I arrived late, when the class had already started, because I got a wrong exit on the highway. Not so bad, after all, because the dancers I had to interview were already engaged in their session of classical dance – a rehearsal of a beautiful choreography. I pleasantly waited, enjoying the figures and the plots, and took some pictures.
The “Laboratorio Accademico Danza” (Academic Dance Workshop), under the artistic direction of Ms. Antonella Lombardo, is located in the Municipality of Massa-Cozzile, in the Nievole Valley, Province of Pistoia, Central Italy, harmoniously integrated in the facilities of a commercial area.
It was established in 1984 in the town of Monsummano Terme and, a few years ago, it found this setting made up of white and bright spaces, which smells of art and opportunities for self-expression. A place where you feel at home, right away. A school, but also an association, the Cultural Association “Dancelab Armonia”, which aims to "develop and disseminate the idea of possible harmony, both with reference to the individuals and the communities, and the use of Art as a crosswise tool to build Harmony among Peoples."
Ylenia, Greta, Alessandra, Pranvera, and Maria Chiara are some students and former students of the school in their early twenties, who promote the Association's activities. The group also included Elisa, a volunteer since the foundation of Dancelab. Alessandra still has flushed cheeks as an aftermath of the dance session.
I went to meet them in the Nievole Valley because I heard that since 2014, the Association has been promoting an Art Campus for children of the Palestinian territories, especially in Bethlehem, through their collaboration and friendship with Father Ibrahim Faltas of the Custody of the Holy Land. In other words, they use dance as an instrument of peace, to build relationships and dialogue among peoples.
"Down there, they live as in an open-air prison"- Maria Chiara breaks the ice - "so we went there to support teachers of jazz, hip hop, and aerial dance. We have been working with children and young people aged 5 to 15 years old. We went there to ‘give’ but we also ‘received’ – they taught us their traditional dance, the dabka."
The experience of the Art Campus was set up again in 2015.
"When we met again, we hugged and kissed very intensely, as if we were meeting our loved ones," recalls Maria Chiara.
"On that occasion we have noticed a difference in the way the children made their drawings and tinged. They used bright colors, less dark and sad... We were told that for a time the authorities opened the Wall and the children had the opportunity to go to the seaside!"
However, the first approach was not so simple. Pranvera recalls: "At first, the children were very closed, they avoided any physical contact. As I also have a very reserved character, their attitude urged me to open up, to search for a contact with them. Then, there was the language barrier. I was in charge of the little ones, and they did not speak English yet. Dance was the common language that brought us together."
Our relationships, thanks to the social networks and the dear, good, old mail, continue over the two-week Campus: "Ader, a boy in my class, always writes on Fb. The mother of Elarina, another girl of the class, sent us by mail some ceramic plates in their typical style," Greta tells us. "We write messages and we think of each other, real bonds have come about."
During the first Campus, in 2014, it was wartime.
"One of the first nights, at dinner, we expressed our fears of being ‘compressed’ by the curfew, in a kind of open-air prison. A neighbor who was having dinner with us, got very angry. He remarked that, for them, it was an everyday situation but in our case, instead, soon we would go back to our ‘normal’ life. The man’s outlet gave us much to reflect upon. And much more so, the initiative he took soon after that. Since there were riots, when taking us home, they made shield with their cars to let us get safe into our lodgings: "If anyone has to die, it is us, not you!" On that very evening we understood so many things, and we went back in tears. Who is ever ready to give his or her life for people you barely know?"
Now these girls are working on the preparation of the next Campus, which will take place in the summer. Says Elisa: "This year we may be able to fully implement our project. So far we have only worked in Bethlehem, with Palestinian children. Instead, for the next July we are planning a double Campus. On the one side, we will continue to work with the children of Bethlehem, but on the other, even with those in Jerusalem, where we will have the opportunity to work with both Palestinian and Israeli young people. In the past, we had the opportunity to organize such a meeting in Europe, but in the Holy Land it is much harder. This is why for us it is such a great achievement!"
During the schoolyear, the volunteers of Dancelab Armonia pay a visit to many schools to share their commitment to peace, and they invite the students to participate in the March for Peace.
"Furthermore, this year we are planning another Campus in Italy. Because here we can gather all of them: Israelis, Palestinians, Bulgarian, Spanish, French, Africans ... We will spend two weeks together to build peace through dance."
The Dancelab dancers will also participate in Pulse, a meeting of the Youth for a United World to be held in Loppiano (Province of Florence) on April 29 and 30. "We will hold a workshop during which we will teach the steps to a dance that we will dance together on May 1... It will be a kind of flashmob for peace."
Because dance, explains Alessandra, "is not just a performance of steps, in fact it allows us for binding ourselves to each other. Even though each of us is different, the dance allows us to speak the same language!"