More Than Just A Dance: Dabke

Dabke is a common Arabic folk dance that originated around the area of the Mediterranean coastline. The dance is based on synchronized leg movement and foot stomping. Performers are typically aligned in a straight line or semi-circle with joined hands. This type of dance is commonly performed at weddings and other joyous occasions. It is still commonly practiced today by different Arab cultures around the Middle East and the rest of the world. It was first created and practiced by the people of Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, the Kurdish, the Turkish and more. The story that explains the creation of the dance goes something like this. The people of the regions mentioned above usually built houses with tree branches and mud. Whenever the weather would change, the mud in the roof would crack, and family members and neighbors would come and seal the mud together by joining hands and forming a line together. Then they would begin to stomp the mud and hay into place and all sing together. Throughout the years the tradition continued to be passed down to remind people the importance of family, community, and tradition.

To the Palestinian people specifically, Dabke is more than just a dance. It is a from of cultural resistance. It signifies aspirations and struggles. It is a symbol of their history. Outside of Palestine, Dabke is a unique way of holding on to culture, tradition and the homeland. Many Palestinians that live in western countries are the descendants of refugees who are unable to visit their homeland. For these people Dabke has become a creative form of art that symbolizes courage and defiance against injustice. The physical arrangement of a group, the synchronized movement, and the joining of hands expresses a powerful narrative of unity, resistance and a love for life. The music and instruments that are played assist in expressing these emotions as well. Dabke music usually consists of powerful beats and lyrics that tend to highlight Palestinian pride. The rhythm of the music signifies when to do different stomps and movements during the dance. The popular dabke song “Dammi Falastini” by Mohammed Assaf contain lyrics such as “I belong to my people; I sacrifice my soul for them… My blood is Palestinian, Palestinian” (translated from Arabic). These lyrics help to convey a feeling of pride. Some common instruments that are used alongside debka performances are a tablah – a small hand-drumand a large drum that is hit with a stick. These drums support the repetitive rhythm of the music while highlighting the sound of the stomps. Together these elements create the vibrant atmosphere of debka. Debka is a way to reaffirm and preserve Palestinian identity. In addition, it acts as a symbol of solidarity to those struggling all around the world.
For the people that are still struggling against occupation in Palestine, Dabke is a form of creative resistance and protest. A good example of this is during the Gaza massacre, which killed more than 2000 Palestinians, a group of dancer-activists performed dabke in the center of the British Museum and in a large central London Barclays bank. This is a unique outlet for activists to express their concerns, instead of the traditional use of marches and protests. This is an innovative way to bring the attention of the public to the serious issues going on in Palestine. There are many incidences of the youth protesting the Israeli Occupation Forces by performing dabke in front of armed soldiers, tanks, and chaos. Their dance tells a story. The locking of arms, the powerful stomps, and the unified chanting illicit emotion and empathy towards the Palestinian cause.
It is beautiful that Dabke transformed from a way to repair the roof and flooring of a house into a symbol of love, life, and struggle. At first glance, it seems to be just a normal dance. However, after witnessing the raw emotion and passion that goes into the dance any viewer can see that it is more than just a dance.

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