‘Dancing in Jaffa’ inspires peace in the Middle East

If the documentary “Dancing in Jaffa” has any influence, Pierre Dulaine, a 69-year-old ballroom dancer and teacher, could be in line for a Nobel Peace Prize.

“Dancing in Jaffa” follows Dulaine, a native of the Tel Aviv neighborhood Jaffa, trying to get 150 Jewish and Palestinian Israeli children — most about 10 years old — to dance together.

“My belief is that when a human being dances with another human being, you get to know that person in a way that you can’t describe,” Dulaine says in the opening of the film.

Dulaine has a professional demeanor, a palpable, can-do determination and impeccable posture. He knows he is up against an ancient grudge. Born in Jaffa in 1944, Dulaine’s own family fled Tel Aviv along with some 70,000 Palestinians during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. His family eventually settled in Jordan, where he grew up speaking Arabic, French and English.

Dulaine’s initial teaching proposals to schools and parents don’t go over well. Not every school agrees. Eventually, he persuades enough schools to participate, and allow him to teach ballroom and host a dance competition between schools.

After Dulaine teaches some initial steps and rhythms, the kids are shocked when they find out they have to dance with the opposite sex, and touch them. Boys look at girls like they’re aliens. Girls giggle nervously, huddle and hug. They do everything possible to avoid touching, even pulling hoodie sleeves over their hands. Dulaine has no tolerance, and gently smacks them into place.

Working against sexual segregation and religious and cultural intolerance, Dulaine’s main message is mutual respect. At a frustrating juncture, he is adamant: “I don’t want to hear ‘Jew, Arab, Arab, Jew!’ You’re all the same, understand?!?”

Jaws drop when the kids watch Dulaine dance with his longtime partner, the elegant Yvonne Marceau, on video. He flies her out to sweeten things. They dance together in front of the children, and the kids gasp in delight.

“You don’t have to marry everyone you dance with,” Dulaine teases.

Marceau’s feminine touch eases classroom tension, and several of the boys develop crushes on her. The kids warm up.

For many, dance becomes more than movement. Noor, an abrasive child who suffers from bullying, is introduced as a cross-armed, nonsmiling, frustrated girl. By the film’s conclusion, she learns social graces, befriends a Jewish girl and blossoms into a beaming dancer, and she isn’t the only one. At the competition, proud mothers film their children — dancing with the opposite sex — through their burqas. Dulaine’s “dance creates respect” philosophy has stuck.


Dancing in Jaffa ★★★★

Starring Pierre Dulaine, Yvonne Marceau

Directed by Hilla Medalia

Not rated

Running time 1 hour, 28 minutes

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