Dance Factory dancers participate in exchange program with Belize dance company

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Andrea Anderson
Friday, August 8, 2014

DELAVAN--When Tina Hansen visited the town of San Pedro on Ambergris Caye in Belize more than 20 years ago, she saw a group of female dancers wearing teal dresses and ornate headpieces. 

When she looked closer, she saw safety pins keeping the sides of handmade dresses together, shredded hems and girls dancing barefoot. The worn attire didn't draw Hansen in. The girls' beautiful, smiling faces and eloquent dance moves did.

After speaking with a Belizean dance teacher that night, Hansen decided to create an exchange program with her competitive dancers in Delavan and the San Pedro Dance Academy.

In the last 16 years, she has taken about 60 of her Dance Factory students to San Pedro and brought 55 to 60 Belizeans to Delavan.

From June 19 to June 31, eight girls ages 9 to 16, two staff members and a dancer's mom went with Hansen to partake in the intensive dance lessons and cultural exchange.

The girls lived with a host family, danced with Belizean dancers and performed all across the island.

One Belizean dancer, Solani Graniel, 18, then came to the United States to dance and immerse herself in the American culture.

Up to eight dancers have come to the U.S. at a time. Because of troubles with visa applications, Graniel was the only one to come this summer. She left for home a few weeks ago, Hansen said.

The exchange isn't just about the Delavan dancers loosening their hips and learning a less structured form of dance. The exchange is about forging lifelong relationships and opening up the participants' eyes to how others live and how opportunities differ across the world. 

“I don't think people realize how life-changing it is,” Hansen said. “I think it broadens the students horizons. And not to say it's just so great here. That's not our point. But to say, 'wow, look how other people live and look how happy they are where they are.'”

Katelyn Duber, 9, learned Belize is “a really different country in a beautiful way.”

She visited an elementary school and was surprised that students there had no gym class. She did like that biology is on the beach.

Katelyn and the other participants also learned the Punta, a traditional Belizean dance.

Two older students, Rylyn Donahue, 14, and Makena Ekman, 15, realized how different their opportunities are in the U.S.

Here, college or training after high school isn't a question. It 's the cultural norm. In Belize, it's a cherished blessing.

Performing at an orphanage and dancing with the 65 smiling Belizean participants reminded the two why they love dancing.

“Sometimes, you forget why you keep doing it, and that's why--you see them so happy,” Donahue said. “They inspired me to keep growing.”

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