For the last two posts in a series on how the arts can foster community engagement, I interviewed Sara Potler, founder and CEO of Dance 4 Peace (D4P), a global peace education and civic engagement nonprofit that engages young people through dance and creative movement.
D4P inspires a generation of leaders and peacemakers through an innovative curriculum that promotes empathy, mediation skills, anger management, and conflict resolution to instill social and emotional competencies for peace.
Sara shared with me her perspectives on the arts, civic dialogue, and sparking social change through dance.
Q (Maya): How can the arts create civic dialogue? And how does Dance 4 Peace serve as a leader for community engagement?
A: (Sara): The role of the arts in society has long been to start difficult, even disruptive conversations. Whether dance, or fine arts, or spoken word, these tools have been extremely valuable in bringing together communities around a single thought or idea and then inspiring them to take action.
Dance 4 Peace builds on this legacy of using the arts to spark social change. Our classroom activities involve students in civic dialogue, although we aim to use our bodies more than our words to express ourselves. As a leader in community engagement, we view our students and schools as active participants in shaping the curriculum and driving the choreography and creative movement in the classroom.
Q: Did you adapt the model for the organization from somewhere else, or was it developed organically?
A: Dance 4 Peace is a novel model, but it was developed out of a convergence of best practices from the fields of conflict resolution, empowerment education, and dance therapy. The idea for Dance 4 Peace was conceived while I was working on my Fulbright Scholarship in Bogota, Colombia, with the program Aulas en Paz. I wanted to augment the great work they were doing with youth development as well as bring in my own perspective. As a lifelong dancer, I saw creative movement as a great way to engage students, particularly in Latin America, where dance is a huge part of local culture and the way young people have fun.
While in Bogota, I piloted the concept of using dance and creative movement as vehicles for social, emotional, and civic engagement – and the idea really took hold! Since that time, Dance 4 Peace has become a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization in the US and has been implemented in four countries on three continents. So, while our inception was strategic, our growth has been rather organic. We have fostered partnerships at coffee shops and via Twitter to get the Dance 4 Peace movement to where it is today.
Q: How do you cater your program to the needs of a specific cultural group?
A: One of the things we learned quickly at Dance 4 Peace was that our programming didn’t really need to be tailored to fit the needs of the communities where we worked – despite how diverse they seemed. Dance is a global language. It transcends culture, nationality and locale. The concepts we work on – empathy, anger management, civic engagement – are pretty universal as well. Overwhelmingly, we have found that our programming has an unexpected fit in every corner of the world we have taken it thus far.
On the other hand, we deeply consider the particular context facing any community where we work. In Bogota, where Dance 4 Peace began, violence related to the drug trade pervaded the lives of the students. In Washington, DC, there was poverty, and in Brooklyn, bullying. We have found that the D4P curriculum is able to flex to address all of these issues. Working with school partners, our facilitators make it a priority to adapt the program so that it is most relevant to the student’s lives, while keeping within the universal framework we have used to tackle conflict resolution and peace education worldwide.
*For part two of this conversation, visit ARTSblog tomorrow.