Movie review by Andrea Karen Hammer
Dancing in Jaffa presents a formidable challenge: Renowned ballroom dancer Pierre Dulaine‘s quest to bridge deeply embedded differences in the troubled hometown he fled at age 4.
The documentary follows ballroom dancer Pierre Dulaine‘s emotional and often frustrated efforts to introduce the common “language” of dance to Arabs and Israelis. After tracing his steps back to his childhood home in a rundown neighborhood, he is later urged to leave quickly before distant gunshots threaten his safety. Although Dulaine initially attempts to gain parents’ support for his Dancing Classrooms program in five diverse schools, many are fiercely and openly resistant.
Entrenched Animosity and Refusal to Participate
Many of the children similarly act out entrenched animosity toward others from different backgrounds. Some resist touching hands in dance poses, withdrawing them into the sleeves of sweatshirts. Other children completely refuse to participate–and leave the classroom.
These scenes are disturbing to watch but somewhat understandable given the enormity of the situation. In one particularly revealing conversation, a taxi driver tells Dulaine that his program will never work. He explains that four friends died amid the violence, and others with similar experiences will never recover from their losses.
Yvonne Marceau Deepens Fascination With Dance
Although deeply troubling, the film excels at conveying personal stories and presenting different viewpoints. Despite ballroom dancer Pierre Dulaine‘s edgier moments, he earns major credit for persistence in communicating his goals and love of dance to the children, with the help of other teachers and translators. A high point of Dancing in Jaffa involves scenes with his elegant dance partner of nearly four decades, Yvonne Marceau, whose gentle manner creates an instant connection with the children–and deepens their fascination with dance.
Along with the literally jaw-dropping and sweeping dances with Yvonne Marceau, other uplifting moments involve the young dancers finally reveling in the pure joy of dance and forming friendships despite their different backgrounds. Another thrill is watching the excitement of their competition connect once-resistant Palestinian and Israeli parents, who are now sitting next to each other and cheering together in the bleachers.
Power of the Arts to Reach Across Intractable Divides
The program featured in Dancing in Jaffa, with ongoing success, is an important reminder about the power of the arts to reach across even the most intractable divides.