This winter marks the end of my second term as a PeaceMover in Washington, DC. I love to watch as students reach their own “breakthrough moments” in Dance 4 Peace. Seeing them renews my energy. It’s thrilling to see my students grasp ideas such as diversity, empathy, or self-control and express it in their own way.
Dance 4 Peace is a global nonprofit that teaches peace-building through dance and creative movement. As a master’s student in Conflict Resolution and a researcher on the nexus between sport and peace education, my work with this program is a practical extension of the global movement for social change in which I am so heavily involved. Engaging locally with DC students has been a joy, a challenge, and an incredible learning experience in approaches to promoting peace in the classroom and the world.
I’d like to share a story about my classroom this semester, to show you how DC students are learning to identify and manage their emotions in new ways that meet their own talents, strengths, and needs.
Thursday afternoon a few weeks back, three of the boys in my class showed up early, and I was able to spend a few minutes hanging out with them before we got started. I hadn’t told them yet, but the week’s lesson about managing emotions – especially anger.
One boy, Kendell, bounced toward me and asked, “Can I show you what I do when I am mad, to calm down?” (I thought: “OF COURSE YOU CAN! How on target for today’s lesson!”). Barely controlling my internal excitement, I welcomed him to do so. Kendell (a first grader) then proceeded to perform an exceptionally posed headstand. Toes perfectly pointed, muscles tight, face as serene as a Zen master’s, Kendell looked like a yogi, and I felt like I was in an Ashram in the middle of India, not a multi-purpose room in the middle of Ward 8.
Later, when it came time for the entire class to talk about managing emotions, Kendell proudly shared his move with the other students, which encouraged each of them to respond in turn with their own ways of calming down.
In the same circle sharing time, one student who loves D4P but has a lot of energy also had a breakthrough moment. My group is made up of a number of students who pose behavioral issues in their normal classrooms, and Rayshauna is a prime example. She has an abundance of creative energy but tends to get disciplined negatively in traditional classroom settings (I suspect) because she is so easily distracted. Constantly addressing her specific needs would disrupt the flow of managing a 30-student classroom.
As we talked about managing emotions and calming ourselves down, Rayshauna shared that when she is “too happy” in class, the Dance 4 Peace cheer (a three-clap beat that we use to focus classroom attention and my cue that it’s time to practice “active listening”) helps her settle down.
This floored me. Because of the way our discussion was leaning, and because it tends to be difficult for my students to apply abstract concepts, my goal was for students to grasp the use of our strategies to deal with the emotion of anger specifically. I was surprised and pleased that Rayshauna understood that you don’t only need to calm down from anger, but that sometimes, respecting others means calming down from being excitedly happy.
How cool that to her, “calm down” wasn’t positive or negative, just a way to deal with how your body feels. How cool that watching Kendell deal with his emotions in one way helped Rayshauna think about what makes her calm down in her way. How cool that Dance 4 Peace offered them both the space to identify and experience managing their emotions, and to share this with their peers.
This is what I love about Dance 4 Peace. It does not focus on what an instructor tells the students to do or think or be. Rather, it creates space for participants to share with each other how to manage and express their emotions, deal with conflict, and confront the world that presents these challenges every day.