Gaza children breakdance to kick stress away

Dance is used around the world as a therapeutic practice alongside traditional counseling and other rehabilitation efforts aiming to ease anxiety, depression, anger and post-traumatic stress.

Palestinian children swing at a park in Gaza City November 9, 2018 (photo credit: REUTERS/MOHAMMED SALEM)
Palestinian children swing at a park in Gaza City November 9, 2018
(photo credit: REUTERS/MOHAMMED SALEM)

On a street in the Nusseirat refugee camp, in the central Gaza Strip, teenagers perform breakdancing moves once condemned by some locals as immoral and now seen as a way of helping youngsters handle years of war and trauma.

The moves - with names like top rock and down rock - are part of a training program by Gaza coach Ahmed Al-Ghraiz, who says he uses dance as therapy to help children kick away fears and release tension.

Ghraiz, 32, who has a certificate in post-trauma studies, spent seven years in Europe, where he and some friends put on breakdancing shows that he said advocated for the Palestinian cause, in particular of Gaza.

In the beginning, people in the camp rejected the hip-hop dance style, until Ghraiz showed how it could bring out some of the day-to-day problems experienced by their children and help them process their experiences.

"Some children come to me and say they are tired, they look withered, which means they neither rest enough nor have a deep sleep. I found that some used to cut themselves, and others avoid social activities," Ghraiz told Reuters.

Palestinian children swim in a pool as they enjoy the warm weather with their families at the Blue Beach Resort in Gaza (credit: REUTERS)Palestinian children swim in a pool as they enjoy the warm weather with their families at the Blue Beach Resort in Gaza (credit: REUTERS)

"Such sport and such moves create psychological stability," he said.

Why dance is helpful

Dance is used around the world as a therapeutic practice alongside traditional counseling and other rehabilitation efforts aiming to ease anxiety, depression, anger and post-traumatic stress.

In 2022, UNICEF, the United Nations Children's Fund said nearly 500,000 children in Gaza needed psychological care. Children make up about half of Gaza's 2.3 million Palestinian population.

"We get afraid, we stay at home, and we fear the noises, from the drones and wars," said 11-year-old Jana Al-Shafe.

"Our mental health changed with breakdance. We get entertained when we come here and play with our friends and change our mood," she told Reuters.

Breakdancing, generally believed to have emerged among Black and Latino dancers in New York in the 1970s, became a worldwide phenomenon with the rise of hip-hop culture. The acrobatic dance style will be included for the first time as a sport in the 2024 Olympics in Paris.