Dancing with the ‘Enemy’: The Importance of Having Meaningful Connections Through Dance
At 1948, we had to leave our home when I was young. First to Cyprus, and then to Ireland. My father came from the northern part of Ireland being a protestant. He came from a family of very religious protestant ministers. My mother was a Palestinian Catholic, and we had just left Israel. Apparently, my father’s parents did not approve of the marriage with a foreigner, and with a Catholic one, nonetheless. And that’s when we moved to England.
What I’m trying to say is that we end up being brought up one way and as adults, we can’t get past our differences. The earlier we learn in life that we really have more things in common than not.
Dancing with the Other
Both parents nowadays have to go to work. That is if a child is lucky enough to have two parents, and that can be such a difficult thing for the children. In most parts of the world, kids are being bullied. Those kids become very shy. And if you’re being bullied, you don’t know how to react or act. In the dancing classes program, you have to dance with each other, you move around, you’re always changing partners, and suddenly you’re face to face with someone you don’t really like from the classroom.
In New York, African-American kids dancing with Chinese kids, Hispanic dancing with white kids, Jewish girls dancing with Muslim boys. It’s a melting pot. Palestinian and Jewish children together…dancing in Jaffa, a city that was torn in two very apparent different cultures. We had to teach the children to “dance with the enemy” they kept hearing about.
The value of our programs
There’s an expression ‘When Mohammed can’t go to the mountain, the mountain comes to Mohammed”. Not all parents are educated to send their children to various activities. So the children are not coming to us, we go to them. Really we are giving it to the school. Working with the children and those children not at least have a taste of what it is to be a lady and a gentleman. If they like it, and many of them do, they can continue at their own pace.
For us, as far as the word ‘continue’, we have a dance studio in NYC, our headquarters. There, the children who are taking our program in their respective schools come to us in the weekend. We have Friday night, Saturday and Sunday all day long ’till 10 o’clock in the morning to 6 over 650 children who come to us to continue with their dancing. The benefits are incredible, they learn to behave elegantly. These are the skills for life, for the future.
Cultivating life skills through the human touch
We keep them in a safe environment. We address them with “Ladies and gentlemen”. As soon as you call a child “Lady” or “Gentleman” something happens because you’re not talking down to them. I will quote from my Ted talk:
“When you touch someone with respect, something happens.”
You get to know that person in a way that you cannot describe. You’re touching flesh. You’re touching a human being and that person you did not like suddenly ‘Oh, my god, they’re like me’.
When you teach someone poise, when you teach them to respect themselves. Then, they can easily start to respect others. You can’t learn that from a distance. When you touch someone physically and you do it with respect something clicks. Something happens. You feel a connection with that human being instantly.
One trick that we use in our dance classes is to thank the partner you danced with and then greet/welcome the following one. It’s a sign of recognition of ‘we are all humans indeed’. And if we can get this positive feeling enacted into a child of 10-11 years old, it will stay with them and they will grow in a positive way. That’s why I think it’s important to start at a younger age.
You get to know so much about a person through the physical touch, without any words, it’s incredible. Instinctively, good feelings come out of that process: to move you have to be malleable, you have to be able to give and take. That’s how you overcome hatred, mistrust, and prejudice.
The hardest projects are often the most gratifying
While they’re young we can change people’s minds easier. In the same way, children can change their parents’ minds. The whole school culture has changed after the schools joined our programs. There are many people in this world that we don’t really hear of. We only hear about terrorism, mass shootings, killings etc. We should remind ourselves that we indeed have the power to do something.
At the end of our program, the children have to do a performance. They dance with their partners in front of their parents and guests and they all have a great time. You can see the progress they had, the first time they dance together they stay as far as they can from each other. By the end, they are dancing very close together.
Dancing with someone requires a special relationship. It’s incredible how well this work: trust your partner and trust the person you’re with. No matter the nationality, the race, the religion or socio-economic status, when you dance with someone, when you are in that embrace hold, you are not with a label, but with an individual with feelings and different points of view.
This is the magic of ballroom dancing.
Photography: V.studio photos
Pierre Dulaine won the Blackpool exhibition section four times with his partner Yvonne Marceau. He received the Americans for the Arts Award, the prestigious Ellis Island Medal of Honor, the Carl Alan Award or the United Nations nomination as a Goodwill Ambassador for promoting peace. And more than anything he founded a new teaching method called The Dulaine teaching method which combines the love for humankind with the love for dance. Get to know more of him by accessing one of his most important projects: http://www.dancingclassrooms.org/