On the 24th of March, Fundación Calicanto’s Enlaces program hosted a Puberty and Adolescence Workshop for the parents of our child dancers. 18 of 21 parents attended. This might not seem like such a significant figure, but it wouldn’t have been impossible to gather these many parents together in one place when we started this social initiative five years ago. Those who follow Enlaces closely know that our program deals primarily with prevention for at-risk children. We offer them a safe space in which to practice dance as well as partake in other artistic avenues that their young minds would otherwise not prioritize. We also provide them with supplementary schoolwork aid and counseling and we follow through with their respective academic institutions in order to ensure their continued mental development.
And yet all this can be undone if they leave the Foundation and arrive at a home with parents who prioritize other issues over their children’s continued education. For this reason, our outreach must be larger. If we are to influence the community in a positive way, we must obviously focus on its future contributing members. But we must also focus on their families. The increased interest in their children’s extracurricular activities is proof that our web of influence is growing. Now, when an Enlaces child returns home after a valuable afternoon of learning and dancing, they are greeted by parents that are perhaps a bit more interested in their endeavors. Instead of questions like “Why do you waste all that time at the dancing school?” they might hear something along the lines of “What did you learn today?”
Our older students are benefitting directly from the aforementioned workshop and from our new focus on adolescence. They are establishing balanced relationships with their parents, relationships in which both parties understand the importance of freedom but also the necessity for boundaries. Since this is such an important and difficult period for children, we want to avoid an excessive separation between the parental unit and the child. Just because they might seem like they want to distance themselves, these children (like all children) need a parent emotionally present to guide them through a scary but exciting new phase of their lives.
Our dancing lessons, study aid, psychological support, therapy sessions, and values don’t stay within the four walls of our Enlaces classroom. They can’t. Our beneficiaries include everyone linked to the children we are helping shape into adults. When we give them the tools to better their own circumstances, we must also give them the blueprints to rebuild connections between themselves, their families, and their communities that may have been lost along the way. And in some cases, we must teach them how to build bridges that might not have existed at all.
Last November, as part of Enlaces’ Extension Programs, a Dance Festival was held at the Instituto de Nuestra Señora de la Merced (Institute of Our Lady of Mercy in English) of El Chorrillo in Panama City, where fifteen of the 98 students from 4th and 5th grade whom we have been working with since 2013, showed a work sample with four students of our intensive program who participated with an extract of a piece presented in “Mi Cuerpo, Mi Fuerza” (My Body, My Srength in English), a show that made its debut last August.
This was the first time both groups presented their work in front of an audience composed exclusively by their peers. They all showed a lot of concentration, self-control and hard work. In the short sample they used techniques such as presenting their names with their bodies and the Mirror technique, where one leader directs the group as they change positions.
It was a very emotional event, where the dance teachers’ effort and dedication showed as well as the commitment that children have forged in this year of partnership with the Institute of Our Lady of Mercy, where Fundación Calicanto accomplished to include Dance as a subject in their academic curriculum for 4th and 5th grade.
At the end of the event, one of the school teachers asked to say a few words and she said “We all know how restless and uneasy our children are on a daily basis, but something magic happens when they come to Dance class; when they dance they acquire a certain peace and they seem to listen more.”
In 2015 we plan to add another grade in this school so that more children can benefit from the dance lessons Calicanto offers.
This is the title of Enlaces Program’s most recent dance presentation at Teatro Anita Villalaz, one of the theatres at Panama City’s historic Casco Antiguo. For this show the children trained and rehearsed for more than 4 months, where they explored the relationship between their bodies as a tool for success and source of self-confidence and self-respect. Within the creation process they reinforced the importance of taking care of themselves and the concepts of individuality and how a group can act as a whole, too.
It is beautiful to see, how they become more professional with each presentation. They understand theatre codes, and see the stage as a sacred place. Their concentration was outstanding, and so was their coordination and teamwork. With each show they feel more engaged with their identity as performing artists.
We had a full house, for the first time the families of each one of them were present and so were some of their schoolteachers. The following days the event still pounded in the streets of Casco Antiguo and in our hearts. The children were completely satisfied and eager to work on the next show and share their art with the community. Stay tuned for the next presentation!
Alina is 12 years old. She lives with her grandmother, her younger brother, a dog, a cat, two parakeets and a turtle in one of El Chorrillos’s most dangerous barracks. When she was 2 years old she had an accident with a standing fan that left her with a big scar in her bottom left cheek. This incident made her very self-conscious, defensive, choosing to attack first rather than be attacked and also very introverted. Her defensive attitude caused her a lot of problems and she always found herself in some kind of trouble.
She came to Enlaces in June 2012, with bright eyes and a lot of energy. Her progress was fast. Dancing became her "thing" and in less than a year she became one of the best dancers in the class. She once said, “When I dance I feel like I am flying, like I am somewhere else”.
A couple of months ago, Alina was walking to a park near her neighborhood and she was hit by a vehicle that left her lying helpless on the street. Nobody saw anything, nobody said anything. The law of silence. Besides the fact that no charges were brought for this unfortunate event, she also was left with an injury to her right knee that made her limp. She missed several days of school because her grandmother couldn't afford medical care and what was even worse to her was that she couldn’t dance. “I am worried I’ll never dance again, I thought I was going to die”, she said sadly.
The Enlaces team immediately sorted together a strategy to restore her health back to normal if not better than before. The dance teachers got her an appointment with the best doctor in sports medicine of the country, and then she went over three weeks of physical therapy in one of the best clinics of the city. Since she missed over a month of school, the Enlaces team also helped her with her studies and homework so she didn’t fall behind her peers. When she went back to class the school principal told her “accidents keep chasing you, you better take care of yourself”.
The accident has been a new beginning for Alina. Her grades have improved and as well as her performance in dance class. She received a lot of letters and visits from her friends and teachers that missed her while she was away from the program.
Two months after the accident she is back on stage preparing a solo for a presentation in August. She is aware she has to take care of herself and that her body is her temple and she values dancing more than ever.
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Panama’s summer season goes from January to April; most children are on school vacation and usually enjoy days in the pool and other outdoor activities due to the good weather.
The children from the community we serve don’t usually have opportunities to enjoy a safe summer with recreational activities; instead they are forced to wander the streets and usually end up spending their time with adults who expose them to topics inadequate for their age.
For that reason, this summer the Enlaces children had the opportunity to continue to train in Contemporary Dance with their teachers and they also received master classes from two very renowned US dancers, Kellee Blanchard and Robert Mills.
They also had Art classes where they began working on their self-portrait with the acrylic technique; they had Psychology workshops where they learned the differences between materialistic possession and personal accomplishments.
Every Friday they participated in different fieldtrips: they rode bikes in a road by the ocean, they visited the Miraflores Visitor Center from the Panama Canal and a Science and Art Museum for Children called Explora. The Enlaces kids summer program ended with a big swimming pool party, sponsored by the generous donation of swimming goggles and cap by Ben Betesh International from the brand SPEEDO, plus the cooperation of several people in the community with towels for the kids.
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