Sara Potler: 2011 AHN Awardee

"We believe there needs to be a paradigm shift to bring peace education back into classrooms in a way that is dynamic, physical, global and fun. Dance 4 Peace is for our students in DC, our students in the Philippines, and for my grandma -- everyone could benefit from improved empathy in the way we interact with each other in business, school and at home.” – Sara Potler


Arts & Healing Network is delighted to present one of the 2011 AHN Awards to Sara Potler, founder of Dance 4 Peace.  We are so impressed with how she has has combined her skills with dance and conflict resolution to create a program that can transform conflict, violence and bullying. We applaud her innovative vision and creative spirit.


Dance 4 Peace is a conflict resolution, civic education program that promotes empathy, understanding, mediation skills, anger management, emotional and civic engagement through dance in youth around the world. Through exercises and activities utilizing their bodies, music, emotions, experiences, and thoughts, they build emotional and social competencies for peace. Dance 4 Peace began as Danza para la Convivencia en Bogotá, Colombia as part of Sara Potler's Fulbright Scholarship project in 2007. Today, the program is being implemented in Washington, D.C.; New York City; Baltimore; Colombia; the Philippines; and Nepal.
 

[Please note, that as of February 2013, Dance 4 Peace has been renamed We Move This World (MTW). To learn more about Sara's outstanding work, please visit her web site at www.movethisworld.org]. You can also learn more about Sara's work by listening to an audio interview recorded by Britt Bravo for the Big Vision Podcast in November 2011.


Below is an interview by Arts & Healing Network Director Mary Daniel Hobson with Sara Potler from December 2011:


Mary Daniel Hobson: How did you get the vision to start Dance 4 Peace?

 

Sara Potler: As a lifelong dancer, I have 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 fifteen 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.

 

When I first started working in this field, it struck me as odd that students in conflict-ridden Bogota were being taught about empathy and cooperation through textbooks and chalkboards. One day at recess, watching several students dance to reggaeton music on a boom box in the school parking lot, it clicked. I saw how inspired they were and how the fun they were having shone through their faces and in their movement. It was then that I approached the school's PE teacher to discuss how we could use something all of the Colombian students loved – music and dance – to inspire those same social, emotional, and civic competencies being taught in a classroom setting. In this way, the Dance 4 Peace movement was born.

 

Mary Daniel: Please talk a little about how Dance 4 Peace is creating positive change in the world?

 

Sara: Dance 4 Peace gets to the root of preventing bullying and violence by promoting social and emotional learning in youth, with an utmost emphasis on empathy. Our theory of change is that when students are empowered with this skill set, they are less likely to become involved in violence in their classrooms and communities. One of the core competencies that we address is managing our emotions. Recently a DC PeaceMover Facilitator shared a story with me about a child who succeeded in figuring out how to self-regulate and center himself. Identifying what he needed to do to calm down, he showed his PeaceMover an exceptionally posed headstand, toes perfectly pointed, muscles tight, face as serene as a Zen master’s. Later, when it came time for the class to talk about “managing emotions,” this student shared his move with the other students, who immediately responded by each sharing their own ways of calming down when they are happy, sad, or angry. This is what we are about at Dance 4 Peace. Our curriculum does not focus on what an instructor tells the students to do or think or be; rather, we create space for the students to share with each other how to identify their emotions, manage them, and deal with conflict.

 

Although at first, the concept of “peace” may seem like it is hard to quantify, we are actually able to measure the impact of our programming on a number of areas, including anger management, physical violence and appreciation of diversity. To date, our evaluations have shown that students who participate in Dance 4 Peace are less likely to choose physical or verbal violence when angry. On the flip side, they are 15% more likely to listen to others, 30% more likely to enjoy working in groups and 25% more willing to try new things.


Mary Daniel: You are doing such transformational creative work at such a young age - how do you stay inspired while doing this amazing work?

 

Sara: Dancing next to students and engaging in a relaxation exercise or being a part of a student's mastery of anger management strategies feel just as good as going across the floor in my favorite jazz dance class. Whenever I need to be reinvigorated or reminded as to why I do this work, I bring myself back to the elation I feel both dancing myself and being a part of the youth empowerment process. Being back in D.C. and taking Dance 4 Peace to new sociocultural contexts and world regions, it feels good to know that I didn’t leave dance when I chose not to pursue it professionally or that I’m not a “selfish artist” when I skip a work conference to make my ballet class. I’m learning that there are ways to fuse your passions even when it may not be obvious at first, even if I still cry every time I’m in the audience on Broadway.

 

Mary Daniel: What excites you most about the work you are doing right now?

 

Sara: I love watching the PeaceMover Facilitators in various corners of the world take ownership of Dance 4 Peace and make it their baby, too. It’s been incredibly humbling to see so many people get excited about the work that we’re doing and then take it upon themselves to make Dance 4 Peace even better at promoting interpersonal and intercultural peace among our youth. I have always thought about Dance 4 Peace being about our students as the end-users-- they are the ones whom I thought were our main direct beneficiaries. After our most recent Global PeaceMover Training, PeaceMovers shared reflections on the weekend and the impact it had on them as social activists, dancers, and global citizens. They continue to share stories of their own personal growth as leaders and educators. Now realizing the transformative experience this is for our PeaceMovers as well, I know Dance 4 Peace goes beyond impacting our students and changes the lives of all who help lead and shape this movement.

 

Mary Daniel: What advice do you have for others who would like to make art that makes a difference in the world?

 

Sara: You don’t always have to choose between your personal and professional passions. If you innovate, think big, question what’s already being done, and challenge yourself and those around you, you can find a way to fuse your passions and build a career that meets all aspects of your personal and professional aspirations. If you achieve this, you don’t have to worry about work/life balance, because you will truly love what you do.

 

Mary Daniel: Is there anything else you would like to share?

 

Sara: We are a young and rapidly growing global organization, and we invite you to join our movement! Dance 4 Peace is not just for a specific segment of the population from a certain kind of neighborhood, or employing one genre of dance. We believe there needs to be a paradigm shift to bring peace education back into classrooms in a way that is dynamic, physical, global and fun. Dance 4 Peace is for our students in DC, our students in the Philippines, and for my grandma -- everyone could benefit from improved empathy in the way we interact with each other in business, school and at home.



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