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Follow us as we travel to five cities! Read about our day-to-day adventures and hear first-hand what a trip is like. Written (mostly) by Joanna Poz-Molesky, JUNTOS Director


Our last morning as a group. As our flights didn’t leave until gua1530the afternoon, we ate a relaxing breakfast together and meandered through Antigua one last time. At 9:30am we reluctantly boarded the van, waiving goodbye to the wonderful country, people, and experiences we had encountered for the past two weeks. Our time at the airport had finally arrived. We hugged each other tightly, knowing we will carry pieces of one another always. Thank you Guatemala, for an incredible experience. You are in our hearts and we leave a part of our hearts in you.

A crisp and early 6:00am Xela morning… the time had come to depart to Antigua. We had just enough time during our three and a half hour drive to stop for a quick breakfast, then rushed off to our 11:00am performance at Hospicio San Jose Milpas Altas, a center for HIV+ children. JUNTOS dancers jumped out of the van, grabbed their costumes and dancewear, and ran into the hospital to change. It’s hard to think about dancing for sick children, especially when some of them have been abandoned. As soon as the music started and dancers entered the space, the children were just children smiling back in their tiny colorful plastic chairs. Joy. And what more could we have asked for than an encore? “Otra, Otra!” they demanded for another piece, so of course we performed our infamous Isn’t it gua1529Grand by Jessica Knuth (past JUNTOS participant). We spent the little time we had after the show dancing and chatting (with our little but growing Spanish knowledge). We would happily have stayed for more time, but the children needed to eat promptly at 12:30pm to aid in controlling their immune system and medications. Back in the van for JUNTOS. A short stop at the hotel to drop off bags and then off to our final show to bring it full circle: a retirement home. Cobblestone streets offered a slow drive to the other side of town where the small home resides; we were able to shift gears and prepare for our final performance together. As Sussan, Christian and I gathered necessary items for music and cleared the performance space, Rachel huddled with the six dancers: what a wonderfulgua1528 group of women they were and what amazing gifts they have to share with the world. Yes, the closing 2:00pm performance was stupendous. A couple dancers wept silently in their movements, they danced with a newfound sensation they later shared with me. (Heather dubbed this feeling ‘JUNTOSy’ – tears of happiness and fulfillment.) Fulfillment indeed. We thanked the elders for allowing us to share their space, loaded into the van, then headed back to the hotel to drop off bags. A couple hours of free time, a visit to Doña Luisa for lunch, where an aroma of freshly baked bread wafted through the restaurant, and finally a short trip to the market. We closed our trip with a dinner together at a quaint restaurant in Antigua’s center, short debrief, and short written activity.

We wandered over to the Teatro Municipal at 9:00am after our breakfasgua1525t juntos. Relaxed last minute rehearsals (how could they be anything less after 2 weeks performing together?), make-up, hair, warming up… Dancers prepared for performance in Quetzaltenango’s largest and oldest theater (quite beautiful I might add). At 11:30am students from nearby schools, children from various foster homes, kids from two-hour away Totoniopán, and friends from Xela gathered as we danced in one last public performance in Guatemala for 2015. Spectacular moments onstage outweighed the few sound glitches (an old theater with sound technicians that like to play with the equipment). A short gathering with select students after the show, then we bolted out for a quick lunch before hopping back gua1526into the van for a 2:00pm workshop with 20 youth from CEIPA. (CEIPA: an organization supporting young people that work on the streets to further their education, health, and nutrition.) Giggles filled the first few minutes of the hour-long workshop; the jóvenes (young people) were not accustomed to moving their bodies in taboo ways: hip isolations, stretches on the ground, and flatbacks (a Lester Horton exercise where you bend your body forward at the waist 90 degrees creating a table). Sussan (international JUNTOS liaison) said it well: it’s like when you eat a new kind of food, you don’t like it at all because it’s so different! And after a little while of eating, you gua1527realize you either love it and want more or decide it’s not for you. Sure enough, about 25 minutes into the workshop the giggles and whispers stopped and suddenly students were eager, interested in the pas de bourees, the side hip pulls. They did not want to stop! But alas, the time had come since we had other classes to give. As a closing activity Heather and Chelsea danced together in Ariane Michaud’s Soledad, a wonderful contemporary dance to Spanish musician Buika. 3:30pm had arrived; it was time to dart out of CEIPA and back to the theater for our last workshops at 4:00pm with Xela dancers. Awesome repertoire workshops with Heather and Chelsea from 4:00-5:15pm and then an informal showing of our pieces. Oh, and how everyone danced their little hearts out! Xela dancers during repertoire and JUNTOS dancers during the informal showing. Yes, they are bonded through dance. Unity through movement. Whew, what a closure for Xela. Right after workshops ended, Rachel and I gathered the six JUNTOS dancers back in our room for a discussion on Xela; tears streamed down faces due to the rawness dancers felt being here and the strength they gained in experiences together. Rachel’s Dr. Seuss quote on weirdness said it all for them: they are all so different from one another but found in it all, Love. And so, hand in hand (metaphorically) JUNTOS wandered to the Cuartito in Xela for dinner. Who should show up for one last hurrah at our 9:00pm dinner? Friends from Xela and Retalhuleu (Reu is 2 hours away)! Yes, the evening ended on the light step of salsa dancing in celebration of wonderful bonds made.

JUNTOS and Retahluleu dancers jumped into the bus at 10:00am that would take us to the public hospital. Yep, that’s right: dancers from Retalhuleu would join us for the first time EVER in one of our outreach performances! Miguel, Nekiss, and Wilson squeezed into the van as we awaitedgua1520 Nestor who would join with audio equipment. The group of now 14 arrived in the pediatric area of the hospital by 10:50agua1521m, enough time to warm up and mark whatever was needed in the space before our 11:15am start. The 25 minutes of work time also gave me enough time to learn a special simple dance with Wilson! Yes, the director of JUNTOS would dance in Guatemala for the first time in 5 years, and with a local none the less! Oh, the performance was marvelous. Sharing a stgua1522age with friends and JUNTOS family in such a special place. Giving, sharing together; it was so gratifying. The three boys had incredible things to say about their experience dancing in a hospital, something they’d never done before. (I will hopefully be able to post something written by them soon!) After the show was over and we greeted patients, parents, and doctors, we returned for lunch at 12:30pm and had just enough time before our 2:00pm workshop. We switched our workshop groups from Wednesday: Megan (with help from Chelsea and Heather!) taught jazzgua1523 to the more advanced, while Emily, Connor, and Marissa taught a modern class to the intermediate level. Great feedback from both workshops. Marianna, JUNTOS participant for three years now, followed our workshop by teaching a cuban-based (salsa) class at 4:30pm. At the end of the class, dancers were offered an opportunity to improv with a fusion of modern and salsa – definitely a new experience! We finished classes a little before 6:00pm and went on our way. As Rachel and I had a few meetings, dancers had a night off (imagine that!), some took more classes with Nestor at his studio, others rested a bit and ate dinner.

We arrived in Xela at 11:00am: just a short one and a halfhour drive from the warm, humid climate of Retalhuleu to the cool mountains of Quetzaltenango (we even had time to stop in Zunil to saludar (greet and say hello) to some of my family. After a tour of our hostel, JUNTOS dancers explored the parque central (central park) a bit before our afternoon workshop. Our group arrived at our space (the Teatro Municipal degua1518 Quetzaltenangogua1519) early, allowing us to begin promptly at 2:30pm. Dancers attending the Xela workshops were both old and new to JUNTOS; we decided to break the group up into two separate classes to challenge dancers as much as possible. A few of our friends from Xetulul even joined (Miguel, Nekiss, Wilson)! We conducted one modern and one jazz class. Both challenging and divertido (fun!). At 4:30pm we switched teachers: Nestor Rodriguez, 5-year participant with JUNTOS, offered an hour latin dance class for all participants. Of course we ran over a few minutes, causing us to sprint out of the theater so as not to cause disruption with theater staff that wanted to close the doors at 6:00pm. Our friends weren’t ready to say goodbye and instead invited us for tea which was followed by dinner at Cafe RED, a local organization. Oh, and our night was not over by 10:30pm when we finally left Cafe RED! … Salsa night! Yes, we danced our little hearts and learned a few more salsa tricks. Smiles, laughter, and tired dancers returned to the hotel a couple hours later. Yes, they were ready for more adventures the next day.

Refreshed from a full night’s sleep! 7:30am breakfast again and 9:00am start to our workshops. Chelsea started the group with a short improvisation workshop, followed by Heather’s long combination. Instead of working on technique classes, we thought Xetulul dancers could perhaps benefit from a long piece of choreography to challenge movementgua1516 retention and corporal and facial expression; an enjoyable and productive workshop for both groups. Once again, 12:15pm rolled around much quicker than anticipated, lunch occurred (of course we walked over to hostales where lunch was held with all Xetulul friends), and we returned to the theater to continue workshops. 2:00pm: Pepin invited us to the stage to dance and learn cumbia and bachata, which of course was a hit to learn new styles of dance! How might we be able to incorporate our learned experience into our own dance? At 3:30pm via the request of Xetulul dancers, JUNTOS taught two more workshops (these a little more low-key): partnering and injury prevention. Partnering proved a little chgua1517allenging since we don’t have a male dancer travelling this time around, but we did help with some basics such as the importance of how women must hold their body and posture in a certain way in order for men to lift them. Injury prevention was interesting: we stressed the importance of warming up prior to dancing, eating correctly, and what to do if one has an injury. Although we had a projected 5pm end time, dancers didn’t say goodbye until 5:45pm. We then utilized the time and space available to us, conducting a short rehearsal followed by dinner at 8:00pm. Rachel and I attempted to debrief after dinner, but dancers were so exhausted that we called it a night at 11:15pm; long day tomorrow with travel day and workshops.

9:00am sharp. After a quick breakfast of scrambled eggs, refried beans, plantains, and tortillas in the comedor de empleados JUNTOS dancers rushed back to Francía to begin workshops. To prevent injuries for late dancers, we provided a short pilates class prior to warm-up: our “pre-warm-up warm-up.” Following this, we chose to offer our usual technique class in three sections with three separate teachers: warm-up, across the floor, and a combination (which Megan, the teacher for that section, decided to vary a bit to challenge them). Can you believe that time (with a short three-piece performance at the end) passed so quickly we ended at 1:00pm A rushed lunch indeed if we were to start again at 2:30pm and needed to walk through the park to get to the restaurant! But of course we did just that and returned to the theater hasta el queso (a new expression we learned ingua1515 Cobán which apparently means very full). We were not ready for Rachel’s (JUNTOSAbroad Director) Bollywood workshop – our bellies were full! Somehow we did eventually digest and had such an amazing time learning a new dance style juntos. At 4:00pm we switched teachers and Jose (Pepin), rehearsal director at Xetulul, taught salsa and merengue workshops. How fun to learn latin dance taught by our friends! 5:30pm rolled around faster than anticipated, especially with all the shared photos and hugs. Yep, after our 7:30pm dinner our JUNTOS dancers were muerto con sueño and went straight to bed. Get ready for Day #2 of workshops!

Another long drive! We arrived in Retalhuleu and settled into our lovely accommodations in La Francía (France) by 1:45pm.

You may need a disclosure at this point; you may be wondering why we are staying in France when we are traveling in Guatemala? Well let me tell you. We travel to Retalhuleu every year to work with dancers from IRTRA’s Xetulul theme park. IRTRA is an organization dedicated to the recreation of workers and their families, especially among the working class. Xetulul dancers are paid although have little training in contemporary dance. Over the five years JUNTOS has worked here, we’ve seen immense changes in not only technique, but in bonds made between Xetulul dancers and JUNTOS dancers. Xetulul theme park is broken up into countries and monuments – the theater’s section of the park focuses on the Moulin Rouge: France! Every year we travel to Retalhuleu we stay in the Xetulul theater. Eerie in the dark, but always an adventure and highlight for JUNTOS.

Ok, so back to our arrival! We arrived just in time to see the 2:00pm dance and magic performance show at Xetulul theme park. Oh, JUNTOS was ecstatic and thrilled to watch the show and see how the IRTRA dancers have improved – this would give us igua1513nsight into how to conduct workshops and what to focus on technically and artistically. And of course after the show was over we greeted old friends… Unfortunately we couldn’t stay forever – they had other shows throughout the day. So we decided to use our two hours of free time to mellow out the humidity and heat at Xocomil, the waterpark next door! An early 5:30pm dinner for us followed by a short gathering with a couple of the dancers after their last show. We settled back into Francía at the end of our day. After resting a bit, Rachel and I gathered dancers to discuss our time in Guatemala City: experiences, reflections, and thoughts. All in all, a relaxing day to gather strength for the week to come.

JUNTOS traveler and Ailey/Fordham BFA student Megan Stricker’s birthday!
An early day for all with an 8:00am workshop. We arrived in the space a few minutes early – enough to begin warming up our own bodies. As we figured we may have a few late stragglers, Chelsea and Marissa organized to teach a joint yoga-gyrokinesis class for one hour (Escuela gua1510Nacional students loved it!). At precisely 9:00am we broke back up into our intermediate and advanced classes to continue technique classes. Of course upon gathering with our groups, the dynamic was completely different. What a difference 2 hours had made from the previous day! Students were open, welcoming, and anxious to learn what we had for them. So each group spent almost 3 hours on technique, focusing on placement as well as emoting through movement. We then spent our 12pm lunch break agua1511t our favored restaurant Saúl discussing each class – groups were changing! Heather, Chelsea, and Megan who had taught intermediate would teach advanced, and Emily, Marissa, and Connor would now teach intermediate. We rushed back to begin class at 1:45pm, focusing this time not on technique but on expression. Each workshop group spent an hour and a half to learn repertoire and create their own movement (which was presented later of course!). 3:15pm rolled around quicker than we anticipated and of course by 3:40 photos were stillgua1512 being taken, dancers were mingling and sharing stories… it was a struggle separating groups to finally have a rehearsal before our 5:30pm show! Of course when we finally did separate groups, the performance was lovely: each workshop group presented the piece they prepared for that evening, followed by a 45-minute performance by JUNTOS. And a surprise guest joined! Nestor, a friend from Xela, was in the audience. Tears of joy at the end – no one wanted to leave! A great experience with a wonderful new interexchange community for JUNTOS. Gracias! When we finally did return to our hotel dancers got ready for dinner, which surprisingly didn’t occur until 10:00pm. Nestor of course joined and introduced his work a bit to us (salsa teacher in Xela). We said our goodbyes and collapsed upon arrival to our hotel.

A long trek from Cobán to Guatemala City. With a non-preventable late departure of 9:30am, we finally arrived in Guatemala City at 3:00pm, the time of our first workshop. To our benefit the space was super close, so we quickly dropped all our luggage in one room at our hotel gua158and rushed over. Yep, all dancers from the Escuela Nacional de Danza “Marcelle Bonge de Devaux”were patiently waiting our arrival! We broke into two groups: intermediate and advanced and began our techniques. Students from the school were a bit shy at the beginning, but with the help of outggua159oing, playful JUNTOS teachers, did begin to open up. By the end of two hours, the total of 35 students all enthusiastically grabbed a JUNTOS card to learn more, and refused to leave before photos and chatting a bit. All were super excited about gathering Saturday for a full day of workshops and performances! And of course JUNTOSAbroad dancers enthusiastically spoke about their plans for the next day all the way back to the hotel. All in all an early evening for the dancers: done with activities by 7pm.

We took our forth day in Guatemala for geographic education. At precisely 7:30am we loaded into our bus and headed out to one of Guatemala’s most beautiful locations: Semuc Champey. After a bugua156mpy ride (that myself and assistant Rachel Higbee weren’t aware of due to deep sleep), we finally arrived in Lanquín around 10:30am, where of course the grutas (caves) tempted us. So, us young women hopped out of our van and trotted down the pebbled path and down to the caves. All in all we spent about an hour exploring the inside of the caves: its stalagmites and eerie depths. At about 11:30 we were greeted by not our driver but by Tuky, a local driver with a pick-up truck ready for a muddy drive. Everyone climbed in, ready for a 45 minute drive to Semuc. Shortly after passing the main part of the pueblo however, a large truck blocked the middle of the road, forcing us to turn back for lunch. There, Lanquín’s center, we ate the best tamalitos filled with special herbs and sipped on coffee and then gua157jumped back in the truck – we were ready for an adventure! Another 45-minute bumpy road later we arrived in Semuc Champey – indeed a very beautiful area! At 2:30pm, we entered the natural park, thinking wewere going to hike an hour up to the top to see the view at the mirador. Being us, we took a short detour to check out the pozas (ponds)… the dancers fell in love. How can you not? Teal ponds with waterfalls streaming down rocks, cool water, not to mention great jumping points. After a short hike around, the five dancers took off layers (despite not having bathing suits) and swam in clothes. They were all so eager! and of course no one regretted getting into the back of a pick up with wet clothes… it was all worth it for them. A long bumpy ride back, we finally arrived at our hotel at approximately 8:00pm. Following our cena (dinner), all dancers gathered to share their research on Guatemala. (For new readers: students area always asked to research a specific time period, current events, arts and culture, religion, demographics… we gather to learn more about each area we go to.) For many, recent Guatemalan history was a shock… but of course history plays a big part into why we are the way we are. We learned a lot this day, including how this may impact our own movement.

7:00am: Another early day! We arose eager and ready for our second outreach performance in Chirrepec, a small indigenous caserío (smaller than a pueblo!)  just 20 minutes from Cobán. Let me take a few lines to introduce Chirrepec to you: First thing you should know – Chirrepec isGua153 famous for its Té Chirrepéco, a delicious black tea consumed throughout Guatemala. Most of its small Maya population work at the Chirrepec Cooperative (300 employees) and speak Q’echi’, only some with Spanish as a second language. Upon our arrival there at 9:00am we were greeted with warm smiles, hand shakes, and welcoming words. The president of the cooperative arrived shortly after and invited us into his office. He thanked us for coming, introduced the day’s agenda, and finally apologized: he had only marketed this event through paper flyers and wasn’t sure on the attendance. The president then walked us over to our performance auditorium (at this point it’s 9:50am – 10 minutes until show time) to check the space and get ready. 100 seats set up and only 10 taken by women in their traditional trajes. It’s ok, I thought, we can always find the beauty in a space and an audience. And so dancers entered a small costume room and proceeded to warm up their bodies in the cold rainy weather on cement floor, preparing to dance for a small group. We were all called out 20 minutes later for introduction where we were greeted with 150 curious faces. How inspiring and interesting this was for me! 150 individuals that had never before seen a dance performance now gathered in curiosity to see this so-called contemporary dance by foreigners. So we performed our 40 minutes of dancing, followed that by learning more about their cooperative, presented with the traditional Deer Dance, and were formally thanked by the vice president of the cooperative. And of course as soon as we changed from costume took a tour of the plantation and factory – how amazing it operates and all still by hand! What an experience. We gratefully accepted a Pollo Campero lunch with the administration (even with three vegetarians) and made sure to purchase a little more tea for family and friends (though they had gifted us with three large packages of tea!). 2:30 at this point and our show is at 4pm! After rushing back and rehearsing for the remaining hour (full of chicken), dancers from Amigos de la Marimba began arriving for the final day of exchanggua155e. We began late – 4:30pm – but since mother nature changed our original plans from performing in the Parque Central to performing in a more intimate space with our new friends, we were happy to be patient. Amigos de la Marimba shared with us half an hour of traditional dancing to marimba music, and we followed with our own 40 minute performance. And of course if there’s music, there’s dancing! The 6-16 year old young men didn’t hesitate to ask us to dance following their performance. But alas, the music couldn’t last forever. So we said our goodbyes, allowed ourselves to be blinded by camera flashes for a brief 15 minutes, and wrapped up our own evening with an 8:30pm dinner. A fulfilling day indeed.

SUNY Purchase student Connor Speejens writes on her morning experience: “Our JUNTOS bus drove out of the main part of Cobán up into the more rural areas of the mountains around 8:30 a.m. We arrived at Te Chirrepeco at around 9 a.m. to breathtaking views of tea fields carpeting the surrounding mountains in greenery. Té Chirrepéco is an agricultural cooperative created and operated by a group of indigenous people in the Cobán area. While waiting to the warm up and perform, we were all lost in the view, and I immediately felt more of an awareness for and a connection to this land than any I had known at home (including my cute little herb garden that I had when I was eight!). After performing, and in turn being treated to the most amazing hot tea ever and learning about how the Cooperative is run, we were given a tour of the factory and more of the most amazing hot tea ever to take home! Being in Guatemala, I am realizing the more you have bonded with the land and your surroundings the easier it is to bond with people – for me those people being both the people I am teaching and performing for, but also the incredible people that I have the opportunity to teach and perform with. Te Chirrepeco was gorgeous and I would return in the future in a heartbeat, not only for the most amazing hot tea ever, but also for the incredible people.”

One day’s activities felt like a week! A week of amazing goodness that is. We woke up early and started our day at 7:30am to fit an hour of rehearsal in and prepare for our first outreach performance. Shortly after breakfast we “zipped” over to our performance community at 9:30am (it actually took us 30 minutes as we drove in circles following the directions of “turn left at the corner” or “after that corner go right” – directions are so difficult in Cobán!). But we finally did arrive. Mis Años Dorados, an indigenous retirement facility for seniors that have faced difficult pasts and can’t afford care, set up a wonderful large room for us to perform in. The dancers gathered, warmed up, and presented a lovely 30 minute show for a room of elders that had never before seen a dance performance let alone a modern dance performangua15ce. Following the show, we were greeted by 45 gigantic hugs and kisses – you wouldn’t believe these elders were 4’7″ by the way they embraced us and the love they have! And so at 1:00pm we said our goodbyes – some in Spanish and some in Q’eqchi’, graciously drank our te chirrepéco with our gifted “bread-cake,” and took off to our next gathering (after a quick lunch of course). Our next activity took place in a basketball court. Too many students for any smaller space! At precisely 2:30pm, students from Un Amigo de la Marimba ages 3-20 gathered for a modern dance workshop taught by JUNTOS. The enthusiasm from the 40+ participants throughout the 2-hour workshop never once led us to believe there was such a gap gua152in age! All in all, a great first workshop taught by a new group of JUNTOSAbroad students. And of course we were surprised at the end with a few dances performed for us by all the age groups. What startled dancers more, however, was when the 13-16 year old gentlemen invited the JUNTOS ladies to dance to marimba music! Traditionally, men are to invite a woman to dance and during their dancing, always give them enough space. One young man taught me that his hand should never be wrapped around a woman’s but instead his palm should press against to lead. This, I was told, is because a woman should always have enough space. I chuckled. After our fun workshop (we’re at 5:45pm now) we went back to our hotel and immediately went back to rehearsing for the following three hours. Oh yes – a long day indeed! 9:00pm dinner well deserved. And a debrief to follow it up – much appreciated. We look forward to another full day tomorrow!

gua151What a day! An adventure to begin our adventure! Awaiting our bus at 7:30 am and ready for Cobán, we received news that our shuttle was 45 minutes away and had problems with the clutch. Thus, a new shuttle was being sent for! Finally at 1:30pm our bus arrived and took off around 2pm. Unfortunately due to traffic, travel, a flat tire, and a few other delays, we arrived in Cobán at 10pm. Our workshop for the day was cancelled (was supposed to be at 2pm) but we are eager to meet the dancers tomorrow! We are so excited to work in Cobán – right in the center of Guatemala – for the first time ever. Stay tuned!