If you’re invited to a wedding or graduation celebration in Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Jordan, or Iraq, chances are that you going to also be invited to do the dabke (also dabka or debka).
The dabke is an Arabic folk dance that started in the mountainous regions of the Levant where, legend has it, people in living in the towns and villages of these regions used to live in houses made of tree branches and mud. As happens with mud, changes in temperature and humidity or just generally when there’s bad weather, causes it to crack. So the townsfolk would get together and patch the holes by forming a line and stomping 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, the tradition of the dabke was kept and passed down through generations as a reminder of just how important family. community and tradition actually are in Arab culture.
It is still practiced today at weddings and other happy occasions with the dancers usually wearing the traditional clothing of their region and dancing to time-honored music played by DJs or a live band. Women don 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”– the headscarf that represents Palestine.
There are a variety of different types of dabke including:
- al karradiyeh and al tayyara are two types of dabke 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, and 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 during the dance. Each movement tells a story through synchronized steps and repetitive rhythms.
- duhhlyeh, mainly aBedouin dance includes synchronized line moves in much the same way as the al sahjeh but with sounds that may not be understood by others.
Over generations, the dabke dance has not only endured as a celebratory dance but has become a form of creative protest for some of the people of Palestine. After the Gaza massacre where over 2000 Palestinians were killed, thirty dancer-activists performed the traditional Palestinian dabke dance in both the British Museum and in a central London Barclays bank. Instead of the traditional means of protest such as marches, protests, and occupations, performing the dabke has also become revolutionary way to protest and challenge the status quo in a way that can really 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.
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