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Traditional Dabke Dance

Updated on March 7, 2016

Dabke Dance

What is the Dabke Dance?

So your best friend is getting married and he’s from Lebanon. He wants to create a traditional Lebanese wedding. This includes the Dabke dance. Sure, you’ve heard of it and maybe watched a YouTube video, but really, how well do you know it?

Check out the background of the Dabke dance here.

History of the Dabke Dance

Dabke is a dance born from the results of Mother Nature. According to folk stories, the origin of the Dabke dance was was the Levant, a large land area in the middle east consisting of Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan, Bosnia, Albania, Israel, Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

The homes, in history, were made of stone with the roofs made of wood straw and dirt. Weather, or mother nature, required constant upkeep of these roofs. They needed to be re-done by compacting down the mud along with new, fresh materials. The easiest way to do this was human power; men literally stomping on the mud.

To make the task a little more fun, the Dabke dance was created. That and music played along with the dance made the task easier to bear. The dance became the national dance of Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Iraq and Palestine. Today it is performed at weddings and other happy events.

Considered a folk dance, the Dabke is performed in a line or a circle. Each country has their own version of the dance. Some versions are performed only by men, others only by women and yet others are performed by both men and women. The music also changes by dance type, but love is often the main focus. While weddings are the most common occasion; the Dabke is also performed at circumcisions, when travelers return from a long journey, when prisoners are released as well as for national holidays.

Performance of the Dabke Dance

The Dance

The dance usually begins with a musician playing a solo. Sometimes, singers join in. More instruments and/or singers are added and often the speed of the song will increase. When everyone is in sync, the song will slow down.

There is a leader, or lawweeh who leads the line, alternating between facing the audience and the other dancers. The lawweeh is expected to be very proficient at the dance steps. He tells the others the steps to take, when to slow down or speed up and often pulls members of the audience into the line. When the song is finished, the leader often performs a solo.

There are four basic steps in the Dabke dance: belbel, inzel, shemmel and taxi. The steps and combined in a variety of ways including jumping, stomping and turning. It is the variations that make the dance fun and entertaining. Along with the music, the dance is meant to tell a story.

While there are many variations to the Dabke dance, there are six basic styles:

  • Al-Shamaliyya is probably the most common and includes only men. The movements are different for the districts where the dancers reside. There is a lot of heavy stomping with the lawweeh being the most important character.
  • Al-Karaadiyya does not include a lawweeh, This dance is slow and typically a flute player stands in the middle of the circle of dancers. The movements are typically quick and intricate.
  • Al-Farah is the most physical of all the dance styles with intricate moves.
  • While Al-Farah is very physical, Al-Ghaza is characterized by very strong stomps. It is the most tiring of all the dances.

  • Al-Sahja offers two rows of men facing each other and competing using poetry shouted across the room, sometimes insults. The dance steps are also used as a means of competition.
  • Al-Dahiyya is a variation of the Al-Sahja also having the two rows of men. In this version, a female dancer dances between the men who compete for her attention.

Competitions

While most Dabke dance performances are done for private events, there are competitions and other public performances that help keep the tradition alive. Many colleges and universities offer international celebrations that include different dance styles including the Dabke. Other colleges offer competitions. Check with your local college or university.

Most famous of competitions, the Guinness Book of World Records, includes the Dabke Dance. In August of 2011, 5,050 dancers connected to perform the Dabke in Lebanon.

That's a lot of people and a lot of stomping!


Dabke Dance Costumes

The costumes or Dabke clothes worn depend on the situation. Most of the time, the dancers wear clothing typical to their geographic location. The women wear long, often embroidered dresses. They might cover their heads with a plain white scarf (kofiyeeh). The men wear baggy trousers with a wide belt, often in a black and white pattern. Shoes are made of leather and long with pointed toes. They may also cover their head with a scarf.

For a wedding, special occasion, or performance, the costumes will often match in color and style. They may be more elaborate in decoration as well.

Dabke Music

Each occasion during which the Dabke is danced offers a song specific to the occasion. In other words, while the music may be the same, the words to the song tell a different story.

The stories are often of love, but they also include patriotism, pride, culture, etc. The voices are strong and powerful. They speak of the beauty of their towns and countryside, the manliness of the men, the delicate beauty of the women and the strong traditions of the people.

While the lyrics vary, one thing consistent with the music is the beat. Every song has a strong rhythm in the background. This provides the basis for dance moves to be developed.

Instruments

The most common instrument used for these performances is the Oud or the lute. It is shaped like a pear, stringed, non-fretted instrument with a deep, mellow sound.

The tablah is a small hand drum, typically beautifully decorated.

The mijwiz is similar to a clarinet or reeded instrument.

The riq is a tambourine.

The arghul is another reeded instrument with two tubes. One has fingerholes while the other does not. The latter can be moved up and down to alter the pitch.

Time for Lessons?

Back to that wedding and how well you know the Dabke dance. Do you know it well enough to dance in front of a bunch of friends and family? Or maybe make an impression with the cute bridesmaid?

No? Did you say, “Teach me how to Dabke”? You can learn the Lebanese Dabke dance with instructor Karim Nagi, right in your home at your own pace. It does not matter if you are a beginner or want to learn correct methods. After all, different moves represent different countries and cultures. Whether its Jordanian Dabke, Lebanese dance or Palestinian Dabke dance; You can learn them all in one place.

This isn’t just some Dabke dance video. You will be learning by watching his student learn Dabke dance steps. Not only does he teach the steps, but also the gestures and step combinations. Learn from a pro so you can look like a professional.

Learn from the best without leaving the comfort of your home.

Are you ready to Dabke?

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    • Marisa Wright profile image

      Kate Swanson 

      2 years ago from Sydney

      Thank you, I've learned a lot of new information about the Dabke!

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