If the Nobel Peace prize committee is searching for nominees, they should look to the world of ballroom dance. Here, they will find Pierre Dulaine- a former dance champion turned social activist who is changing hearts and minds literally one step at a time.
In 1994, Dulaine founded “Dancing Classrooms”, a New York City based program which teaches elementary and junior high school students to dance with each other. He realized through his own experience just how effective the art form can be in building life skills and working with one another . His work was chronicled in the 2005 award-winning documentary Mad Hot Ballroom. One year later, it received the Hollywood treatment through the 2006 feature film Take the Lead, starring Antonio Banderas as Pierre Dulaine. After conquering Gotham, (where the program continues to thrive), he took his method across the nation and around the globe. The Dulaine method is now being taught in 31 cities, 5 countries, and 200 schools.
Born in Jaffa, Dulaine decided in 2010 to return to his homeland, where he would undertake the challenge of teaching Jewish and Palestinian children to dance together. He enlisted the aid of producer Diane Nabatoff who had also produced Take the Lead. Within two months, Nabatoff quickly secured financing, assembled a crew, found a director and joined Dulaine to record the experience. The result is Dancing in Jaffa, which will premiere in New York City on April 11th and in Los Angeles and other cities on April 18th.
The documentary has already trotted off with numerous awards at major international film festivals, most recently in France. The modest and eloquent Dulaine was in attendance. “There were eight screenings and, with all due respect, there were standing ovations at every single one”, he said. Nabatoff has also shared in the achievement and has noted how the movie is both cross-cultural and cross-generational. “We were just at a screening in Virginia. Afterwards, a young, beautiful girl in her twenties approached us to let us know that this was the most important film she had ever seen. Another lady (at the same screening), who was close to eighty shared that her parents were Holocaust survivors and that this was the most important movie she had ever seen. Everywhere we’ve gone, we’ve gotten standing ovations, so people are connecting to this film on an emotional level.”
Breaking through cultural barriers was a challenge. Dulaine had to convince the principals of participating schools that his program would be beneficial for the kids on an academic level. He shared the transformative results his program had in New York and finally won them over. Nabatoff observes, “He teaches them self-respect, respect for your partner, and that one doesn’t preclude the other. She added, “Pierre always says ‘If you change the children, you change the future’. He went in and he transformed these children. They were spitting on each other, would not touch each other and hated each other.They were 11 years old. How do you have that much hate?” After 10 weeks of finesse, interaction, and implementation of the Dulaine method, the animosity faded. “By the end of the program, they were holding each other and respecting one another,” said Nabatoff.
Dulaine jokes that he’d like to teach Democrats and Republicans how to dance together. It’s a quixotic idea, but not out of the scope of Dulaine’s optimistic worldview. “He goes into areas of conflict and brings people together,” said Nabatoff. “It’s just unbelievable.” Someone recently posted a quote on the film’s facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/DancingInJaffa) which said, “Pierre makes the impossible, possible.” This should make us all celebrate an elegant man who can spin a daunting dance with the devil into a hopeful, heavenly waltz.
Dancing In Jaffa premieres in New York City on Friday April 11th. For showtimes and more information, visit www.dancinginjaffa.com. For more information about Dancing Classrooms, including the 2014 Fundraising Gala on May 21st, 2014 at the Plaza Hotel, visit www.dancingclassrooms.com.