Breaking Barriers Through Dance

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Imagine leaving your country for a new one, adapting to a foreign culture, and then, within the framework of learning about this new culture, teaching a dance style from a third culture. Teaching Latin American salsa dancing to 40 Palestinian women was no small feat.

 I remember feeling oddly calm the first day Natali, another TYO intern, and I were getting ready to introduce the women in TYO’s Women’s Empowerment and Parenting Program to salsa, a dance I myself had only limited experience with. We chose this style of dance because it involves a lot of hip movements, not unlike Palestinian belly dancing. Moments before the class began, I couldn’t help but think to myself, “you should be stressed, the audio isn’t working, people are arriving, we’re running out of time!”

Looking back, perhaps I was not stressed because I was anticipating that everyone's willingness to engage in an entirely new experience and the vulnerability that comes with it would prove more powerful than anything we could teach or perform.

Supported by the energizing beats of salsa, we worked hard to nail down difficult steps, we overcame frustration, and we laughed (a lot).All of us - Natali, me, and the women - were engaging in something unfamiliar, whether teaching or learning. Sharing this new experience with the women allowed me and Natali to feel a closeness with them. We had to trust one another to be gracious, forgiving, and authentic in order to teach as well as to be taught.

After nearly an hour, Natali and I turned on a popular Arab song and asked the women to teach us belly dancing and dabkeh, a Palestinian folk dance. What happened next was incredible. When the floor was opened for the women to shine and to allow Natali and me to learn from them, we experienced a new kind of hospitality - a hospitality in the way they allowed us to step in and experience their culture. All barriers were broken down.

Dancing with the participants of TYO’s Women’s Empowerment and Parenting Program was an ideal exchange of cultures.The willingness to embrace newness from all sides allowed for a rich cultural exchange, a memory which I will look back upon fondly as I reflect on the overwhelming hospitality I encountered in Nablus, Palestine.

Every day I have spent here in Nablus, I have learned something new about the culture, how to navigate it, and how to represent myself well within this context. The most rewarding aspect of living in Palestine is the way Palestinians invite foreigners to engage in their culture. I experienced this in all of its fullness by the end of this dance class, through dabkeh and belly dancing.

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I am grateful for the experience I had in that room. Dance allowed us to practice embracing new experiences as well as our differences in an unexpected, transformative, and authentic way that transcends typical means of communication. It is a memory and lesson that will stay with me long after I leave.


- Whitney, Spring 2019 International Intern