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Laramie Movie Scope:
Dancing in Jaffa

Trying to dance toward peace

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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December 26, 2014 -- This documentary film is about a remarkable social experiment to try to break down the barriers between boys and girls, Jews and Muslims in Israel and their many cultural differences through dance instruction. These barriers are formidable and it doesn't seem likely these barriers can simply be danced around. I was surprised how it turned out.

At the center of all this is Pierre Dulaine, a ballroom dance champion, and founder of the Dancing Classrooms program and inventor of the Dulaine method of dance instruction. His dance instruction methods were featured in the film “Mad Hot Ballroom” (2005). Dulaine was born in Yaffa, Palestine in 1944 to an Irish father and a Palestinian mother but his family moved to France shortly afterward.

Dulaine returns to his home town, now called Jaffa, an Israeli city in which 30 percent of the population is of Palestinian, non-Jewish descent. He plans to do what he can to heal the wounds of war, terrorism and hatred. His idea seems simple enough. He plans to teach ballroom dancing at several elementary schools in Jaffa and get Jewish and Muslim children to dance together. This doesn't sound all that difficult, or effective, for that matter, but Dulaine makes it work by being both determined and persistent.

One of the main problems is cultural. At one point, Dulaine enlists the aid of his dance partner (and co-founder of Dancing Classrooms) Yvonne Marceau, to help him teach the children to overcome their cultural problems with dancing. At one point, he introduces Marceau to a Muslim guard and she offers to shake his hand. The guard says, “I don't touch women.” Marceau asks Dulaine if men can't touch women, how is he going to get boys and girls to dance together?

Well, you could have boys dance with boys or girls with girls, but Dulaine will have none of that. At one Muslim school, several boys simply refuse to touch the girls at all. Dulaine refuses to work under these circumstances. The children must do things his way, and that starts with proper comportment on the dance floor. The boys must ask the girls to dance nicely and properly.

Dulaine overcomes all problems, including divisive political demonstrations with persistence and determination. His is a very powerful personality. He knows what he wants from his students and he gets it. One of the most impressive examples of his work is a young Muslim girl, Noor Gabai, who becomes a fine dancer under Dulaine's instruction. In the beginning no one will dance with her. She is sullen, unhappy and gets into fights with other children. Her mother describes her remarkable transformation into a happy, confident child, and a much better student, all because of dancing.

The film culminates in a dance competition. Another example of how well Dulaine's program works is how badly some of the children want to be selected for the competition, the same children who resisted dancing at the beginning. The film shows us friendships developing between children and families that would never have become friends without this dance program.

Of course you can't dance around all the problems between Israel and Palestine, but it is amazing what can be accomplished by just teaching some Jews and Muslims to dance together. This is a rare example of hope in a part of the world that desperately needs it. This film rates a B.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2014 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)