Dancing has the potential to change the world
Pierre Dulaine has a great vision with his project „Dancing Classroom“
By Ute Fischbach-Kirchgraber
You don’t have a chance but use it – this sophisticated sentence holds true concerning dance. The living proof of this is Pierre Dulaine. He dreams the impossible dream of a better world by teaching children to dance. And it is at the beginning not the quality of the step that he wants to improve: he wants to develop social skills. First of all: respect. Respect is the key to get in contact with another person and by doing steps together you are on the way to move also your thinking … That is the idea and it works out. Nowadays there are 200 schools and 50 teachers in New York working with his special method. The result is significant. Scientific tests have prooven that there is much less violence in these schools, less bullying, less fights. So one single person can really change the world – for now it is the small world of the kids, but when they change their thinking, perhaps the parents also follow … You have to believe in it. We met Pierre Dulaine in Düsseldorf at INTAKO, the big congress of dance teachers in Germany where he gave a lesson with kids from the Karl Simrock School in Bonn. For Dulaine is an ambassador spreading his method round the world.
As a refugee once you understand the feeling of young people treated as underdogs. You found dancing apt to change yourself, to be more strong and selfconscious. So your environment started to treat you differently. Why dancing? Could it have been any kind of sport like soccer?
I was born in Palestine and when we came to England – my father being Irish, I learned to speak English – I was bullied in school for my arabic accent. That I started dancing was by chance. There was this girl who took me to dancing class. So I was 14 years old when I started dancing, but I could not join my friends in competitions for I had no money. Being 20 I went to London and became a full-time dancer in an Arthur Murray Studio.
Where did you get your dancing education as professional dancer? You did not only ballroom but ballet as well and stage dance?
I achieved my dancing skills in Birmingham. I started dancing with my teacher and we had a good name in show dance. 1967 we won in the Royal Albert Hall and succeeded again 1969. I earned money dancing on cruise ships, till I met my dancepartner Yvonne Marceau. Liking New York very much I started a dancing school in New York.
Not to forget you are a famous dancer, especially doing show-dance. Four times World Champion in Latin American dances, you thrilled the audience everywhere but also in Blackpool.
Yes, Blackpool is the Mekka of dance. But I moved on. I founded the American Ballroom Theatre. We were five couples doing shows on stage. And 1989 we were on Broadway with a Grand Hotel-Show. There I started to volunteer in schools.
The rest is known. You even got the attention of filmstudios. There is a film „Dance – take the lead“ with Antonio Banderas in your role as Pierre Dulaine based on your experiences. How much is real and how much fiction?
It is Hollywood. My pupils were 10 years old but they thought there would be a greater audience for 17 years old pupils having love stories. But the message is correct. Street kids changed and bloomed like flowers.
How do you work with children?
You have to be fully involved with the kids. You have to be with them – otherwise you would not reach them. Not criticizing your pupils at the start, only telling positive aspects is a reassurance, does the trick to open up the mind. There must be a secure space for them. And it is not only about body-language, it is also about humor and joy to give fun.
Your greatest challenge was to work with Israelian und Palestinian kids 2011 – starting in Jaffa, where you lived up to the age of four years. By the way there exists a documentary film „Mad Hot Ballroom“.
I was pleased and thrilled to come back where I have started. It was not easy to find schools for my project especially when they realized that they were really meant to dance with the enemy. There were girls pulling their sleeves over the hands for they did not want to touch an arabic boy. Five schools left the project, two with Israelis, two with Palestinians and one with mixed pupils. I know the thinking of the arabic world but reality striked back …
This Dancing Project in Jaffa was quite spectacular. You still move on to enlarge your Dancing Class-Room-project over the world now in Germany.
There is a school in Berlin with many Turkish kids, one in Lebach near Saarbrücken, and the Karl Simrock School in Bonn where the kids interrupted their holiday to show at INTAKO what we worked out so far.
You don’t want to interfere with politics. Best thing you can achieve is to change single persons. But do you believe it is possible to change an institution?
It is an illusion. But by changing single persons you get a start. Let’s hope for the future …
The Dulaine Method
„Dancing Classroom“ was founded 1994 as a non-profit-project of Pierre Dulaine‘s American Ballroom Theatre Company. It is an artistic program to cultivate essential life skills through the parties of social dance.
First of all it is about respect and compassion. These are the fundamental elements of the Dulaine Method. Teachers have to be completely in the moment they are teaching, for when children are sensing distance they would not follow. There has to be a safe place for the kids – a therapeutic milieu, quite different of children’s normal day environment. Command and control is necessary, teachers know how to develop an individual child but they should also know about group-dynamics. An innate understanding of how to use the group to help the individual is the glue that holds the class together. Language of body and verbal are the great connectors of „Dancing Classroom“. Openness, warmth and genuine affection for the children should be the physical affect of the teacher. Constantly positive comments build the verbal repertoire. Humor and joy must be brought into the teaching experience. One´s inner child must be allowed to emerge when teaching, so the children sense the teacher to be happy with them.
Pierre Dulaine is nominated as ambassador for peace in dancing by the United Nations. Besides the Ellis Island Medal of Honor he got several awards for his dancing and his engagement in working with disadvantaged and discriminated children:
Fred Astaire Award for best Dancing Broadway 1989/90
Dance Educators of America 1990
Dance Magazine 1993
Americans for the Arts Award 2005
Legends of Dance Award 2006
National Dance Council of America 2007
School of American Ballet Award 2009
Concerned Citizens Award 2010
Carl Alan Award 2013
Ballroom Dancers Federation 2014
Gene Kelly Legacy Award 2014
Can Am Special Achievement Award 2015
Lifetime Achievement Award of DTP (Deutscher Trainerverband der Professionals) 2018
Fotos by Ute Fischbach-Kirchgraber