The Dance Known as Dabke

Gary Greer 12/29/2019
Arab Culture

If you’re invited to a wedding or graduation in the Levant, chances are that you will be invited for dabke.

The dabke is an Arabic folk dance that started in the mountainous regions of the Levant. Legend has it, people used to live in houses made of tree branches and mud. As happens, mud changes in temperature and humidity or just generally when there’s bad weather, it cracks. So the townsfolk would get together and patch the holes. They will form a line and stomp the mud back into place. Eventually, they found that singing kept them warmer when they were fixing the crack in the cold winter months.

As time passed, newer building technology came along and replaced the need for the stomping of the mud into place. However, generations passed down the tradition of the dabke. This is a reminder of just how important family. community and tradition actually are in Arab culture.

You can still see it today at weddings and other happy occasions. The dancers usually wear the traditional clothing of their region. Women wear long, embroidered dresses and men wear pants with wide belts and leather shoes. Both men and women might also cover their head with the black and white checkered kofiyeeh.

There are a variety of different types of dabke including:

  • al karradiyeh and al tayyara are two types of dabke. They are usually performed by young people because their quick steps require a lot flexibility and endurance.
  • al dalouna is for dancers of all ages because of its moderate rhythm
  • zareef al toul is usually performed at weddings and other special occasions to emphasize love. Therefore, it is a dance that praises qualities found in a beautiful girl or handsome boy.
  • al sahjeh and taghreeba display a style that is based on the actual lyrics of the songs performed. Each movement tells a story through synchronized steps and repetitive rhythms.
  • duhhlyeh is mainly a Bedouin dance. It includes synchronized line moves in much the same way as the al sahjeh.

Over generations, the dabke dance has not only endured as a dance, but has become a form of creative protest. After the Gaza massacre where over 2000 Palestinians were killed, thirty dancer-activists performed the traditional Palestinian dabke dance. The locations were the British Museum and in a central London Barclays bank. Performing the dabke became a revolutionary way to protest in a way that capture people’s attention.

In sum, while the original purpose of dabke started with repairing the roof of a neighbor’s house, it has since evolved into a symbol of love, life, and resistance.  

In conclusion…

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