Dance4Peace: How Teaching Kids to Dance Can Reduce Bullying in Schools

In 2010, Sara Potler initiated Dance4Peace (D4P) in five U.S. cities to teach empathy and conflict management to American youths to fight bulling. Now Potler wants to make D4P a mandatory requirement in all education systems. Potler's program has raised questions as to whether this program could actually lessen the number of cases of bullying among youths.

As a national program, D4P could decrease the number of cases of bullying in schools. D4P addresses the main causes of bullying -- needing to win and to be powerful -- by teaching dance techniques that build confidence and instill a sense of empathy and conflict management.

D4P began when Potler witnessed students in Colombia not understanding the concepts of empathy and conflict management they were being taught for years, which was heavily reliant on book- knowledge, and not knowledge they could put into practice. To help students use this knowledge in a practical way, Potler thought of incorporating dance since it's such a huge part of Latin American culture. But it turns out, that this program is applicable to every culture because of dance's universal techniques that teach empathy and conflict management.

She wanted children to better understand these abstract and knew Latin Americans understood concepts through dance as a part of their culture, so she integrated the theories of dance into the teachings of peace anti-bullying ideologies.  

This integration makes D4P a universal education program against bullying. D4P did not just work for the Latin American culture. It was universal because the dance of each culture teaches the same basic techniques.

D4P uses the techniques of dance and movement to explain in concrete movements the ideas of confidence, empathy, and conflict management. According to D4P, emotional and social competency is needed to build confidence, empathy, and conflict management -- three traits needed to fight the drive for winning, power, and violence. Students begin with confidence and graduate to empathy and conflict management classes.

The program builds on a foundation of confidence. There are no wrong answers in D4P. Students are not taught traditional dance steps. Instead, children lead up to choreographing their own dance. This teaching technique leads children feeling free to express themselves and competent in their abilities. With expression and confidence in their grasp, children move onto the next lesson on empathy.

Children, then, learn empathy through dance. After mastering the art of expression through dance, children learn the opposing action of expression -- listening, a key component of empathy. Through dance, children are better able to decode the musical aspects (such as rhythm, stress, and intonation) of speech to better identify the emotions of others and tones of speech. In turn, children’s ability to communicates improves.

With better communication and empathy, children proceed to the last modules in high school -- conflict management and resolution. Dance teaches children to move according to the changing sounds of music. This ability to change to the environment teaches children flexibility and eventually the more advanced form of communication -- compromise. With an ability to compromise and empathize, children master emotional and social skills.

These emotional and social skills lend themselves to children being able to handling situations of needing to win, to be powerful, and to be violent, thus, reducing the cycle of bullying. Bulling may be a byproduct of American culture. But D4P’s training of parents and teachers in the core ideas that D4P practices and D4P’s adaptation to differing cultures overcomes the ingrained culture of bullying in America.

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Jacinda Chan

Jacinda graduated from University of California, Berkeley with a dual bachelor's degree in rhetoric and political science. She is currently pursuing a masters in international criminal justice at the University of Portsmouth. She is fluent in German. Since then, she has done various research and writing internships covering Turkish politics at the Diplomatic Courier, writing reports on legal systems in the Middle East, and researching the entire human rights history of Iran and Egypt. At the Levin Institute, she wrote news analysis about human rights in Latin America.

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