Today JUNTOS dance volunteers & staff traveled to Guatemala City airport from their homes all across the United States. The group will stay the night in Guatemala City before traveling to Retalhaleu in the morning. The dance volunteers get to meet each other for the first time & get to know JUNTOS staff members.
This trip, Rachel Higbee, JUNTOS Board member, will be traveling as an assistant to Amy McMurchie, JUNTOS Abroad Director. Also joining them is International Liaison, Christian Barrios. Autumn Eckman will be our resident choreographer, setting a new work on the dance volunteers for the first week of the trip. We can’t wait to see what is created!
After everyone arrived Rachel & Christian spent time doing icebreakers & went over tomorrow’s schedule. Let the journey begin!
Monday was mostly spent traveling. In the early morning the dance volunteers rehearsed on the hotel’s roof. They pieced together JUNTOS repertory “Saludo” and “Paloma”, both choreographed by Liv Schaffer. The dance volunteers are sent videos of JUNTOS dance pieces that they learn while they are at home. The first few days of the trip are spent working together, organizing and perfecting the steps and details.
After Amy arrived the group loaded up the van, driven by GianCarlo. The trip from GC (Guatemala City) to Reu (Retalhaleu) is long and there were a few delays along the way. They arrived in the evening and had dinner. Afterwards the group rehearsed for the performance they have tomorrow morning.
This morning the dance volunteers and staff woke up and had breakfast around 7 AM. They organized costumes and left in the van for the trip’s first performance! There can be a lot of nerves before the first show of each trip. Today’s performance is at Colegio Mixto D’Antoni, a private school for students, Pre-K to middle school. The dance volunteers performed “Saludo” and “Paloma” as well as a solo brought by Megan Vamvakas. After the performance the students rushed the JUNTOS dancers! Gifts in the form of photographs, conversations, autographs, and snacks were shared.
JUNTOS went back to the hotel and worked with Autumn Eckman. During the rehearsal there was a lot of collaboration, including journaling and creation of phrase work by the dance volunteers. Then the group prepared for the upcoming workshop and left for the space they would be teaching in.
The organization JUNTOS is working with today is called Escuela de Arte. This partner org is special to JUNTOS because it was created by students who have collaborated with & participated in JUNTOS programming in the past. It was so great to see returning faces & new friends! Danny led the first workshop, doing across the floor work and a combination. Then at the end of the workshop there was a dance party & lots of pictures taken.The group walked back to the hotel, to continue rehearsing & do some journaling. After dinner, there was a final rehearsal of “Fledge”, “MeMeMe Makes Three”, then working on refining the details of “Paloma Negra” & “Saludo”. After a long day of dancing, JUNTOS staff & dance volunteers said, “Buenas Noches!”
Wednesday! After an early breakfast, JUNTOS left for a high school in Reu. There they performed for an excited audience! It was a super hot day, but the audience danced along with the choreography & was so engaged in the performance. Following the show, there were many photos taken, lots of hugs, and JUNTOS invited the students to a workshop that would be held later in the Parque Central. The dance volunteers had an hour rehearsal with Autumn, then paused for a quick lunch. Then the dancers dove back into the work with Autumn for another two hours.
The group then headed to the workshop space, where they waited for the Escuela de Arte students, some of the students from yesterday’s workshop, and high schoolers from the performance earlier that day. Dance volunteer, Madison did a warm-up and then across the floor work, which included some partnering and contact improvisation. Danny reviewed his combination from yesterday with the workshop participants, then David added a hip hop section onto the end.
After the workshop, Escuela de Arte and JUNTOS did a mini performance exchange. JUNTOS dance volunteers showed Autumn’s work in progress, Fledge, and “Paloma Negra”. Escuela de Arte dancers did a hip hop number that was so in sync and super exciting and fun! They even performed a juggling act for us!
JUNTOS returned to the hotel, after stopping to buy food and snacks for the trip to Xela. After dinner, the group did history lessons. Each dance volunteer is given a topic to research, surrounding the history, art & culture, current events, and U.S. relations, of the country they are visiting with JUNTOS. After the presentations on each section the group split into two, to debrief and discuss the work the dance volunteers have done over the past few days.
This morning the group left the hotel in Reu for the theme park, Xetulul, where they spent two hours riding rides and exploring the park! Then they packed into the van with Giancarlo for the drive to Xela. After arriving the group headed to lunch. JUNTOS staff helped the dance volunteers understand the layout of Xela & went over the itinerary for the rest of the day.
The first workshop in Xela was with Transformando Vidas, a community organization committed to ending the cycle of poverty by providing high school level education and outside opportunities for teens in the surrounding community.
The group of attendees started with about 50 female students, who had great energy and enjoyed laughing with one another. As the workshop went on, onlookers saw how much fun the group was having, and quickly joined during the end of the workshop, where the class was learning a dance combination. It was so special to see a wide range of levels of dance amongst the participants. The JUNTOS dance volunteers then performed Autumn’s work in progress for the students.
JUNTOS then moved to the space for the next workshops, at Escenic Dance. The dance volunteers worked with Autumn for two hours. Although it was a bit hectic with flickering lights and sharing the space with Escenic dancers, they got a lot of the dance finished. Escenic is a large studio and their alumni come to join the collaborative workshops. JUNTOS taught an energetic jazz workshop. The Escenic dancers were such strong movers, impressing JUNTOS staff with their focus, investment, and discipline. After the JUNTOS workshop, Escenic taught a salsa workshop with its core company members, who tour and participate in competitions. This was the first salsa class for many of the JUNTOS dance volunteers, who loved the rapid hip movements and stylistic salsa steps. This workshop was definitely a highlight of the trip so far!
Happy Friday! It’s almost been a week since JUNTOS landed in Guatemala! Today began with breakfast, then a drive to Zunil, a town outside the city of Xela. JUNTOS arrived at a public school we have visited many times on past trips. The dance volunteers got ready and then had a wonderful performance for the school children. This audience was so excited and participated frequently by applauding and moving in their seats with the music and choreography. After the dance volunteers finished, the children ran up asking for autographs, high-fives, and hugs.
JUNTOS then walked through Zunil to visit a textiles store, operated by women living in Zunil, who are working to aid their community through their profits. JUNTOS has always made sure to visit every time we are in Zunil. When one of the women realized JUNTOS visited Zunil each year, and that we made sure to visit the school as well as the store, she was incredibly grateful for us. She thanked us for supporting the work that they did in their community. The group left after taking photos and purchasing goods, then stopped by the church to take some photos before heading back to Xela for lunch.
JUNTOS dance volunteers and staff then prepped and left for the second workshop with Transformando Vidas. There were about 50-60 participants this time! Rachel, the trip assistant was so impressed by the energy of the dance volunteers and their level of comfort with teaching. They have grown so much over the trip. After the workshop, the dance volunteers performed a short program for the school community. The performance was outside on the school’s court, and students were everywhere, on balconies, bleachers, or sitting on the ground. This provided a unique atmosphere for dance volunteers who are used to performing in dark theaters! The students were so engaged and happy during the show, and afterwards JUNTOS passed out bracelets, took photos, and talked with students and staff.
Dance volunteers and staff traveled back to Xela, where they rehearsed with Autumn at Escenic Studio. They finished the second half, which includes the use of shoes as props. The main theme of the dance piece is around shoes and the journey we take in our shoes.
After their rehearsal, JUNTOS dance volunteers took another workshop from Escenic. The Escenic dancers taught JUNTOS another Latin style, called Bachata. It was so much fun for JUNTOS dance volunteers to learn another style outside of their comfort zone. Afterwards, JUNTOS taught another jazz class. After a few days of collaboration, dancers from both JUNTOS and Escenic felt they learned so much about other dance techniques they were uncomfortable with, and felt great about creating community together. Escenic dancers made JUNTOS t-shirts with the Escenic logo on them! Each shirt was individually packaged, and the packaging had quotes written on them. What a special gift!
That night the dance volunteers got a surprise. The group drove to the top of a mountain, where they took a haunted walk in the woods. It was a tour that told old wives’ tales, legends, and history of the area. There was lots of smoke, trees, and tableaus all around. They had a frighteningly exciting time.
The first week ended with a free day! The group drove outside of Xela to Las Fuentes Georginas, a natural hot springs in Zunil. They spent 2 hours in the hot springs, then had food and snacks. The group returned to Xela to rest up for the long week ahead!