Is dance the anti-bullying cure?

A young boy sees his parents fight at home. He’s bullied at school, and witnesses another fight on the bus. His parents may not struggle financially, but that’s because they work long hours, leaving their son home alone to stew over his day. Back at school, his teachers are too busy to realize that small things have started to set him off — accidental bumps in the hall, broken pencils and paint spills.

Finally, he lashes out.

Could dance stop this cycle?

If you spend enough time speaking with Dance 4 Peace founder Sara Potler, you could very quickly become convinced that, while dance my not be a solution unto itself, if taught using a set of specific guidelines, it can arm young people with the tools to empathize, resolve conflict amicably and, ultimately, cope.

“People don’t often see the connection between conflict transformation and dance at face value,” said Potler via a spokesperson Wednesday. “It’s more common that performers or artists are the ones who understand it intrinsically. ”

After all, when talk turns to anti-bullying programs or conflict resolution, dance is rarely — if ever — considered to be in the peacekeeper’s toolbox.

“This has been a bit of a communications challenge,” Potler said. “It’s only when we get principals, guidance counselors or parents up and moving that they start to understand how creative movement can be used to hit social and emotional learning objectives.”

Dance 4 Peace was created in 2007 while Potler was a Fulbright scholar in Bogota, Colombia. It was established as a nonprofit organization in September 2010. The organization was created to leverage what Potler calls “conflict transformation.” The practice uses non-violent physical expression to promote empathy and enable conflict resolution. Potler, a professional dancer by training, was challenged by peace-education scholar Enrique Chaux Torres to use her time as a Fulbright scholar to create her own project.

Potler said she realized, over the course of developing Dance 4 Peace, that it wouldn’t be possible to make a broad impact if instructors were a temporary presence in the classrooms. The teachers — those who knew the students best aside from parents — would need to be trained in the Dance 4 Peace methodology. The program, to this end, trains teachers, monitors and parents to continue to implement the curriculum after the organization’s trained “Peace Movers” have gone.

The program does not teach ballet or formal modern dance training. Instead, students are encouraged to create their own dances, exchanging choreography with students in other countries.

“We are not assessing dance technique in any way,” said Potler during an earlier interview Aug. 23. “They are teaching us and are collectively coming up with their movement.”

Today, the program operates internationally, including in schools and community centers in Maryland, the Disctrict, New Jersey and New York. The program also has a presence in Colombia, Germany and the Philippines, among other countries. In total, the organization has, according to its count, worked with more than 5,500 young people in 15 cities over four continents.

Dance 4 Peace’s 2012 budget, according to Potler, was $250,000, with more than $100,000 in pending grants that, if confirmed, would come in on top of the existing budget. The organization is an earned-income nonprofit. Schools pay a nominal fee to the organization for its services, including instruction and regular evaluations to assess progress and impact.

The organization has a custom set of metrics to gauge improvement among individual classes and for the nonprofit overall. According to documentation provided by Potler, in the United States, the organization has made $93,000, from fees paid by public schools. Charter schools came in second, supplying $52,000 in revenue. Nonprofits and community centers were the third-largest source of revenue at $19,500, with private schools coming in last at $4,500.

Dance 4 Peace’s success to date earned Potler an invitation to London, where the organization was recognized for being listed on the Beyond Sport Awards short­list — one of three organizations in the Sport for Conflict Resolution category. The organization has also reached out to Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation and has sought out a partnership with Nickelodeon.

Potler hopes to see Dance 4 Peace more formally integrated into the nationwide anti-bullying push on the part of state and local governments. In the meantime, the organization is pursuing partnerships in Los Angeles, as well as in Panama, El Salvador, Mexico and Israel.

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