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The Dance 4 Peace Story

Social Change through the Art of Movement

By Sara Potler | Move This World | July 11, 2011

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Dance 4 Peace changed its name to Move This World in 2013.]

The Warmup

As a lifelong dancer, I had long struggled with the decision between a career in the performing arts or in social development and international education. I almost dropped out of high school at 15 to be in The Music Man on Broadway, but later gave up my dance training while working for the United Nations in Santiago, Chile. When I embarked as a Fulbright Scholar in Bogotá, Colombia, my hope was to fuse these two passions. I was developing a peace education program in Colombia when my Fulbright supervisor challenged me to take my work to the next level.

I had become fascinated with the growing body of evidence that connected arts education, particularly dance and corporeal awareness, to building social and emotional competencies for peace. In 2007, I began to develop the Dance 4 Peace curriculum as part of a multicomponent pedagogical project to promote conflict resolution among primary-school students. The program was designed, implemented, and evaluated in public schools on the outskirts of Bogotá.

Coming home to the United States, I was determined to continue my work in peace education and dance. I soon met new challenges while working in Anacostia, a neighborhood of Washington, D.C. At first I was unconvinced that the program, which had so captivated and inspired the young people of Colombia, would translate to the new context. Over time, however, it became clear that students everywhere needed the same set of social and emotional competencies, and that dance—a universal language—was just the way to engage them.

At a time when bullying and school violence were prevalent, there was a growing imperative to find innovative ways to address and prevent these problems in the school communities. In 2009, there were 102 reported incidents at one D.C. school alone, including fights, robberies, and thefts. In 2010, I founded Dance 4 Peace, Inc. as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization with the mission of inciting social change through the art of movement and providing conflict resolution and civic engagement for young people.

Catching the Rhythm, Feeling the Beat

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. D4P works with youth around the world. 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.

The cornerstone of the Dance 4 Peace program is a progressive curriculum that aims to build four key skills: emotional awareness; active communication and dialogue; cooperation, empathy, and understanding diversity; and anger management and mediation. Trained PeaceMovers facilitate the program, while the students drive the choreography. Through the program, students are empowered to use dance as a vehicle for self-expression as they work toward these learning objectives.

At the Carol and Frank Biondi Education Center, a public charter school run by Leake and Watts Services in the Bronx, New York, a typical day of Dance 4 Peace starts off with free movement and a dance-based game that riffs on the traditional Simon Says. In a school without a gym or recess area, D4P may be the first time all day that the students engage in physical activity. As they progress through the session, they may choreograph their own moves, teach dance steps to fellow students, or perform for an audience of actively listening peers.

When it comes to the day's lesson, such as diversity, it is easy to observe when the students really get it.

"The students noticed my blue eyes and how they were different from everyone else's in the room," recounts Amanda D'Annucci, a PeaceMover facilitator in the Bronx. "It was a light-bulb moment for understanding and appreciating diversity."

The culminating session of the semester provides an opportunity for students to teach their new skills to their fellow students, faculty, families, and communities. At the final performances, the audience participates while students share anger management strategies or demonstrate a relaxation exercise. From counting to 10 to putting yourself in someone else's shoes, the performances showcase empathy lessons learned through dance and creative movement.

Dance 4 Peace also provides capacity-building through individual workshops and teacher trainings. In 2013, D4P will convene its first conference for educators, policymakers, advocates, and artists seeking to integrate peace education with their work. These events underscore the potential for the D4P framework to be incorporated broadly throughout global education.

Building the Movement

From a single third-grade classroom in Colombia to more than 25 sites across the United States, Nepal, the Philippines, and Colombia, Dance 4 Peace has gained momentum as a global movement. Since 2010, D4P has been able to almost triple its reach each semester through mutually beneficial partnerships with after-school programs, universities, NGOs, and public and charter schools. This hub-and-spokes model allows the organization to recruit partners and facilitators through centralized, targeted outreach.

As dance is truly universal, Dance 4 Peace's impact transcends country and class, language and culture. In order to foster global connectivity, participants are able to share dance and creative movement in an online community—leveraging social media, YouTube, and Skype to bring dances from Bogotá to the Bronx, from D.C. to Misayap.

"The strength of our global connections is truly unique," said Amalia Garzon, Dance 4 Peace Latin America Director. "From a movement that started right here in Bogotá, we have now reached more than 1,000 students across three continents. This feat could not have been accomplished without our global partners, who bring creativity, expertise, and cultural diversity to the D4P movement."

Joseph Mansilla, Dance 4 Peace Philippines Director, is one of the greatest success stories of D4P's global growth. Less than a year ago, Mansilla reached out to me to inquire how the program could be relevant in a Filipino context. He now manages five PeaceMover Facilitators working with 50 Filipino youth and expects to double the impact in the Philippines this fall.

Performance Time

As many social entrepreneurs know, it can be difficult to quantify the impact of programming. A question Dance 4 Peace often grapples with is "how do you measure peace?"

Bolstered by the guidance of Advisory Board Member Scott Sherman of the Transformative Action Institute, and a Monitoring and Evaluation Team, the program is evaluated using validated measures of empathy, social and emotional competence, anger management, and conflict resolution skills.

Still, multiple-choice surveys fall short of capturing a movement-driven mission. Increasingly, Dance 4 Peace has shifted to exploring movement-based evaluation methods. Through coded observations, D4P is able to quantify how well the learning objectives have been met, and reorient classroom facilitation to enhance social and emotional learning as necessary.

Dance 4 Peace monitors and evaluates effectiveness through pre- and post-test evaluations with Facilitators, students, teachers, school officials, and parents; movement-based evaluations with students; Facilitator evaluations; through video, photos, and other documentation; and monitoring the degree to which the program is implemented as intended.

Despite the difficulty of "measuring peace," the impact of Dance 4 Peace is clear, and the organization has won numerous accolades. In 2011, the Inter-American Development Bank selected D4P as the only U.S. recipient of its Youth Leader Award out of some 1,800 applicants. D4P was also a semifinalist in the Global Social Ventures Competition, and a global semifinalist for the International Youth Foundation YouthActionNet. For our leadership in social entrepreneurship, I was chosen as a Cordes Fellow at the Opportunity Collaboration; a finalist nominee Social Entrepreneur/Innovator for the 18th Annual Young Women of Achievement Award; and a StartingBloc Fellow.

Growth, with Control

Since its inception, the growth of Dance 4 Peace has been rapid and organic. Some of the initial partnerships evolved out of conversations via Twitter, while other people heard about D4P through word of mouth. At first, it was easy to be enchanted by all these willing partners, and I wanted our curriculum to spread. There were international partners who adopted our program at first without our necessary, comprehensive training and without proper monitoring and evaluation controls in place. I feel like my naive idealism took hold and now we're doing some back pedaling and pulling out of communities where we entered too quickly.

When I first came back to the States, I wanted the D4P curriculum accessible to youth everywhere. That vision remains, and while very humbled by the outpouring of interest and excitement, we are working to build a financially and programmatically sustainable organization that achieves scale via strategic alliances.

Dance 4 Peace's approach to scaling the program has matured over time. The organization now prioritizes partnerships that have the potential to be sustainable—international partnerships are only set up when commitment to D4P has reached a critical mass.

Despite this increasingly strategic approach to scaling, the Dance 4 Peace movement continues to build with profound momentum. Through relationships fostered at the InterAmerican Development Bank Annual Board of Governors Meeting this past March, D4P is planning to roll out new programs in Panama and Nicaragua this year, with Guatemala in conversation for January 2012. Blueprints for D4P Israel are also being laid out for fall 2012, making Israel the eighth country where D4P will establish its programming.

Looking to the future, Dance 4 Peace envisions an interconnected world where youth are able to inspire others to be leaders and peacemakers in their communities through creative movement. Within the realm of education policy, D4P advocates the inclusion of peace education as a core subject in all primary and secondary schools, with social and emotional competence at the forefront of learning objectives. As a global leader in peace education, Dance 4 Peace embodies the power of corporeal expression to change the lives of young people and the communities around them.

Jessica Feingold, the New York City Director of Dance 4 Peace, assisted on this story.

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Read More: Aid, Communication, Culture, Education, Health, Peace, Youth, Colombia, Guatemala, Israel, Nepal, Nicaragua, Panama, Philippines, United States, Americas, Asia, Middle East, Global

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