Dabke (also spelled as Dabka or Debka) is an Arabic folk dance which originated in the mountainous regions above the Mediterranean coastline and the Tigris River, and is still practiced in Middle Eastern regions. When first created, the Dabke dance was practiced by people of the villages and towns of Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Jordan, Iraq, and some Quasi-Bedouin tribes that were in nearby territories.

It has been reported that people in these regions built houses with tree branches and mud. Anytime the weather would change, the mud would crack and community or family members would come and patch it up by forming a line and joining hands, stomping the mud into place. In colder months, they would sing to stay warm. As roof building technology developed, this tradition was passed  as a work and dance song through generations as a reminder of the importance of family, community, and tradition. Dabke signifies aspirations, struggles, and history of the Palestinian people, making it one of the most important cultural forms of art in their culture.

IMG: Palestinian boys practicing the debka. Justin McIntosh. Wikicommons. CCBY 2.0

Lebanese culture is the product of a diverse population of religion, ethnic groups, and people that have lived there for thousands of years. Lebanese dress is filled with colors and patterns, showing appreciation of their diverse culture. Dabke is still a dance of community, often performed at weddings and other joyous occasions. It’s similar to tap dancing – not as much heels, but more like stomping. Often during these performances the dancers wear costumes based on traditional clothes, and usually perform with music or a live band. Women wear embroidered long dresses and men wear trousers with wide belts and leather shoes. Both men and women might cover their heads with either a plain white or white with a black pattern “kofiyeeh” (a scarf).

There are different types of dabke including al karradiyeh and al tayyara, al daluona, zareef al toul, al sahjeh and taghreeba, and duhhiyeh. Al karradiyeh and al tayyara are characterized by quick steps and are usually performed by young people because these dances require much flexibility and endurance. The al dalouna has a moderate rhythm and is performed by dancers of all ages. Each movement symbolizes a district and is performed to a certain rhythm. Zareef al toul is about the praise of qualities found in a beautiful girl or boy. This is usually performed at weddings and other special occasions to emphasize love. Al sahjeh and taghreeba display a style that is based on the actual lyrics performed during the dance. Each movement sends several different messages through synchronized steps and repetitive rhythms. Duhhlyeh is predominantly performed by the Bedouin and includes synchronized line moves similar to the al sahjeh and sounds that may not be understood by others. The formations of these different types of dabke showcases how prominent this form of dance is in Arab culture, ultimately achieving reaffirmation of their culture.

Now, within the Palestinian contemporary music scene, dabke has evolved from a simple dance consisting of only 10 to 15 steps, into a complex musical and theatrical performance with a plot. El-Funoun from Ramallah and Diyar Dance Theatre from Bethlehem are considered to be one of the most distinguished dance troupes that aim to accurately express the tradition of Arab-Palestinian folklore and contemporary culture. El-Funoun Palestinian Popular Dance Troupe is an independent, non-profit artistic organization established in 1979. It has won several dance certificates and awards over the years, producing 15 productions and over 10 dance scenes. Its main goal is to revive Palestinian dance and musical folklore through dabke and other elaborately choreographed forms.

Over generations, the dabke dance has become, for some people, a form of creative protest. After the Gaza massacre, which killed more than 2000 Palestinians, thirty dancer-activists performed the traditional Palestinian dabke dance in the heart of the British Museum and in a central London Barclays bank. Traditionally, activists express their concerns through marches, protests, and occupations. Using dance as a form of protest to challenge the status quo is something new and an unique approach to really capture an audience’s attention. In this case, dabke was used as a form of cultural resistance.

Historically, dabke represents solidarity, cooperation, and the importance of the community. To use this dance as a form of not only protest through artistic expression is really significant in regards to fighting for what you believe in. The point of the dance is to tell a story. A certain narrative that will solidify Palestinian identity and experiences. A simple message of locking arms together, stomping to the ground, and singing or chanting in unison, can send a tsunami of feeling and empathy towards a certain cause. Although the purpose of dabke originated from just repairing the roof of a neighbor’s house, it has revolutionized into a symbol of love, life, and struggle.  

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