Ah, spring – that time of year when, as the famous poet Lord Alfred Tennyson wrote “… a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.” It’s true for young men all around the world, even in Arabic speaking countries, where finding love in spring means marriage in summer which, in turn, means it’s also time for friends, family and neighbors to polish up their dancing shoes and start preparing for dabke dancing from dusk ‘til dawn.
“Wait,” you may be saying. “What is this dabke thing you just mentioned?”. Well, this dabke “thing” is a folk dance born in the Levant region of the Middle East back when roofs were made of mud and branches. You see, if you had a house with such a roof and you notice it’s gotten a lot of cracks in it at the same time you notice rainclouds approaching in the distance, what do you do? Well, you invite your friends, family and neighbors over, tell them to form a line, hold hands, and all together you start stomping mud back into those cracks so you don’t get wet or freeze to death over the winter. Besides, soon enough one of your friends, family members or neighbors would be inviting you over to do the same thing to their house. And that’s how the dabke was born.
Of course, these days houses aren’t made of mud and tree branches, but the dabke remains and is still passed down from generation to generation as way to remind the youngsters of the importance of family, friends, and community. This is why you can still see the Arab folk dance known as the dabke at weddings and other family celebrations to this very day.
Okay, before you learn how to do the dabke, there are a few things you need to know, the first of which is that there are many different styles of this traditional Arab dance; most notably you have al shamaliyya, al sha’rawaiyya, al karadiyya, al farah, al ghazal, and al sahja. Each region has its own variations of the dance and its accompanying music; for example, Jordan alone has nineteen different dabke styles! This means you’ll have to know which country the bride and groom’s family are coming from so you can practice that particular style.
The next thing to do in preparation for the dabke is pay close attention to the music to get the feel for the beat. There are several YouTube videos and popular songs you can watch or listen to get your feel for the rhythm and get your groove on.
Once you’ve learned to bust a move and have a pretty good idea of how to dance the dabke, try to practice your moves as the lawweeh (“leader”), the most skilled of the group and the one who controls the tempo and energy of the dance. Sometimes lawweeh may use a handkerchief or a small stick as guide for the rest of the dancers. The lawweeh also improvises and shows off more difficult dance moves and can even decide to break from the line and dance in the center or switch positions with another person in line.
Finally, if you’re not sure what to do, then watch what other dancers are doing and try to copy their moves; however, there are also these eight dabke dancers you have to look out for as well:
When asked to join the line, at first this one is all like “No, no, no. I’m afraid I’m not very good at it” until they hit the dance floor and start doing the dabke like an Arabian John Travolta or Beyoncè.
You’ll know who this one is when you’re at the doctor’s office the next day trying to explain how you broke three toes at a wedding. Remember his or her name so you’ll know who to send the bill to.
This is the deliciously handsome or devastatingly beautiful one who’ll have the eyes of all the guests on them, making them forget who the bride and groom are for a minute or two.
This knows how to dance all nine different Jordanian styles of dabke – backwards – and he’ll show you, too!
These are the ones who’ll do the dabke only to burn off the calories they consumed from the three plates of mansaf and that extra slice of wedding cake they ate.
These are the ones who will use any reason – their son got a C+ in English, they finally got that bad tooth pulled, work was cancelled due to snow – to throw a party and show off their dabke skills.
No you don’t, dude. That’s the “Running Man” and you’ve been doing it for like half an hour now.
Okay, now that you’ve learned to spot the eight types of dabke dancers to be careful of, you’re ready to get up and boogie on the Lebanese dabke wedding dance floor, so here’s how you do it:
We’ve already told you about the six main types of dabke dance above, but no matter if you’re doing the Lebanese dabke or the dabke dance Syria style, we’re going to teach you the most common style known as the al shamaliyya. First, cross your left foot over your right foot two times, and then follow the hops that the lawweeh makes. Easy, huh? Seriously, watch some videos or have somebody who knows how to do the dabke teach you. There’s a reason why I’m a writer and not a dance instructor.
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