from Michaela Ellingson
I am not capable of fully articulating the vast spectrum of emotions that I experienced in Guatemala and as I return home it is hard for me to accept the lifestyle I lead. I will try my best to explain how the JUNTOS trip stirred up a new awareness and appreciation inside me for the life I have been given and the one I want to lead.
In Guatemala I learned how to accept myself for what I am and to be confident with what I have to give. Performing to me as always been about how I feel and how I look, but when looking into the eyes of children whose future are beyond uncertain, I learned not how to perform but how to give hope. By dancing in an orphanage, the children’s ward of a hospital and a home for HIV positive children, I finally grasped the power of movement, the power of eye contact and the power of a smile. Instead of dancing in venues where all I could see is a sea of black or a mirror reflection, I was dancing in intimate spaces where I could see the eyes of children who have seen more pain in their life than I have at twice their age. I was put in situations where I had to look those children in the eye and let go of all my fears and insecurities in order to convey to them that the world is beautiful place and that they will be okay. I had to smile at them to let them know that I understand it has been hard but I want them to try to forget their pain, if even for just a second. Once I had given a piece of myself to them through dance they always reciprocated with boundless affection. The time we spent playing with the children after the performances was beyond perfect, it was a sharing of genuine love.
I also learned that for those who truly crave to move, a dance class can bring the greatest joy. It brings a happiness that is not fleeting or material but it brings a honest surge of energy and bliss. I was overwhelmed by the amount of enthusiasm from the dancers in many of the workshops we taught. It was if the information we were giving them was fresh air that was filling their lungs and making them whole again. Watching them dance brought me clarity on why I fell in love with it in the first place and the pure and genuine delight they exuded made me feel as if all my broken parts became whole again.
The trip to Guatemala pushed me to step outside my box of ignorance and selfishness and reminded me what is truly important in my life and in what I want to give to the world. The people and the landscape were beyond welcoming and embraced us with open arms. Lake Atitlan refreshed my spirit and the communities in San Marcos, Xela, Retalhuleu and Guatemala City taught me the importance of loving unconditionally, being bold and not holding anything back. I can’t even begin the thank Joanna, the JUNTOS community, my fellow dancers and my supporters who made this trip possible and who shared this worthwhile experience with me. Guatemala will forever be in my heart and I have grown into a bigger shell of understanding and grace from my time there.