Dance Exchange

Teaching classes that change the definition of dance

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Bikem Ozturk participating in a Dance Exchange class on Zoom. Photo by Michael Ventura

Bikem Ozturk, 53, has been dancing since she started ballet classes at the age of 3 while living in Istanbul, Turkey. When she immigrated to the United States in 1993 and eventually settled in Maryland in 1997, her love of dance traveled with her.

Her dance mentor told Ozturk about Dance Exchange, a Takoma Park-based performing arts nonprofit that offers creative movement programs. Ozturk began taking classes at Dance Exchange in 1999 and hasn’t missed a beat since.

“For me, coming here and leaving everything behind—that’s not an easy thing at all,” says Ozturk, who now lives in Silver Spring. “Dance Exchange has a big part in it for me, to deal with the pain of leaving home.”

Founded in 1976, Dance Exchange aims to expand “who gets to dance, and where dance happens—what dance can be about, and why dance matters,” says Cassie Meador, executive artistic director. Classes are based on discussions within the group—such as talking about a time they felt at home in their body—which Meador says lead to “spontaneous gestures” out of which the dances grow.

Dance Exchange holds classes for children, teens, families and older adults. The organization transitioned to virtual programming in March, and as of late June has reached more than 1,150 people nationwide through their online programs, thanks in part to emergency relief funding from the Arts and Humanities Council of Montgomery County and the Maryland State Arts Council.

Ozturk is part of the Dance On Program, which focuses on dancemaking among older adults. Normally, these classes are held in Dance Exchange’s Takoma Park studio and at other locations; now, the classes are held weekly over Zoom.

This year, Dance Exchange invited Ozturk to become part of its Dance On Organizing with Artists for Change Cohort. She started co-leading classes with staff in the fall and will have a paid position in the Dance On Festival planned for May 2021. “I love everything about Dance Exchange,” she says. “I can call it my second home.”

Meador says that even before the pandemic, the creative aging program was focused on combating social isolation—which often afflicts the older population—through the connection of dance. “It’s really about how we can promote safe and guided movement and physical activity to really keep people connected in meaningful ways during this time,” she says.

Ozturk says attending classes on Zoom is difficult because so much about dance is sensing physical energy, but she still cherishes logging on every week.

“During the quarantine, it’s a lifeline,” Ozturk says. “I think we have to keep our previous connections as vital as possible and alive as possible because everybody is kind of going inward. And so to have a certain class, at a certain time…it’s very helpful for me in the pandemic. And it’s something I love.”


Dance Exchange (danceexchange.org) reaches thousands across generations and disciplines each year through dance-making and performance projects; programming for youths, families and older adults; and studio space for artists, educators and entrepreneurs in Dance Exchange’s Community and Creative Hub.

Headquartered: Takoma Park

Serves: Metro region

What a donation buys:

• $50 provides a week of sanitation supplies to keep Dance Exchange’s building clean and its community healthy.
• $200 covers two Exploring and Making Dance Camp scholarships for local youths.
• $500 provides a one-month stipend for an artist to create a new work premiering at the Creative Aging Festival in the spring of 2021.

Volunteer opportunities:

• One day: Provide support at events (virtual and in person).
• Weekly: Help with upkeep at Dance Exchange’s building and studios.
• Internships