Ballroom Dancing for Peace

In a new documentary, the renowned Dancing Classrooms program brings kids in Israel together

April 11, 2014

Noor Gabai (left) dances with a partner while ballroom instructor Pierre Dulaine looks on. Noor is one of the children featured in director Hilla Medalia's new documentary, Dancing in Jaffa.

In 1994, ballroom dance instructor Pierre Dulaine helped create Dancing Classrooms in New York City. The 10-week program brings ballroom dancing lessons to fifth and eighth graders to help kids build their confidence and learn teamwork. The program was such a success, it went on to inspire the 2005 documentary Mad Hot Ballroom and the 2006 musical drama film Take the Lead, starring Antonio Banderas as Pierre Dulaine.

Lois Dana competes in the final team match that concludes the Dancing Classrooms program in Jaffa, Israel.

Lois Dana competes in the final team match that concludes the Dancing Classrooms program in Jaffa, Israel.

Now, Dulaine is taking the program global. His efforts to bring Dancing Classrooms to Jewish Israeli and Palestinian Israeli fifth graders in his hometown of Jaffa, Israel, in 2011 are documented in the new film, Dancing in Jaffa (Not Rated). The documentary hits select theaters and Video On Demand on April 11.

To help promote the film, Dulaine and the film team brought four of the young stars of Dancing in Jaffa to New York City to meet with reporters: Palestinian Israeli girl Noor Gabai and boy Alaa Bubali, and Jewish Israeli twins Lois and David Dana. “Working with children—they were 11 years old at the time—was not easy,” Dulaine told TFK. “It’s very hard for any boy and girl to want to touch each other. They were [covering their hands] with their sleeves!”

A Cultural Challenge

Jaffa is an ancient port city in Israel. During the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, nearly 70,000 Palestinians left the city. The few thousand who remained behind became Israeli citizens.

In Jaffa, Dulaine faced additional challenges beyond getting shy kids to dance with each other. The Hebrew-speaking Jewish Israeli and Arabic-speaking Palestinian Israeli communities have a long history of conflict. “They are living side by side, but they don’t connect with each other,” Dulaine says.

“The situation in Israel is not unique,” he adds. “All over the world, we have people living close to each other but not friendly to each other. But if we can dance with each other, we can get to know them in a positive way.”

Fifth graders practice ballroom dancing in Jaffa, Israel.

Fifth graders practice ballroom dancing in Jaffa, Israel.

Learning to Dance

In the beginning of the Dancing Classrooms program in Jaffa, Noor found that nobody wanted to dance with her. But as she got to know the other kids, things improved. “When people saw me dancing very nicely, everyone wanted to dance with me,” she says.

When Lois started the program, she had already taken some dance lessons and was looking forward to improving and getting to know new kids. “I really wanted to participate,” Lois says. Her brother, David, was shyer about it, but he enjoyed learning to dance and now does breakdancing.

Lois offered advice for TFK readers who want to try ballroom dancing. “Give a chance to your partner,” she says. “The more you dance with someone, the more you get to know him and the more you get used to him.”

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