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Yes, we’re in Nicaragua! Follow us below as we keep you updated from place to place. Check out our full itinerary to see where we are headed and where we’ve been, or follow our blog below.

Day one and it’s already off to a packed start. 6:3canal20 am breakfast with group 1 so we can head off to Canal 2 for their national morning television show Primera Hora (similar to “Good Morning America”). Julia and Kemba (both JUNTOS newbies) perform Ariane Michaud’s Soledad on screen as well as move to a few Nicaraguan beats with Manuel Sanchez who teaches Monday morning movement on the show. In the middle of all that of course is the formal but fun interview with Christian and myself (Joanna).

We wrap up our work at the station and head back to the hotel where the rest of the group awaits us. Departure time! You guessed it: Rehearsals, rehearsals, rehearsals. Five hours may seem like a lot, but oh no – much more is needed! Alas, we have no more time and amid the raging 90 degree humid weather lunch appears the wisest choice (yes, dancers11707626_1010721272281172_7422916510787992445_n do eat) before we jump into more activities. Three pm already? Our first workshop is upon us: dancers with the Academia Nicaragüense de la Danza, a group we’ve been working with for the past 4 years now. The crammed, sweaty room does not deter their enthusiasm. Fast paced and quick learners – these dancers challenge us! An hour and a half is not enough (and at this point seems to be the theme of the day) but we must mo11215817_1010759072277392_8184759070490220962_nve on. What’s next? Ballet Folklórico de Nicaragua, taught to JUNTOSAbroad dancers by students from the Academia, a true exchange! Naomi (our teacher) challenges us to dance with comals on our heads. Yes, that does mean balancing a rounded object on our heads while moving our feet and arms. We’re always up for a challenge!

A long day at the Academia rehearsing, teaching, and taking classes. We head back to our hotel, but know there is more to do. More reviewing, evaluating, and rehearsing. At the end all are exhausted – dancers slow down, Rachel and myself are taking more time to form sentences, and Christian is nowhere to be found (either working or sleeping upstairs). 10pm seems an appropriate time for bed. One long first day.

But yes, what you are wondering is correct: this is just a normal day in the life of JUNTOS. 

Buenos días Managua! Is it only day two?

We’re off to a beautiful start to our day: a workshop and performance at Casa Alianza, an organization and rehabilitation center rescuing homeless, abandoned, abused, trafficked, and exploited children from the streets. The morning workshop proves difficult at first – we aren’t prepared for such a large group and it is our first non-dancer workshop together. We work with them for an hour, the last combination being the most exhilarating for them as it incorporates rhythm and more movement. Following this we perform a few select pieces for the group of  about 50 kids, all ages 13-18, who turn out to be incredibly quiet and engaged.

After our lunch with the group we head off to the Academia Nicaragüense de la Danza to conduct and take another workshop. Although hot, humid, and a tight squeeze of about 30 people in a small room, Julia, Kemba, and Courtney teach the incredibly talented group once again – two that are in international dance companies (one dancing in El Salvador, the other in the Central American dance company). An hour and a half fly by and we find ourselves once again tying on practice skirts for the workshop students Naomi and Georgina are to teach us. We learn a new piece (Te amo Nicaragua) that we will perform tomorrow with the piece from yesterday. How exciting!

6:30pm is upon us and we thank our teachers, pack our bags, and head out the door. Back by 7pm for dinner to be followed with more rehearsals in our hotel. Although tired and working so hard, we’re enjoying every moment.

Off to bed and ready for tomorrow!

First stop of the day is at the Albergue para niños con cancer. Although it is on hospital grounds, it is not in fact a part of the hospital but instead hosted by nuns. These women have dedicated their lives to helping young children be treated for cancer, offering children and a guardian a place to stay during their treatment. Children sometimes stay months depending on the level of cancer, and travel days to get to this location.

11836648_1011548702198429_1566965132557652862_nJUNTOS greets the children swaying slowly on their swing set, rolling on their plastic toy cars, sitting quietly on their parents laps, and observing from wheelchairs. With help from a local organization, we have a party planned to mingle with the children prior to dancing for them. After a short time preparing, we enjoy time with the kids: two piñatas (where even an infant and girl in a wheelchair have a11039296_1011563775530255_8329438853853954784_n go!), dancing with them, and chatting (as much as we can with our limited Spanish). Forty-five minutes of fun and games pass and we prepare for performance. We share the small space with our friends from the Academia Nicaragüense, they perform traditional dance and we perform our contemporary pieces. We hope to share a piece of our hearts, offering beauty in this time of hardship. How special we feel to be able to share in this time and space with these children. Gratitude.

Following lunch we head over to the Academia for our last day of workshops. Both groups teach and review repertoire for the evening’s performance. About a two hundred audience members gather to watch two groups from incredibly different cultures share the stage. We are honored to dance the traditional dance we’ve learned while cheered on by our viewers.

And of course, our time in Managua would not be complete without our traditional salsa night celebration. Yes, we dance the night away with friends from the Academia practice the little salsa and bachata we know.

Gracias Managua por compartir tanto cultura con nosotros. Off to bed and ready for a trip to Nagarote in the morning!

We arrive in Nagarote around 11am, a short one hour bus ride from Managua. Nagarote, a beautiful quiet town where few cars are on the street and instead moto-taxis and bici-taxis drive by. The heat and dust are a bit painful (it’s even hotter than Managua!) and we all know that sleeping may be a bit hard with no AC and only a fan to keep cool, but it’s all part of the experience that is Nagarote.

Shortly after our arrival we walk over to NicaPhoto, the wonderful organization that Connecticut-native Ronnie Mahler founded promoting education, art, and personal development in underserved youth from some of Nicaragua’s poorest neighborhoods. It is here that we are to spend the following few days. And what a gift it is to return! It is our third visit here and we are overjoyed as we enter the familiar simple yet energetic building. Children running around, 11824997_10153100348683479_8975442479226984404_nlaugher from various rooms, and curious faces…. The children sweep us into the main room to join them as they have a welcome party for us: three dancers, two singers, as well as juice in bags and mangoes for us! We receive these gifts – gifts of the heart – with so much appreciation.

Following this welcome we eat with the children and are joined by a group from Connecticut who are here in Nagarote for a week helping install latrines in the community. We all gather in one space sharing the same food and all get to know each other, the girls from NicaPhoto braiding our hair. Lunch is over, work begins, and Ronnie invites us to see the neighborhood where the children live. The photos below capture a glimpse of the barrio.

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Upon return, JUNTOS heads over to the workshop space to rehearse a bit before we start our 3pm workshop with a group of the kids.

Before we know it, over 30 students flood the space eager to take our workshop! Even most of the boys are immersed in our class – the ones that never partake in outside activities. How wonderful! Although we only have a few days of workshop, we know we leave these children moments of joy, an outlet for expression and creativity, and an inspiration of dance and sense of empowerment.

Alas, the end of the day is nearly upon us and we wrap up with dinner and head to bed. A long day awaits us tomorrow.

Friday morning we awake in the already hot and humid Nagarote. Breakfast at the hotel (which is more like a bed and breakfast), then a quick fifteen-minute walk over to the workshop space NicaPhoto provides us with: the un11224516_10153100347818479_5813741123081371772_nfinished, two-room classroom across the street form NicaPhoto that has been vacant and for sale for over three years. Volunteers are already preparing the space for us: our music system has arrived and there is someone mopping the floor so the children can dance ba11846554_10153094793403479_3729443031314134726_nrefoot. The kids trickle in and by 9:10am we have about 20 students ages 10-16. Although they are the “older” kids we are still surprised by their focused attention; dance isn’t a normal part of their schedule. By the end of our workshop, all our students are diligently practicing the combination we’ve taught them, ready to perform it in front of tomorrow’s audience in the Parque Central!

Yes, it’s rehearsal time again. We utilize the “free time” we have and prepare for tomorrow’s show. Two hours of rehearsal, then break for lunch at NicaPhoto.

11846648_1012617288758237_7186314612232285051_nWe’re back in our workshop space: it’s 3pm and the space is suddenly filled with laughter, screaming, running, and little dancers. A short workshop of 90 minutes is plenty for the 35 children ages 5-14. We finish the workshop with a review of our performance piece for tomorrow, then with our favorite snack break: juices in plastic bags and pan dulce. Is it already 5pm? Before returning to the hotel we cross the street to NicaPhoto where the organization has a goodbye party waiting for us and the other volunteers that have been working all week. Dancing, playing, and ice cream for all, followed by hugs and handshakes from all the kids. Is our time really coming to a closure with these beautiful souls?

The day’s work isn’t done, but over for the time being. Shower, dinner, rest, and ready for another full day tomorrow.

Today our work is a little different than yesterday’s: we are to teach two dance workshops to ballet folklorico groups here in Nagarote and then say our goodbye to the town through our closing performance.

11035299_1012956248724341_2231481287208700046_nFlor de Abril gathers in the old train station (no longer in service but now a large room) at 9am with us. The group of 30 (extremely disciplined) children, ages 7-16, join us in our movement workshop, and depart with a demonstration of a few traditional dances for us. After a long lunch break to which we also pay a visit to check out the NicaPhoto organic garden, we return to the train station for our next workshop. Similar to the morning’s, the group says goodbye with a select few traditional dances. Snacks are handed out and we return to the hotel to prepare for the evening’s event.

The performance has been announced throughout the town on loudspeakers for the past few days and although there is a 6pm start time, we know this means 6pm Nicaraguan start time… 7pm is the real start time. We depart the hotel a few minutes before 6pm to warm up, mark through the space, and review our combination with NicaPhoto students.

11826049_10153100389348479_5394134755812733066_nOver 500 audience members gathered for our show that night, standing room-only was available after the 300 designated seats had been filled. How much gratitude, pride, and honor we felt performing for a town that was so curious to 11822746_10153100389343479_608179895103132814_nsee our work yet had no exposure to contemporary dance. That night, our audience was filled with local townspeople, tourists, and villagers from some of Nicaragua’s poorest barrios. Art bringing people together. It’s humbling to see the fruits of your labor creating so much beauty and inspiring individuals. Electrifying.

We awake a little groggy from last night. After a wonderful performance, Ronnie set up a going away dinner and party (that included karaoke!) for us as well as the other group that had been there all week. But our activities are not over for us in Nagarote! Our last workshop is this morning before we depart.

The group is a bit smaller than yesterday’s, and all students are in their teens. Our energy is lower than yesterday (as one would guess) but the dancers from the other group lend us some of theirs, even enough to learn some of their traditional dance that incorporates Caribbean-influenced beats! Two hours fly by and we find ourselves saying goodbye yet again to another group of dancers.

Gracias Nagarote por sus regalos! Now, off to Matagalpa – a first time city for JUNTOS!