The lack of imagination is a reflection of the social lassitude, which in turn is chiefly – but not solely – caused by political stagnation. Through art and dance we can stimulate imagination and provide a peaceful emotional outlet. Beginning in June 2013 and in cooperation with Ruwwad Al Tanmiyah our I CAN MOVE trainees started giving dance classes in various villages throughout Palestine.
The impact of the classes and this methodology is more than the evident psychological and cognitive empowerment of marginalized strata. Beyond the aforementioned, the trainees are helping schools indirectly reform their archaic memorization-based education system, by incorporating a focus on social interaction, inter-group communication, and most importantly, creativity and the confidence in the ability of the individual. Moreover and in the same line, it is contributing to breaking the recently constructed high walls of social “otherness” amongst and within the communities of the West Bank. Through the methodology applied the trainees are directly working on reducing the dimensions of present social fragmentation.
The first class initiated in June 2013 was a women’s class in Budros. By October 2013 an additional women’s class was introduced in the village of Qibya. Half a year later, in the spring of 2014, the trainees started giving classes in the Budros Elementary Girls School, and by September 2014 classes were expanded to the Qibya Elementary Girls School, the Qibya Elementary Boys School and the Budros Elementary Boys School. The trainees continued giving classes while gradually expanding the classes to additional villages. By 2015 the expansion included classes in the schools and village councils of Nilin and Deir Qiddies.
In the beginning, the trainees as well as the participants faced several challenges. One of these was the environment and the facilities where the classes were held as well as the infrastructure in and between the villages.
The women’s class in Qibya was held in a small storage room, to give one example. This was a challenging environment due to dust and the absence of windows. Additionally, the door had to be closed in order to create and ensure a safe space for the women to move freely.
By autumn 2013 the trainees were able to improve conditions in Qibya and move their classes to a kindergarten, where there was an empty space they could use.
As the classes started in Nilin the space – though in the municipal building – was also quite demanding, as it was a coffee break are for boys with billiard tables. The trainees put a lot of effort into opening up the place and cleaning it in order for it to become suitable for giving classes. Within a few weeks the trainees gained the trust of the municipal council and could therefore arrange for a new space – a sports centre for women in Nilin. It had mirrors, was clean and provided a suitable environment for the classes. This space has ever since been the venue for the community classes for women and children held in Nilin.
Another obstacle that still poses a challenge to the trainees is the underdeveloped and sporadic public transportation network between and within the villages. As all attempts to coordinate with drivers failed, various interim solutions were adopted throughout the programme, ranging from Ruwwad al-Tanmiya staff driving the trainees between their classes, to local municipal council members who also volunteered to drive the trainees between the villages. A long-term solution however, is yet to be found.
Working within communities meant becoming an integral part of the community and working from within it. We believe that it takes a bottom-up approach to tackle issues of violence, inequality and injustice within communities. In line with this belief the trainees became involved and integrated in the communities, thus gaining the trust of community members. The differences between urban and rural communities can be immense, which is why the locals spoke to the trainees in English when they first arrived in the villages, assuming they were foreigners. This challenge could only be overcome through active local participation of the trainees.
Over time, the community members accepted the trainees and welcomed them warmheartedly in their communities. The trainees report on receiving regular invitations’ to family homes over tea or lunch. The women also often seek the advice of the trainees on health and fitness related issues. The children in the schools are always excited to see them: “Sometimes when we are waiting for the bus, the school bell rings and students heading out towards their homes come to greet us, so we end up shaking at least a 100 hands.”
The impact and trust of the trainees within the communities enables them to mediate, where necessary, on crucial issues. For example, the trainees played a vital role in convincing one of the families to allow their 18-year-old daughter to pursue higher education and attend university in the city.
YANTE’s mission is to strengthen society as a whole through offering an inclusive space that can be found in art and dance. The dance classes empowered participants as individuals to make a difference in their own lives, as well as their communities. Implementing our principles of inclusivity and equality in the classes gave rise to positive change and visible impacts. This can be seen in the following incident:
“In one class, I had a girl who had seizures and all the children treated here differently. No one had told me about her health condition before, but I felt that she was excluded from the class. One time during an exercise she suddenly had a seizure. Her classmates did not really care, they just started laughing and making jokes and continued as if nothing was happening. So I had a talk with the children about this over the course of three classes, I talked about including others and I talked about supporting each other and when I asked her if she needed the other children’s help to support her, the answer was yes. That’s when I told the other children: ‘You see, she needs your support.’ After this, the girl started participating in the class like any other girl. Her classmates began to accept her and she was gradually included as part of the class.”
This is something that did not only change the participation of the girl in all classes but it also opened the eyes of the other girls to the issue of accepting, supporting and holding the space when someone is going through something difficult.
Oppression limits hope. Our classes empowered participants to regain hope, and foster creativity and imagination. Young children regained their optimistic perspective on life, as illustrated in the following incident:
“One touching moment was when I did a class on New Years Eve. I did some meditation with the children. I asked them to think about the past year considering what happened during that time, and also to think about the New Year and how they would like it to be. Then I asked them to write down the answer to some questions on how they felt, saw and imagined. One answer to the question of ‘What would you like to do in your life?’ really touched me: ‘Finding forgiveness within our family and friends’. That was really touching for me to read.”
As we believe in the equality of all human beings and seek to empower all members of society, we put a specific focus on classes for women. In societies where violence and injustice are part of daily life, women are found to be among its most vulnerable members. Thus, our classes offer them tools to express themselves through dance and movement.
In the beginning of our classes in the villages families were often hesitant about their daughters coming to the dance classes. Our graduates actively engaged in communication with parents in order to gain their trust in our work, hence opening possibilities for women to participate.
“At first, when we started the women’s classes, it was really hard for them to come and sometimes we used to go to their home to convince the girls’ parents to let them come to the classes. By now, we have a lot of people that want to come and ask for the classes.”
In a society with a lot of violence and injustice women need a safe space to express themselves and experience their bodies. Our classes offered such space to the participants. Woman of all social backgrounds and all ages participated in the classes and were highly interested in exploring movement and dance and applying their newly learned skills in the exploration of their bodies and minds.
“I also had some really old women participating in the classes and it was really nice because they could move more than I had expected. Sometimes they made very funny comments and they wanted to know everything about every single exercise: such as the rational behind the exercise and how it is benefiting them.”
In the second year of I CAN MOVE the trainees Hala Swiedan and Asef Masalma were able to arrange their first classes in schools.
In the third year Yousef Sbeih, who at the time taught an English class for children at a school, opened the door for our male trainees to teach at the girls school in Budros, which had previously been a taboo. This was a substantial step towards social openness.
Teaching dance in schools was a process that came with various obstacles. In the beginning the schools were not sure how to categorise the dance classes and it took a lot of effort from the trainees to explain their aims and to convince the schools to let them teach in their facilities. Despite the mentioned challenges in cooperation with school principles, some very positive synergies emerged. One school in Nilin was especially supportive as its principle was very cooperative and welcomed YANTE’s work with open arms.
“The principle helped us a lot along the way. When we needed to change the time of the classes or when there were strikes she always made the kids stay and wait for us. She also prepared notes for their parents informing them of the schedule where the kids needed to stay extra in school for our class despite strikes. She is amazing and we are really looking forward to developing more projects with her: for example one, as suggested by our Mentor Nadia Arouri, to improve the children’s food (less sugar) in school for their lunch break so that they have good energy when they get to our class.”
With time the classes in schools were frequently attended and more and more participants wanted to take part. The classes also opened doors for the participants to engage in other activities, as the experience of moving proved to have a significant and positive impact on the overall wellbeing of the participants. Thus, “The children started to ask their parents for more activities, many of them came to tell me: ‘We just joined another sports class!’ or ‘We joined a Karate class, a Kung Fu class!’ They are now looking for available activities. Before, they rarely joined activities, as they were less interested. This was also enhanced by the exposure that the women’s classes provided mothers. By now, 4 years later, we experience a lot of support from the parents who want their kids to come to our classes, because they have experienced the benefit of the classes themselves.”
Violence does not halt at children: Violent practices are embodied in various social spheres and places; thus they are found in schools as well. In order to oppose violence it is inevitable to work on non-violent education methods in schools with children as well as their teachers. This is why the trainees always tried to include the teachers in their work: “When we started giving classes, we asked the sports teachers to join our class so that they can see what we do. Many of them asked questions on how to deal with the children when they were very loud for example. They were impressed that we never retorted to shouting in classes, nonetheless the kids were mostly listening attentively.”
Not only through our work, but also through the teachers themselves change towards non-violent education was fostered. “Regarding this point, I can see some impact in the girl schools where a lot of teachers came to us, asked us questions and wanted to watch the classes; some of them also participated in the classes as well. I did not observe any changes in the boy schools though. Most teachers are disinterested in our classes, and see our classes as an opportunity for them to leave school early. It is generally challenging to communicate with them and convince them to participate. This is something we still have to work on.”
Undoubtedly, the classes made a significant difference and contributed towards reducing violence in schools, especially among the children themselves. Nevertheless, the support from their regular teachers was highly needed and key to an education that empowers children and enables them to fully explore their potentials. One of the trainees tells us that, “the children used to hit each other and shout at each other often. By now, they do not do that very often. In this regard I could see many changes during the last year. I am not sure how they behave in other classes, but I am sure that our classes have had a positive impact.” The dance classes in the schools provide a non-violent physical and emotional outlet for the children that had not been catered to before. “Violence was something that they could not control before and now they partly can. Therefore it would valuable if more teachers incorporated nonviolent techniques in their classes, like we do in ours. Bottom line is: they are kids and they still need support from their teachers.”
Together with school principals and teachers we have enabled many young children to blossom and develop into responsible, creative and confident adults. As a starting point of that process our trainees used alternative education methods that re-lightened their childlike spark of curiosity about learning new things and exploring life. As shown in the following example, the trainee Hala Sweidan also generated interest in other school subjects by means of dance: “We taught a lot of school subjects, especially maths and science in combination with dance. The children had a dance class instead of the science class. So we taught science through dance and the children would have exams about what they had learned. It worked out very well; we did it for an entire semester at the Latin Convent School in Zababdeh. The school principle was very happy about it because he could see that the pupils were learning a lot in a fun way and that they were getting good grades.”
Hala taught these science classes for 4th and 5th graders, where she combined movement with learning. “My goal was to teach science through movement, so that the kids enjoy learning. We used to do experiments while using our bodies or I would choreograph a dance and explain natural phenomena such as the rain cycle, the hurricane or how volcanoes work – through dance. So afterwards, when the children had an exam they did not have to study but just remember the dance. My favourite class was the one we did about the rain cycle: We did a great dance with precise details, it showed how the water evaporates from the sea up into the sky and eventually comes down again as rain.”
Our community classes did not simply aim at the delivery of specific movements and artistic knowledge. Additionally to school subjects, the trainees conveyed important social values and useful skills through dance. In our classes children learned to understand the impact of their behaviour. As a result positive changes in the children’s behaviour could be observed: “One time we prepared for a performance in Ramallah that included kids from the villages of Nilin, Budros, Qibya and Deir Qiddies, as well as Balata refugee camp. The preparations for the performance entailed imparting important social values and skills; therefore I talked to them about the importance of self-hygiene, maintaining spaces clean, accepting others; communicating with others in a non-aggressive way amongst many other topics. Although it was a very diverse group we did not have any fights at all. I did not expect such a fast development amongst the children. They became good friends with each other. It was a really wonderful event and very touching for me to see the children truly accepting each other.”
Moreover, the children were able to learn essential skills such as following time structures and being attentive during a dance performance. “We had a performance and we really needed to stick to a tight schedule for preparations as well as performing. The children had clear queues to go on and off the stage. It was really difficult for some of them to follow all these structures and rules, but they managed to do it. After the event, the students became more punctual in attending classes. Participation and attendance rates also improved. Moreover, during the classes, participants became more attentive. According to my observations they have been able to develop their listening and concentration skills.”
There is continuous interest in more classes and the expansion of our work to other villages. The number of participants has increased drastically and we are able to see positive, long-term effects today. We are very grateful for the local support and the engagement of school principals, teachers, parents – and particularly all participants. “I look at what we have achieved and I think to myself, I would have never expected to teach all these classes in the villages. It is just amazing to see the number and more so the development of the participants in the classes today.”