It’s challenging to get 10 and 11-year-old children interested in ballroom dancing. It’s even more difficult—perhaps near impossible—when those children are Jewish and Palestinian Israeli citizens.
In 2013 Pierre Dulaine, world champion ballroom dancer now turned dance instructor, traveled to Jaffa, Tel-Aviv—his birthplace and the oldest part of the city—to teach a 10-week course in Latin dance with students from several segregated schools. The film Dancing in Jaffa documents the time Dulaine spent getting the Palestinian and Jewish children to dance with one another in a ballroom competition.
“This was the hardest project I have ever, ever done,” Dulaine says in his most recent Tedx Talk. As one the founders of Dancing Classrooms, an afterschool program that teaches ballroom dance at New York City public schools, he is used to struggling with boys and girls who don’t want to dance together. In Jaffa, his participants provided a much larger challenge.
“What I’m asking them to do is dance with the enemy,” he acknowledges in the film. Dulaine knew from the beginning what he was up against—but he also knows why he was successful.
According Dulaine, dancing with a partner forms a strong emotional connection. “You get to know that person in a way you cannot describe,” he says. “You get to feel their reaction to your touch, and your impression of them changes.”
By the end of the program, the Jewish and Palestinian children learned how to be compassionate towards one another because they could see the human beyond the differences that had originally kept them apart.
Perhaps with Jaffa as a model we can nip trauma in the bud. We can dance together and form connections now, so that we won’t have to heal later.
Top image courtesy of dancinginjaffa.com