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The Art of Dabke

Dabke is an Arabic folk dance which originated in the mountains of the Levantine region; including Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan & Syria. Dabke is derived from the Levantine Arabic word dabaka دبكة meaning “stamping of the feet” or “to make a noise” A thread on the art of Dabke...

Legend says that people in the Levantine region made the roof of their houses with tree branches & mud. When the weather would change, the mud would crack. Family members & community would come & help patch it by forming a line, joining hands & stomping the mud into place

Once better roof-making technology was available, the story of their work dance was passed on through generations to remind them of the importance of family, community & tradition. Today, dabke is seen all throughout the world at weddings, family gatherings, and celebrations

Dabke is a dance where everyone stands in a line holding hands facing outwards or to the audience, if there is an audience. There are many versions of dabke; the most common one is when the dancers step with the left foot & right foot then cross the left foot & right foot over

A basic dabke pattern is quite similar to a 6-count line dance. It has 6 steps and the dancers usually move to the right. There are 6 main types of dabke dance: al shamaliyya, al sha’rawaiyya, al karadiyya, al farah, al ghazal & al sahja. Al shamaliyya is the most common style of dabke & is danced by both men & women joining hands in a line or circle.

Dabke styles vary somewhat by country. Here is a video with more information

The dabke dance begins with a song that has a slow introduction in the background, and the dancers start to move together very slowly. When the music begins to speed up, the dancers increase their speed & their footwork becomes more intense. It is a dance for everyone. Usually, the lead person in the dabke is expected to be one of the most skilled in the group of dancers- as he/she is responsible for maintaining the synchronized footsteps and the pace of the group.

The leader or lawweeh usually directs the dancers to slow down or speed up and helps keep the energy of the dance. It is very common for the leader to break out of the line by him/herself to do other skilled dances. Sometimes a handkerchief, string of beads or small stick is used to join the lawweeh with the rest of the dancers. The leader improvises & shows off more difficult moves. They can choose to break from the line & dance in the center or switch positions with another person.

Because dabke is a unifying dance, you will always see people randomly joining (breaking pairs to make room for themselves to join) or someone trying to get other members to join.

Dabke music is very distinct and has very strong downbeats and typically contains the oud, mijwiz, tabla, daff, and arghul instruments. There are numerous songs specifically for dabke, by both men & women respectively. Some of the most popular of these songs, such as Dal Ouna (دلعونا), Al Jafra (الجفرا), Al Dahiyya (الدحية), and Zareef il-Tool (ظريف الطول), are actually entire genres in themselves.

Dabke has even been performed in the middle of protest. Although the purpose of dabke originated from repairing the roof of one’s house or a neighbor’s house, it has revolutionized into a symbol of love, life and unity.

Here’s a Lebanese documentary, explaining what Dabke means to the people of the Levant


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