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Fraught Balance: The Embodied Politics of Dabke Dance Music in Syria (Music / Culture)

Fraught Balance: The Embodied Politics of Dabke Dance Music in Syria (Music / Culture)

Date(s) - 05/07/2024
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A vivid and intricate study of dance music traditions that reveals the many contradictions of Syrian identity in the 21st century

Dabke, one of Syria’s most beloved dance music traditions, is at the center of the country’s war and the social tensions that preceded conflict. Drawing on almost two decades of ethnographic, archival, and digital research, Shayna M. Silverstein shows how dabke dance music embodies the fraught dynamics of gender, class, ethnicity, and nationhood in an authoritarian state. The book situates dabke politically, economically, and historically in a broader account of expressive culture in Syria’s recent (and ongoing) turmoil. Silverstein shows how people imagine the Syrian nation through dabke, how the state has coopted it, how performances of masculinity reveal–and play with–the tensions and complexities of the broader social imaginary, how forces opposed to the state have used it resistively, and how migrants and refugees have reimagined it in their new homes in Europe and the United States. She offers deeply thoughtful reflections on the ethnographer’s ethical and political dilemmas on fieldwork in an authoritarian state. Silverstein’s study ultimately questions the limits of authoritarian power, considering the pleasure and play intrinsic to dabke circles as evidence for how performance cultures sustain social life and solidify group bonds while reproducing the societal divides endemic to Syrian authoritarianism.

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