Dancer and teacher Pierre Dulaine has a passion for getting kids to dance in the hopes it will instill discipline, love of the craft and understanding. His Dancing Classrooms program was first established in New York City in 1994 and is currently used by more than 500 schools nationwide. He’s traveled with the message, bringing the program to Northern Ireland (his father’s home country) in order to teach students of differing backgrounds to dance with—and, one assumes, respect—one another.
In Dancing in Jaffa, Dulaine visits his Tel Aviv hometown with the same goal, facing seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Far beyond shouting down the usual cases of schoolkid cooties, Jaffa’s got an increasingly-strained political situation, institutional prejudice from half the intended participants and cultural mores about dancing from the other half. As such, the drama isn’t in seeing how the dancing progresses—it’s in whether the dancing can happen at all.
In trying to give everyone their due, Dancing in Jaffa becomes a jack-of-all-trades, keeping tabs on standout children (theaffable Lois, complicated Noor, charming Alaa) while laying out political attitudes, where protest marches are less revealing than smaller conversations. It’s telling to listen to a girl casually mention, “If my dad sees me with an Arab, he’ll kill me,” or Dulaine chatting with a cab driver, or Alaa’s mother trying to visit family in Gaza. The film often shifts from Dulaine’s personal history to cultural current-affairs to a feel-good story about kids who might just get along after all. But for every shot of smiling children, there’s a close-up of an armed school guard, and altogether, there’s enough unrest that Dulaine’s hopes seem beyond his scope. While the movie ends on a hopeful note, the problems these children face leave an impression of an uncertain future.