Dabke Dance: A Shared Tradition of the Levant

Dabke (also spelled as Dabka) is an Arabic folk dance which originated in the mountains of the Levantine region. This region in the Middle East includes the countries of Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria. Dabke is derived from the Levantine Arabic word dabaka (Arabic: دبكة‎) meaning “stamping of the feet” or “to make a noise”. The 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, but the most common one is when the dancers step with the left foot and right foot and then cross the left foot and right foot over. These steps require a small hop as they are done. The 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 and their footwork becomes more intense. It can get tricky for beginners as the dancers must maintain a synchronized movement- all while keeping up with the same speed as the rest of the group. 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 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. If you have joined a dabke dance or ever watched a dabke performance, you would see something recurring amongst the people in the dabke dance and those around them. Because dabke is a unifying dance, you will always see people randomly joining (breaking a pairs hands to make room for themselves to join) or someone trying to get other members to join. There are many stories on how dabke began. When first created, the Dabke dance was practiced by people of the villages and towns of Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, and Jordan. During those times, the people in these small villages made the roofs of their houses with tree branches and mud. Any weather changes lead to cracking in the mud- often causing leaks and other issues. When this happened, family and community members would come and help patch it by forming a line and joining hands and stomping the mud into place. Over time, the dabka dance was recognized to make the roof work fun. The union of the family and community members was considered a joyful way to keep things in sync and effective. This tradition was passed through generations as a reminder of the importance of family, community, and tradition. We see dabke performances at weddings, and even in the middle of a protest- which is what makes it so special to the hearts of Arabs. As mentioned earlier, dabke is considered a tradition in the Levantine countries. However, the Palestinian people have adopted it into other aspects of their lives. Dabke signifies hope, struggles, and history of the Palestinian people- making it one of the most important cultural forms of art in their culture. During Palestinian dabke, women wear ‘thobes’ (embroidered long dresses) and men wear pants with wide belts and leather shoes. Men cover their heads with a “keffiyeh” (a scarf), and women cover their heads with a veil hanging loose down their backs. Dabke not only joins us in times of happiness and celebration, but also in times of struggle and political resistance. The core origin of dabke is community and family bonding- which is why we get more family members or audience members to join the line as well. A simple message of locking arms together, stomping to the ground, and singing or chanting has left a deep mark in the culture. Palestinians have taken this to war zones and in the middle of protests because it unifies us against our oppressor. Even when there is a struggle, the dabke dance has given us a chance to look past the political struggle and focus on our traditions and where we come from. The occupation can take the land beneath our feet, but they cannot take the traditions and culture that lives within our hearts. Although the purpose of dabke originated from just repairing the roof of one’s house or a neighbor’s house, it has revolutionized into a symbol of love, life, and struggle.

8 thoughts on “Dabke Dance: A Shared Tradition of the Levant

  1. Hello,

    I wanted to ask if you know where the image of this article is from. I really like the outfits and am looking for outfits like that for my dabke group. Please let me know 🙂

    Thank you!

  2. Your article has answered the question I was wondering about! I would like to write a thesis on this subject, but I would like you to give your opinion once 😀 slotsite

  3. this is so fascinating omg…i wanna learn dabke so bad!!! im half lebanese but never participated in any of the ones iv seen (during weddings, etc)…it looks so FUNNN

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