A tip of the hat to Pierre Dulaine!
In 1994, long before ballroom dancing received mainstream acclaim through the wildly popular TV show Dancing With The Stars, Dulaine created the "Dancing Classrooms" program which has become his life's work and lasting legacy.
Dulaine was born in the city of Jaffa - then part of Mandate Palestine - in April 1944. As he tells us in Dancing in Jaffa, his mother was part Palestinian and part French, and his father was a British soldier of Irish descent. These were complicated times and Dulaine's heritage magnified the complexity considerably: Palestinian, French, British, Irish… oy!
The one thing Dulaine clearly was not was Jewish, and in 1948, after Jaffa became part of the new state of Israel, his family began wandering, living for a time in Amman, Jordan and eventually settling in Birmingham, England.
Decades later, after the huge success of the "Dancing Classrooms" program -- which now serves thousands of children all around the world -- Dulaine has returned to his birthplace to sprinkle magic dust over a set of selected schools in Jaffa… and the amazing thing is, it works!
By the time of the final competition, Hebrew-speaking children are dancing with children who mostly speak Arabic, and Palestinian mothers in hijab are sitting next to Israeli mothers in tee shirts. The boys and girls on the dance floor are poised and graceful, their teachers are beaming, and everyone in the bleachers is cheering them on.
Outside the warm dance spaces, however, "real life" continues to be just as complex as ever. Award-winning Israeli director Hilla Medalia includes tension-filled street scenes with Israeli adults marching in honor of Yom Ha'atzmaut while Palestinian protesters commemorate the Nakba.
What will happen to these children after Dulaine is long gone? Maybe someday Hilla Medalia will do a Part Two, but for now the only thing we know for sure is that Pierre Dulaine has created something that should be too good to be true… and yet… somehow… it works!
Dancing in Jaffa opens at the Music Box Theatre on Southport on Friday, May 2. Visit the Music Box website for complete schedule information.
For more about Pierre Dulaine and the making of Dancing in Jaffa, read my "Second City Tzivi" Blog post.
Photo Credits: Courtesy of IFC.