While current events unfolding in the Middle East seem to suggest there will never be an end to the Israel-Palestine conflict, a critically-acclaimed documentary about ballroom dancing gives even pessimists a glimmer of hope that peace is on the horizon.
Director Hilla Medalia’s “Dancing in Jaffa” follows renowned ballroom dancer Pierre Dulaine on a 15-week quest to put his art form to the ultimate test: teach Jewish and Palestinian Israelis to dance — together.
“Dancing heals,” Dulaine told an audience after TheWrap Awards Season Screening Series presentation of the film at The Landmark Theater in Los Angeles on Wednesday. “When you touch someone with dancing, something really happens.”
The proof is in the picture, which is executive produced by “So You Think You Can Dance” co-creator Nigel Lythgoe, who attended the screening with producer Diane Nabatoff.
Audiences watched prepubescent children who are taught to hate each other slowly drop their defenses, and hold a Jew or Arab close enough to take a waltz around the classroom, and eventually compete for a trophy in front of an entire community divided by religion. As anyone familiar with the deep cultural rift in the region would expect, it wasn’t easy.
“Honestly, I walked out of the school three times. And I went back three times,” Dulaine revealed during a Q&A with TheWrap Awards Editor Steve Pond. “The worst thing you can do to a child is start a project, and then give up. Then you’re giving up on them for life.”
Dulaine and his longtime dancing partner, Yvonne Marceau, who is also featured in the film, have been dedicating their lives to children since launching Dancing Classrooms in 1994. The New York-based nonprofit introduces disaffected girls and boys to the art form in order to promote respect, courtesy and cross-cultural understanding, which appears to give the students a leg up in practically every aspect of life.
One of the more memorable characters profiled in “Dancing in Jaffa” is Noor, a young girl still reeling from the death of her father, and bullying her peers instead of befriending them. By the end of the film’s 90-minute running time, however, Noor is a new girl. A smile replaces her pout, her laughter replaces the fighting, and learning is no longer a chore, it’s a passion.
“She didn’t even go to class until Pierre showed up,” Nabatoff said. “Then she showed up, and didn’t want to miss school.”
Seeing is believing, so it’s hard to argue against Dulaine’s mission and method, which he has taught to over 420,000 people of all ages around the world. And considering it managed to mend what is perceived as an intractable divide between Arab and Jewish citizens in Jaffa, Nabatoff thinks it just might be able to save the world.
“If you change the children, you change the future,” Nabatoff said. “The only way we’re going to make a difference, is if we get this program in every school in every city in every country.”