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Originally published Thursday, April 24, 2014 at 3:06 PM

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‘Dancing in Jaffa’: Ballroom dance as political therapy

In “Dancing in Jaffa,” champion ballroom dancer Pierre Dulaine returns to his native Palestine to unite the children there through dance.


Seattle Times movie critic

Movie Review 3 stars

‘Dancing in Jaffa,’ a documentary directed by Hilla Medalia. 90 minutes. Not rated; for general audiences. In English, Arabic and Hebrew, with English subtitles. Varsity. Dancer and film subject Pierre Dulaine will be at the 7:30 p.m. screening Friday, April 25, and will host a Q&A afterward.

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“When a human being dances with another human being, something happens,” says Pierre Dulaine, a champion ballroom dancer turned teacher. “You get to know that person, in a way you can’t describe.”

“Dancing in Jaffa” is a charming, often moving documentary about how dance can work magic in breaking down barriers. Dulaine, born in the city of Jaffa in 1944, left his homeland as a child, launching a career as a dancer and bringing his beloved art to thousands of children in New York City public schools (he’s the founder of Dancing Classrooms, the program showcased in the irresistible 2005 documentary “Mad Hot Ballroom”).

Now 70 yet still moving like silk, he returns to Jaffa for the first time, determined to help unite its perpetually simmering Israeli and Palestinian population by getting their children, educated in mostly segregated schools, to dance together.

“What I’m asking them to do is dance with the enemy,” Dulaine muses to the camera, and indeed things don’t go well early on; the kids are reluctant (some viciously so) and their parents troubled. But he keeps at it, good-naturedly stressing proper manners and form (swatting children with his ever-present necktie as needed), and reminding himself and his students that learning to dance isn’t just about the steps — it’s about learning to trust. Things end, as they should, with a boisterous contest filled with proud dancers and rainbow balloons. “She was like a closed flower,” notes a teacher of one initially unhappy student; through dance, she’s opening to the sun.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com



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