Promoting a culture of kindness, one dance at a time
Orly Wahba has become the queen of nice at a time when the world needs her most.
For Orly Wahba, it all started with a dream.
"I know it sounds really funny, but it's the truth," she told From the Grapevine from her office in Israel. "In my dream, there were thousands of people. Everybody was dancing and it was amazing. And I woke up and I'm like 'Oh, my God I have to do this.'"
That dream is now a reality. The 36-year-old native New Yorker has long been motivated by the ripple effects of kindness. In 2011, she uploaded a video to YouTube called Kindness Boomerang. "In the film, there is no dialogue," Wahba told us. "Everybody can understand kindness – it simply transcends race, religion, ethnicity, cultural background and language."
The six-minute video instantly went viral and has now been viewed nearly 30 million times. It was voted YouTube's most inspiring video of the holiday season. Wahba became an overnight sensation. The Today Show, CBS News and Bloomberg TV came calling. She was invited to give a Ted Talk.
She wrote a book about how to incorporate kindness into your daily life, and headed into the New York City subway to bring joy (and free copies) to the passengers.
But a book, and a Ted Talk and millions of views on YouTube just wasn't enough for her. "I wanted to get World Kindness Day on the map, the same way people talk about Earth Day," she recalled. And that's when she recalled that fateful dream. In 2012, she launched Dance for Kindness and, ever since, it's become a worldwide phenomenon.
Last year, 120 cities across 50 countries participated and this time it will be even more: 247 cities in 65 countries across six continents. Groups from across the globe – totaling more than 55,000 people – will join together to perform a flash mob to the same song, same dance, all happening on the same day. The annual event – now in its seventh year – is timed to occur right around World Kindness Day.
Participants in the various flash mobs pledge to do acts of kindness after the event. "It will be different for every single city," Wahba explained. "Some city might do a soup kitchen; some cities might visit kids at hospitals." In addition, all participants are given "kindness cards," an idea Wahba implemented in her previous career as a middle school teacher. Each of the cards has an act of kindness printed on it like "Bring breakfast to your co-workers" or "Stick up for someone even if they aren't around." Once you're done performing the task, you pass the card onto someone else.
Wahba also started Life Vest Inside, a non-profit organization that inspires, empowers and educates people of all backgrounds to lead a life of kindness. "Our goal is to empower a person to understand their value," she said, "and kindness is the greatest tool to do that. If we can simply empower people to recognize that their choices matter in this world, we will have better decisions being made by people." The annual Dance for Kindness event serves as a way to introduce people to her organization and the work they do throughout the year.
Wahba moved to Israel a few months ago and decided to make Jerusalem the flagship location for this year's event – which will take place on Sunday, Nov. 11. Generally speaking, what that means is a local musician and dancer will come up with the song and choreography that will be used in the flash mobs across the globe. The song and the dance moves are posted online prior to the event so people who want to participate can first practice at home.
Planning for next year's event is not on her mind just yet, and won't begin until this weekend's flash mob is successfully in the history books. Nowadays, Wahba can barely catch her breath, but found time to chat with us between meetings and a speaking engagement she had.
Wahba stressed that doing acts of kindness is not necessarily about giving charity. "You have to understand that giving back doesn't mean you taking money out of your pocket," she said. "Giving back is understanding that you have something – you as a person, as an individual, have something to contribute into this world and that you matter enough. The choice you make to give back actually makes a difference."
As for now, it seems, that initial prophetic dream she had seems to be coming true. "Dance, just like kindness, is a common language. You don't need to be speaking the same language as somebody else to be able to communicate this message."
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Related Topics: Humanitarian