Four years ago over coffee, dance teacher and studio owner Katie Owings first divulged a dream she had to a trusted friend and mentor – to reach more people globally through dance. Already busy as the CEO and founder of her own local dance studio – Inspiration Performing Arts Center in Mahtomedi, Minnesota – she wasn’t sure how she could make it work. Now, after a few twists and turns, Owings has launched ImPACt, a nonprofit that offers short-term missions opportunities in Haiti, Uganda and soon Southeast Asia to dance studios around the world.
“Now’s the time to start ImPACt!,” declared Owings. “I’ve traveled in the last year to Haiti, Uganda and Costa Rica to do service work and I’ve just seen that there are so many opportunities for dancers in impoverished countries!”
Built upon “love, service and humility”, ImPACt’s goal is to grow sustainable arts programs in each region it serves and in turn, give back to the whole community. This year, it will launch its first dance mission trip to Haiti in August and to Uganda in October.
When asked why she thinks dance can be such a powerful missions platform, Owings responds, “Dance is the universal language. The art form connects us all in such a powerful way – through the shared experience of movement, we are able to express, grow, inspire, empower, expand and learn.”
She continued, “No matter the demographic, or region in the world, I have found that there is such a deep and enriching cross-cultural experience when dance is explored and shared during missions. It is such a humbling experience to watch, and be a part of a group of people coming together who may not speak the same language, or come from the same background, or live in the same conditions – but can connect in a very authentic way, building trust and community through movement. And, then to watch, and be a part of further connecting in serving together… it takes my breath away every time.”
In Haiti, ImPACt dancers will team up with the organization’s on-the-ground partner ministry, Healing Haiti. As the most impoverished country in the Western Hemisphere and possibly even the poorest country in the world, Haiti has many needs. Owings saw this firsthand last August when she served there, teaching tap dance classes to kids.
Owings said, “When serving there, I saw so many opportunities for dance to be this way to enable freedom and expression for these kids. These kids have many factors weighing against them in life, and dance is this platform for them to feel alive and valued. The arts really provide a whole other option for them, one that is full of hope and possibility. I decided why not get more people involved in this and shine a light on this on a greater scale.”
The ImPACt team for August is already full, showing how many studios are eager to bring their students an eye-opening and fulfilling experience like this. Dancers will experience a weeklong mission and arts camp experience full of singing, dancing and art classes at Healing Haiti’s Grace Village Orphanage in Port-Au-Prince. Owings shared that there will also be pool visits and that dancers will reside in Healing Haiti’s guesthouses.
In addition to serving and dancing, participants on the Uganda trip will also venture out on a three-day safari at Murchison Falls in Kampala, which includes a boat cruise on the Nile River and a game ride! Mixing dance, missions and a wild adventure, this 10-day “Pearl of Africa” tour provides an experience of a lifetime.
“There is such a profound need for dance education there and that led me to partner ImPACt with another organization there called In Movement: Art for Social Change, which believes that the arts can socially change communities,” Owings explained.
In addition to these mission opportunities, Owings is also pioneering another in Southeast Asia, which will likely launch in 2016. She’s currently working with contacts in Cambodia and researching Bali as a possible destination. She’ll go on a scouting trip later this year and likely “begin planning packages for dancers to go there in 2016.”
ImPACt trips are open to dancers, teachers and studio owners ages 14 and up. While the organization is “rooted in faith”, it’s not required that participants have a specific faith background. All are welcome to come, from beginner to advanced dancers.
All participants will receive a certificate at the end of their journey, recognizing their service. Also, for college students, work-study credit is available.
Owings is excited to see both the participants and these local communities changed through ImPACt. Her hope for the organization is simple – that it will have a “positive ripple effect on the kids and the culture.”
For more information on ImPACt and Owings, the founder of this new dance missions organization, visit http://toimpacttheworld.org. Applications open on September 1 for summer 2016 trips. Two Ugandan trips have already been announced for 2016: July 30–August 8 and August 10–19.
By Chelsea Thomas of Dance Informa.
All photos courtesy of Katie Owings.