“Watching a performance of Al-Ayyala allows you a look into the face of a rich culture all while providing you a view of the ancient heart and soul of Oman.”
Dance can be classified as one of the few universal art forms and can be found in virtually every culture across the globe. It is used to convey an array of messages, holding significant cultural value even in one of the most modern countries of Arabia – Oman. More often known for its desert plains, vast mountain ranges, and a breathtaking coast, Oman possess a deep, rich heritage replete with art, poetry, song, and yes, even dance.
One of the most expressive displays of cultural dance in north-western Oman and throughout the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is Al-Ayyala. Historically, it was a post battle victory dance, but now in a more peaceful time and in an effort to preserve the art form, it is often performed during weddings, various national celebrations, and other communal events and while its exact origin has been long hidden by time, it is clear by the movements and actions of the participants that Al-Ayyala is rooted in battle and even suggests a level of agricultural significance.
Stringed instruments (known as ouds), cymbals, tambourines (known as dafs), and drums of various sizes are themusical instruments of choice and the musicians divide two rows of men facing each other with arms interlocked as a show of unity, approximately 20-25 men long but the dance has been performed with groups well over 200. Each dancer, varying in age and social status, sways rhythmically in unison while moving a slim bamboo stick to the rhythm of the beat, which is believed to symbolize a weapon, perhaps a spear or sword, and in mock opposition chant across to the opposing group. In the UAE, traditionally brightly garbed women accompany the men twirling their hair around. This is believed to be a sign of faith in the protective ability of the males. All are trained and take direction from the leader of the troupe who has inherited his position.
The musical arrangement driven by drumming consists of a melodic, repetitious pattern that is accompanied by poetry, usually of the romantic variety. The poet, not unlike most poets, old and new, speaks to undying love and dedication to the one true object of his desire, however, the subject and tone of the poetry may change depending on the type of event.
There is an increasing desire, as Oman moves forward, to keep the Al-Ayyala tradition alive so much so that, many social and heritage clubs sponsor dance troupes and young men are encouraged to take part to ensure it is passed on to the next generation. It’s rich and enriching. Watching an Al-Ayyala performance allows you a look into the face of a rich culture all while providing you a view of the ancient heart and soul of Oman.
For more in depth information about the Al-yyala, check out UNESCO’s mini documentary “Al-Ayyala, a traditional performing art of the Sultanate of Oman and the United Arab Emirates” on the traditional dance and art form.