Kayla Gangemi, Dance Exchange

Healthy communities make change possible. My name is Kayla, I’m in my Junior year of the Public Health program and this semester I am volunteering at the non-profit organization Dance Exchange located in Takoma Park, Maryland. This is my second time participating in the Community Service-Learning Program, which has allowed me to explore my academic and professional interests through getting to know some amazing organizations, and people that make up the community here in the DC Metro area. This semester, I chose to connect the work that I am doing at Dance Exchange with the Introduction to Public Health course I am currently taking. At first, the relation between this organization and Public Health was not obvious, but after studying abroad in Ecuador, the value of community and identity to health has not intrigued me more. At Dance Exchange, the majority of my work has been assisting with Space Stewardship and Marketing. Cleaning the studios and tacking flyers around the neighborhood may seem like arbitrary work, but through assisting team members at Dance Exchange, I am experiencing some of the ways in which a non-profit organization functions. Right now, I am very excited for a specific project Dance Exchange has asked me to help facilitate next month. During April, Dance Exchange will be partnering with Brookside Gardens Nature Center in Silver Spring, Maryland to bring together science education and movement. During this time, I hope to learn more about how dance and understanding of ourselves within the environment can work hand in hand.

I chose to work with Dance Exchange for the Community Service-Learning Program this semester, not only because I rediscovered a love for dance again – in the same way that I enjoy community service – but also because this program lets me support an innovative organization with holistic values, and a drive to make change. Over the course of the past couple of months, I have learned that the local Dance Exchange is a non-discriminating space for people to come to together and practice diverse forms of dance from an array of backgrounds. Beyond locally, Dance Exchange finds itself in different settings around the country, embodying the ways in which place and community co-exist. Thinking about the context of health that most people here in the United States are familiar with; hospitals, dieting and health insurance may be some of the major features that come to mind. In my opinion, two of the most interesting and relevant topics that I have learned about in Introduction to Public Health are the social determinants of health as well as loneliness. These topics have prompted me to think in-depth about the ways in which factors like neighborhood, education and sense-of-self contribute to condition of population health. In these explorations, the importance of alternative approaches to public health – such as through community gardening, arts for social change, and educational programming – becomes increasingly apparent. I believe that these outlets have the potential to alleviate great public health burdens such as depression, malnutrition, sedentary lifestyles and hate. Although community service is one way that I do my part, I also value service for the exchanged reminder that I am part of a whole. I feel like with this peace of mind it is nearly impossible to ignore the ways in which health is influenced by a multitude of factors.

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