Peace in the Ballroom

"Dancing in Jaffa" Directed by Hilla Medalia 2013

The graceful movements of dance have the power to express stories without the need for any verbal communication. In the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, where decades of hostility have fueled divisions and mistrust, the universal language of dance can bring about much-needed dialogue to build peace.

In 2013 the documentary Dancing in Jaffa, followed four-time ballroom dancing champion Pierre Dulaine on his journey to teach ballroom dancing to children attending Arab, Jewish, and integrated schools in Jaffa, Israel. Dulaine opened up his Dancing Classrooms program in New York City to teach ballroom with his method coined the Dulaine Method, a 10-week program teaching pre-teenagers five ballroom styles. The documentary explores Dulaine’s journey teaching dance to two communities in conflict using the Dulaine Method.

Pierre Dulaine was born in Jaffa and fled with this family to Amman Jordan at the age of four during Israel’s War for Independence against the invading Arab forces in 1948. Through dance, Pierre was able to return to his place of birth and teach children about community.

Most participants in the Dancing Classrooms program are approximately 11 years old. The ones in the documentary were joking about how they did not want to dance with one another. Throughout, Dulaine would remind the students “I don’t want to hear Jew Arab, Arab Jew. You are all the same. Understand.” As the program continued, students realized they were all there for the same reason – dance – which minimized their fears about interacting with those different from them. One aspect of the Dulaine Method is that a few students are invited to participate in a ballroom dance competition. Each group had one Palestinian and one Israeli student who would invite each other to their respective houses to practice ballroom in the hope of winning. This strengthened the bond between the Israeli and Palestinian children.

As a Dancing Classroom alum, the program uses ballroom dance to teach collaboration, respect, and confidence. Going through the program at ten years old, I became obsessed with ballroom dancing and to this day I will try to teach the steps whenever the occasion arises. In a recent evaluation of the Dancing Classrooms program researchers found that 71% of students demonstrated improvement in self-confidence and teachers reported that 93% of teachers saw improvement in collaborative and teamwork skills. In programs that continuously produce the same results, like Dancing Classrooms, it was especially rewarding to see how well teaching ballroom dance worked in Jaffa. In the Israeli-Palestinian region, where people have been searching to mitigate conflict for decades, ballroom dancing seems like a viable vehicle.

Dance can be used as an effective tool for peace building by allowing people to humanize one another using a more creative outlet. Through the documentation of his work in Jaffa the students were able to build friendships and connect with people they thought were the “enemy”.  The principles of the Dulaine Method which are to build respect and compassion for other people along with oneself are necessary in conflict resolution. The universal expression that is derived from dancing allows for a place to strengthen relationships.

With the power to transcend language and culture, dance has been a symbol of human connection and understanding. The ability of children participating in the Dulaine Method demonstrates there is an opportunity for the Israel-Palestine people to adapt peacefully. One of the main issues, within any given conflict is the dehumanization of the “other”. Dancing breaks down these preconceived ideas to bring people together and develop the necessary social-emotional skills to collaborate successfully.

About the Author
Abigail Katzap is a rising senior at New York University studying business, law, and international relations. Through her Israel advocacy, she has earned numerous awards and fellowships in addition to previously holding an internship at the Israeli Mission to the United Nations.
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