by Sofia Papaspyropoulou (Greece)

August 19: Busy day for everyone: travels, rehearsals, work, preparations for the first partners’ meeting of this trip at the Latvian Dance Information Center at Riga.

Latvian partners (Ilze Zirina, Justine Bulina, Agnese Bordjukova & Inta Balode) and guests (Tsvetina Matova – Bulgaria, Daniel Wargin – Poland & Sofia Papaspyropoulou – Greece) met in the same room – some for the first time ever, others for the first time after a long time – to get to know each other and organize a collaborative moving class for Rauna’s young people. Excitement and impatience for action were in the air! Covid-related discussion for each country’s situation was inevitable. After that, it was time to move. We began with a mindful warm-up by Ilze Zirina. Then each partner introduced their ideas about the collaborative workshop and we implemented them ourselves, making any necessary changes and adaptations for our target group. We exchanged thoughts and evoked feelings by the exercises and decided their order during the workshop. Today’s meeting ended with a socializing dinner, where we had the chance to talk in detail about the Erasmus+ program, the quarantine in our countries, the obstacles we faced on a professional and personal level and, eventually, bond through shared experiences.

August 20: After spending the morning reflecting on last day’s meeting and checking with colleagues back home, job shadowers met with Ilze Zirina to discuss the last details of the cooperative workshop over lunch. Later, we all visited the former Institute of Aviation and Mechanical Engineering, which has been turned into a place for all kinds of artists. There, LAUKKU members, Agnese Bordjukova and Inta Balode, welcomed us to the facilities and to their rehearsal of the Voice from the Bel étage, a contemporary dance and music performance, in which questions about the female voice are raised in a literal and figurative sense, through audial, kinaesthetic and verbal dialogue. The day ended with the job shadowers’ transition to Rauna, the small town where the collaborative workshop would take place. Last minute details and next day’s program were discussed over dinner. It was there where guests met a few of the village’s young people. They seemed curious about us and wanted to meet us, but they also seemed shy, so they greeted us from a “safe” distance.

At this point, Latvian hospitality combined with professionalism has to be noted. All Latvian colleagues were kind and caring, met all of our needs and gave their best selves to make us feel welcomed and comfortable! They managed to balance work, fun, free time and cultural exchange in a perfect ratio, showing us honest and deep concern and being willing to connect not only professionally, but also on a personal level.

August 21: Today’s morning was filled with activities prepared by Rauna’s young people! We met at Rauna’s Youth Center, where they told us a few things about themselves and the activities held there. Ilze Zirina had suggested they took on an active role during our stay and they happily accepted the “mission” and took us for a walk to introduce us to the beauty of the Latvian landscape around Rauna. We started by walking around a small lake where our guides had planned a few kinesthetic challenges for us! After completing our tasks and coming out victorious and full of gratitude and happiness, we climbed a small hill up to Tanīsa hillfort, the spot where the village began! Afterwards, we headed to Rauna Castle Ruins, where we admired the view of the town from the upper floor of the castle. During this morning excursion, we talked to the children and found out what it feels like to be young in this small village, we exchanged information about customs and habits from our countries and shared our dreams and plans for the future. After thanking our guides for the perfectly organized tour, we invited them to our workshop and then spent some time horse riding with some of them. This activity created a neutral space for the kids to express freely and share with us the love for animals. It built further bridges of communication between us. In the afternoon Justine Bulina drove us to the venue where our workshop would take place. Today was Rauna’s name day and our workshop was included in the day’s festivities! First, we watched dance group’s Lidoņi (Flyers) dance performance with the title: In the Shadow of Ice Age. The dancers were local young children, choreographed by Ilze Zirina. After that, it was time for our collaborative work to finally be put into implementation! Each one of us coordinated their kinesthetic activities working with a group of approximately 25 participants, aged 6 – 13 years old. Each partner worked on their country’s specific topic (Openness as attitude – Poland, Observing & Connection – Bulgaria and Understanding of self – Greece) providing a holistic approach.

In more detail: Daniel Wargin – Poland: activity with colorful scarves. First, participants use the scarves to express themselves and play. It was nice to watch some of them making good use of the wind blowing at that time. Gradually, tasks became more complex, also raising the levels of alertness and fun! Tsvetina Matova – Bulgaria: a very carefully planned set of exercises focusing on our connection to others and on what they communicate to us verbally and physically. At the first steps of the exercise the element of music is crucial, as it sets participants in motion and then in stillness. Step by step, participants are asked to form pairs every time the music stops, concentrate on each other’s face and share with them a word that comes to their minds. Finally, the exercise grows to involve all participants together, gathering around a different person each time and trying to embody a word they said, creating a group sculpture. Sofia Papaspyropoulou – Greece: Spirit Animals. Participants are being introduced to the spirit animals (printed on cards). We give them a few moments to pick which one they identify with. After that, participants are instructed to dance like their spirit animal. In the end, we all sit down in a circle talking about our spirit animal choice, what it means for us, how it felt like when dancing like it, if we noticed anything during the exercise etc. The young people participating seemed to have a lot of fun and to cooperate well with each other. They also seemed to follow the instructions without any problems. At the first exercises, which were more energetic, a few of the oldest participants speeded up the pace, but somehow the younger ones weren’t left out of the process. All facilitators were participating in other partners’ exercises and ensured the workshop’s flow. Kids used their imagination and responded well to all the exercises. A minor inconvenience occurred where verbal communication existed, because most participants spoke only Latvian, so the guests couldn’t understand them, but llze Zirina and Ieva Grundsteine stepped in every time and took care of the translation! Altogether, this workshop was a sample of our two-year cooperation in action. It was the result of open minds working together to build a compact foundation for the decelopment of tools useful for working with childern and young people· for cultivating young minds open to imagination and wonder, for supporting the new generation to follow its dreams and set high goals in the society.

The day ended with a large meal cooked by Ilze Zirina and her hospitable sister at their home! Ilze, also, gave us the grand tour of the house and garden! This evening gave us the perfect opportunity to evaluate the workshop, talk about various matters concerning the project and get to better know each other, which will lead to even better cooperation!

August 22: Evaluation and closing day. Partners met with Ilze Zirina and Ieva Grundsteine at Rauna Youth Center to reminisce about the previous days, evaluate the process of the workshop, highlight what went well, what changes we would make if we had the chance to do it again and discuss our next steps at the project. In addition, a representative of the National Agency paid us a visit and talked to each partner separately about the development of the project, the job shadowing and the whole experience of our visit in Latvia. Thanks to this international meeting: – We tested kinesthetic tools in different target groups (concerning age and nationality) and we came to conclusions regarding their effectiveness. – We had the opportunity to watch partners in action. We observed the way the approached the participants, gave instructions, kept participants’ interest and engagement in high levels etc. This led to useful tools’ and techniques’ exchange. Also, it was great to be inside the Latvian scope of work and see for ourselves youth workers on-the-job! – We soon realized we face similar difficulties after Covid-19 pandemic; lost touch with big percentage of target groups, participants’ withdrawal after quarantines, too much screen time for facilitators and participants, which leads to a huge need of interpersonal communication, difficulties and restrictions related to face to face move classes wearing masks and keeping distance between participants, worry for new quarantines to come etc. This brought us closer and created an opportunity for us to give each other solutions and exchange ideas about overcoming the aforementioned obstacles. It was interesting to realize that all Partners cooperated very well from the first moment! Professionals from different fields and countries managed to bond quickly and exchange experience and good practices, even though some of them had never met before! It seems that online meetings and the nature of the objective of the project brought us close and kept us connected regardless of the physical distance! Trust was built between us long before meeting one another in person and set the frame for this substantial cooperation. Even after the very first meeting, it was undoubtable that the pandemic may have kept us physically apart, but had also added to our understanding of human experience and needs, no matter where we come from or where we live. Different native languages and ways of thinking and living didn’t prevent us from becoming a strong team with one common goal; to use the developed tools to support and motivate young people. Later we all had lunch, continuing the previous conversation and also planning our last evening in the country. As planned, Ieva Grundsteine drove us to Baldone, where we met her family, cooked a delicious dinner using vegetables from her garden and used the family sauna! It was priceless for us to live a day as locals! Again Latvian hospitality made us feel at home and sealed our partnership and friendship!

the Key to Connection is implemeneted in the framework of Erasmus+: Youth in Action programme – key action 2, Strategic Partnership for exchange experiences.