On Film: Dancing Classrooms in Israel

Pierre Dulaine has hit the trifecta. The champion ballroom dancer first emerged in Mad Hot Ballroom, a 2005 documentary about his program, called Dancing Classrooms, to bring ballroom dance and manners to disadvantaged youth in New York City.

A year later, Antonio Banderas aimed for the populist movie audience, playing Dulaine in Take the Lead, where the story was transferred to a high school with problem students. Now there’s Dancing in Jaffa, a 2013 film that takes the story to new heights by placing it in the tension-filled Israeli city.

It is Dulaine’s hometown and we find that he is Irish, French and Palestinian. His mission is to break down the barriers, not only between girls and boys in the fifth grade, always a challenge, but to have Jewish and Palestinian Israeli students dance together.

Jaffa follows three children, all with differing perspectives on the project. Noor is a Palestinian girl with image problems, Lois a progressive Israeli, the daughter of a single mother and a nameless sperm bank donor, and Alaa, a young Palestinian who, despite his destitute circumstances, has a positive outlook on life.

Although the screening at the JFilm Festival failed to provide subtitles at the start, the spirit of the film itself came through. It is Dulaine’s greatest achievement, moving beyond ballroom and social interaction to a political compromise, certainly beyond the boundaries presented by the previous films.

There is a lot of material to cover — personal, professional and political. But the final competition, where Jewish and Palestinian parents and friend share the bleachers, brings the point home…in spades. Since the filming of Jaffa, thousands of students have passed through the program.

One can only hope that it has provided a dent in cultural relations, which may not bear fruit for years. Hope. There is more here than all the negotiations that make the front page of local newspapers.

There was a bonus at the Manor Theatre screening. Ten fifth grade students from Pittsburgh Colfax gave a live performance of their skills in merengue, foxtrot, rumba, tango and swing — Dylan Mayer, Alaizia Gerber, Guillermo Harris, Sarah Mayer, Jack O’Connor, Carmel Ricketts, Luke Chinman, Lily Turri, Spencer Lieberman and Nathan Segall, giving everyone a local spin on the film. They were part of Pittsburgh Mercy Health System’s local version of Dulaine’s program, Dancing Classrooms Pittsburgh, which has come a long way and packs its own emotional impact. MHS embodies the phrase, “Act locally, think globally.”

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