This I Believe

E. Shander - Fort Worth, Texas
Entered on June 5, 2007
Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: creativity, peace

I believe that America needs to do less text-messaging, instant messaging, emailing and blogging, less chat-rooming and MySpace-ing and YouTubing, and more of what really teaches you to communicate: dancing. Not just any kind of dancing, because I’m not talking about mere self-expression. I’m talking about social dancing. The kind where you actually have to pay attention to someone else and try to dance with them, not at them or to them or around them. Because I firmly believe that if everyone on the planet were forced to go out social dancing every day of the week for one month, world peace could be at hand.

Picture this: Salsa Night in Israel where Israelis are only allowed to dance with Palestinians. Or Two-step Twilight dances in Darfur where the janjaweed and opposing rebel forces can’t dance with anyone from their own faction. I don’t care who your enemy is, hold them in your arms long enough and shuffle around a dance floor, and progress would be inevitable.

As a life-long dancer, I have heard my share of scoffing and harrumphing from people at the idea that they might try dancing. Everyone knows the excuses: I don’t have rhythm; I have two left feet; I can’t lead; I can’t follow. Drivel! I know for a fact that anyone can dance, because I have spent the last year as one of an army of teachers sent into public schools to teach ballroom to fifth graders.

Anyone who has seen the documentary Mad Hot Ballroom knows the program, which was started in New York City and is now offered in my own area of Dallas-Fort Worth. It is astonishing the way the children respond and change. In a short ten weeks, every one of them can do six social dances, from the merengue to the waltz, and what’s more—they love it. The school administrators see an improvement in class dynamics and there are even stories of children who go from class delinquent to responsible student in the space of the course.

Why? Because by holding each other carefully these children must treat each other with respect, look each other in the eye, cooperate and concentrate. Plus, they are required as part of the class to dance with every classmate, be they friend or foe. Imagine the class as a microcosm of the world: There is Russia waltzing with Chechnya, and lo and behold! They are moving as one. Ethiopia is foxtrotting with Eritrea, and they’re actually in step. China and Taiwan are laughing as they rumba! Israel and Lebanon are chatting as they cha-cha! Okay, Iran and America aren’t looking too happy, but give them time—they’ll come around!

Simply put, we overlook the ability of social dance to promote healing, community and trust. Some of us get to witness this phenomenon firsthand, and as one of those lucky ones I would like say, on the record, that I now believe dancing can save the world.