resources within the community, the members of the band decided to create a program for the community
The school has changed the landscape of the neighborhood, and the ways in which outsiders view the people that live there. Over the years, the neighborhood has witnessed less gang violence. More students than ever before were attending college. It was inspiring for JUNTOS to see others creating change through the arts, especially in a place which such little resources.
Afterwards, Immersion and Abroad volunteers taught a workshop to a professional folklorico group, a humbling experience for JUNTOS who noticed the dedication and passion that each dancer brought into the studio. The day ended with Immersion teaching their last workshop at the DIF in Oaxaca, working with a group of teenagers who have been victims of abuse and neglect. Many of these teens have been neglected by their families, but have found a safe space at the DIF. This was the second time JUNTOS visited this location — we have seen our relationship flourish with the community at the DIF, something we hope to continue in the future.
Tuesday was certainly our Marathon Day!
miercoles 9 enero
Abroad volunteers spent the morning in rehearsal with Liv for Paloma Negra, while the Immersion students had the opportunity to prepare for upcoming performances and workshops.
During the afternoon, both groups travelled to the Hospital Infantil Oaxaca, a hospital specifically for kids with cancer. The dancers performed beautifully for this community — both the kids and parents were lively and engaged. What we often notice about performances in hospitals like this one is that the art is as therapeutic to the parents as it is to the children: the parents finally have a moment to step away from their emotional worry and stress and can enjoy something beautiful and simple that is in front of them. Through this respite, our hope is they can better support themselves and their children.
Afterwards, both groups successfully team taught the Folklorico group, working to create a piece for them to perform the following day. Another long and fulfilling day!
viernes 11 enero
This morning, JUNTOSAbroad students were at Casa de la Cultura for their last rehearsal with Liv. This was a special process for the Abroad dancers: Liv allowed each dancer to insert themselves and their ideas into the piece, and get to know each person in the piece more profoundly. Experiencing mentorship from a JUNTOS Alumna like Liv helped each dancer learn to use the energy and surroundings from each performance to help develop their artistry.
In the afternoon, Abroad and Immersion groups came together for a final debrief about the week (Immersion was leaving us soon!). Each Abroad dancer was paired with an Immersion dancer and they discussed a few topics and questions prompted by the JUNTOS staff.
Afterwards, we headed to the Zocalo for a final performance with both groups.
sábado 12 enero
Everyone spent the morning at Monte Albán, a well deserved break from all of the teaching and performing. It was also our final goodbye to Immersion students before they traveled home.
(And a final goodbye!)
domingo 13 enero
Immersion students travelled home today — we were incredibly happy with the way this trip turned out and the way it fostered leadership opportunities within the volunteers that were a part of it.
Before their returns, the Immersion dancers had the opportunity to be a part of a “movement ceremony” with local Artist Alicia Jimenez. They created this through visual art and movement a unique experience to say goodbye to Mexico and their experiences from the past week.
The Abroad students still have a week to go, so they had another full day of programming!
First stop: Colonia Simona Robles, a community of women and children that have suffered domestic abuse, or require support for their family. The workshop age range was huge…JUNTOS volunteers taught a group between the ages of 3 and 23 years! It was inspiring to see the parents as engaged as the children. After the workshop, JUNTOS dancers were able to hang out with the families, have snacks and celebrate Dia de los Reyes with them (clowns and gifts included).
Afterwards, the dancers had dinner and then a longer debrief. The focus of the debrief was the development of each individual as a teacher and as a performing artist: how their experiences abroad with JUNTOS have helped this develop, bring them joy and confidence in their art.