Dance 4 Peace’s founder Sara Potler shares her experiences on the power of dance for peace-building and conflict resolution in this blog featured on Peace Portal
A wise woman once said: “Just dance; it’ll be OK.” What if it were that simple?
As the Founder and CEO of Dance 4 Peace, this is not only something I believe; I can show you the data.
Dance 4 Peace (D4P) is a conflict-resolution, civic-education nonprofit that promotes empathy, social and emotional learning, mediation skills, anger management, and civic engagement through dance and creative movement. From a single third grade classroom in Bogota, Colombia, to more than 25 classrooms in six cities in four countries, D4P has demonstrated the ability to spark social change through the art of movement. Working with young people, we bring difficult concepts like empathy and compassion to life, as students learn to express these with their bodies and grow into socially, emotionally, and civically competent individuals.
As a life-long dancer, I have always known the power of dance to bring inner peace. However, it was during my time as a Fulbright Scholar in Bogota that I recognized the potential to leverage dance as a vehicle for promoting peace in our schools and our communities. Working with Aulas en Paz, a multi-component pedagogical peace education program, I saw that their best intentions were not always getting through to the students. My own understanding of peace never came from a textbook or a lesson on a chalkboard; it was something I had learned on my own, principally through my experience in dance and the arts.
One day in Bogota, while at recess, I watched several students break it down to loud music played from a boom box in the school parking lot. The expression on their faces, the lightness in their movements, made it all click for me. Soon after, I approached the school’s PE teacher with an idea to integrate the student’s passion for music and dance while addressing the same social, emotional, and civic competencies being taught in a classroom setting. In this moment, the Dance 4 Peace movement was born.
Back at home, young people in the US were experiencing a different, and perhaps more insidious brand of violence. In recent years, there has been an increasing realization that schoolyard bullying inflicts long-lasting wounds. Unfortunately, we have seen real consequences to our inaction, particularly in the loss of young lives. I saw the potential to apply lessons learned in Colombia to tackling this challenge in the United States.
From the first Dance 4 Peace workshops I taught in Anacostia, a low-income neighborhood in Washington, DC, I knew we were really onto something. Students benefitted not only from the learning objectives, but from the opportunity to get up, get moving, and to express themselves through dance. Dance is truly universal; it transcends country and class, language and culture. Whether in Bogota or Washington, DC, the idea that we could dance our way to peace remained as relevant as ever.
Since its inception in 2007, Dance 4 Peace has now gained momentum as a truly global movement. Participants in the D4P program are empowered to feel confident and have a sense of global awareness as change agents in their schools and neighborhoods.
Dance 4 Peace is leading the way not only in inspiring cultures of peace, but measuring what it means to create a more peaceful society. To date, our evaluations have shown that students who participate in Dance 4 Peace are less likely to choose physical or verbal violence when angry. On the other hand, they are 15% more likely to listen to others, 30% more likely to enjoy working in groups and 25% more willing to try new things.
As Dance 4 Peace aims to be a game-changer in the field of peace education, we are onto the next challenge in impact assessment: transitioning our evaluation methods to be completely movement-based. Dance 4 Peace advocates for social and emotional learning to be integrated into core curricula in all schools worldwide. In a world where unfortunately peace is not the norm, we need to bring empathy to the forefront of our teaching, learning, and interpersonal behavior in a way that is movement-centered, fun, dynamic and global. D4P is transforming the education sector across borders, countries, and cultures and fostering global interconnectivity with our programming. Dance 4 Peace is the proof-of-concept that we can dance our way to a more peaceful world.