The rhumba, tango and merengue are used as a unifying force to bridge the cultural and political divide between Jewish and Palestinian-Arab children in “Dancing in Jaffa.”
The Israeli documentary homes in on the determined efforts of Pierre Dulaine, a four-time world champion ballroom dancer, and New York City instructor, to introduce dance to children at two Israeli and two Palestinian schools, and another that’s integrated, in the Israeli port city of Jaffa.
It’s a somewhat bittersweet trip for Dulaine, born to a Palestinian mother and Irish father, who were among the nearly 70,000 Palestinians who left Jaffa after the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. Well intentioned as he is, he’s difficult to warm up to, with his patrician ways and hot-and-cold eruptions that include swatting kids on the head with his tie.
While Dulaine expresses sympathy for the more impoverished Palestinians, who make up about a third of the city’s population, he is evenhanded as he tries to infuse his young audience with the joy of dance. It’s no easy task, requiring him to overcome the children’s reluctance, Islamic opposition to girls being touched while dancing and overall unease at bringing the two groups together.
“What I’m asking them to do is to dance with the enemy,” Dulaine says early on.
The story, which takes a long time to gain momentum, shines a lens on a few of Dulaine’s 11-year-old pupils and their transformation through movement. Most prominently portrayed is Noor, a Palestinian girl with anger issues whose anguish over her father’s death is captured in a heart-rending scene at his grave site. There also is the budding friendship between Lois, a Jew whose father, her mother explains, was a sperm donor, and Alaa, a happy-go-lucky fisherman’s son.
The film culminates in a dance competition, but it’s the journey and not the awards handed out that counts.
dancing in jaffa
Director: Hilla Medalia
Running time: 86 minutes
Rating: Unrated, but G equivalent.
The Lowdown: A dance instructor returns to the Israeli city of his youth to bring children together through movement.