Directed by Hilla Medalia, Dancing in Jaffa is the homecoming story of internationally acclaimed ballroom champion, Pierre Dulaine, paralleled with the journeys of his students. Born in Jaffa in 1944, before fleeing to Ammam in 1948, Dulaine’s childhood was split between two cultures – something which he seeks to bring together in his work and communicate through this documentary. As a successful dancer, Pierre introduced ballroom dancing to New York City’s public schools with his programme having now taught over 350,000 children.
Offering a rare glimpse into the world of Palestinians living in Israel, this documentary tracks the dancer’s first return to Jaffa since his childhood to fulfill his lifelong dream of teaching Jewish and Palestinian-Israeli children to dance together. Pierre’s goal is to bring the two communities together, which have lived side by side for generations without engaging in any constructive or meaningful interaction, and teach them mutual respect as he trains them. Over the course of 10 weeks, a kind of magic takes place as Pierre teaches the children, against all odds, how to put aside their differences and begin to live together in harmony.
We watch events unfold through the perspectives of three children, a teacher, and Pierre himself; and as well as the struggles working towards the final competition, the audience is privy to these individuals’ identity issues, challenging home lives and poverty. A particularly poignant focus is the story of Ms. Rachel, a teacher in one of the rare mixed schools in Israel: a conservative rabbi’s daughter, she is a religious Jew who keeps Shabbat, and although her brother was severely injured in a suicide bombing, she dedicates her life to building coexistence between the two fighting communities. In Pierre she finds a peaceful ally.
Pierre believes that the beauty of dance is that it forces two people to move together as one, and that if you can shift the paradigm for the children, you can change the future. With 500 people attending the final dance show – veiled Muslim women sitting with Jewish women – Pierre’s ideal is realised. This program, easily replicable worldwide, has the ability to break down long standing walls of hatred.
Dancing in Jaffa opens in cinemas across the UK on 30 January. For more information visit www.dancinginjaffa.com.
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1. Trailer for Hilla Medalia’s Dancing in Jaffa via YouTube.