DABKE: Cultural Background and Preparing for Arab-American Wedding Season
It’s that time of year again where every weekend has a wedding or celebration, and as an Arab American that can only mean one thing- time to dabke! Here is a quick history of what the folk dance is all about and some tips to prevent you from feeling embarrassed on the dance floor.
Dabke is a Levantine folk dance, which means it originated from a region in the Middle East that includes the countries of Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, and Syria. Legend says that people in that region during that era made the roofs of their houses with tree branches and mud. Anytime the weather would change, the mud would crack and members of their family or community would come and help patch it by forming a line and joining hands and stomping the mud into place. In colder months, they would sing to help keep their bodies warm.
Once better roof-making technology was available, the story of their work dance/song was passed on through generations to remind them of the importance of family, community, and tradition. Today, dabke is seen all throughout the world at weddings, family gatherings, and celebrations.
There are six main types of dabke dance: al shamaliyya, al sha’rawaiyya, al karadiyya, al farah, al ghazal, and al sahja. The type of dabke we will be discussing is al shamaliyya. This is the most common style of dabke and is danced by both men and women joining hands in a line or circle. The typical dabke step involves the left foot crossing over the right two times and is normally accented with a variety of different hops. Each line has a lawweeh, or leader, that is the most skilled and controls the tempo and energy of the line. Sometimes a handkerchief or small stick is used to join the lawweeh with the rest of the dancers. The leader improvises and shows off more difficult moves. They can choose to break from the line and dance in the center or switch positions with another person in line. The music is very distinct and has very strong downbeats and typically contains the oud, mijwiz, tabla, daff, and arghul instruments.
TIPS TO BE PREPARED
- Know which country the bride and groom’s family are coming from. Each region has its’ own variations of the dance and music. Jordan alone has nineteen different styles of dabke!
- Listen to the music. If you are unfamiliar with dabke or are new to the dance, listen to popular songs and artists to get the feel for the beat. There are even several YouTube videos and websites that will teach the basic steps.
- Practice moves as a lawweeh. Dabke can last for several hours at a time. This means chances are high that you will get a shot at being the lawweeh at some point. If you know the basics, start branching out and find some new footwork, spins, or tricks that will impress the rest of the dancers and audience. If you are new, don’t panic! You can stick with the basic steps (or follow the tip below) as long as you don’t stop or slow down the line.
- Pay attention to other dancers. Not sure what to do? Pay attention to the more experienced dancers and try to copy their moves. It’s a great way to fit in or stand out!
Now that you know a little about the dance, go out and have a great time! Here’s a link of a large Syrian wedding I performed at and the dabke line! Mostly everyone in the video was new to dabke, but they learned quickly and had a great time! Bet tawfeeq!