Men dancing dabke in Al-Bireh, West Bank

Dabke (Arabic: دبكة; also transliterated dabka,dabki and dabkeh) is an Arab folk dance. It is popular in several Arab countries such as Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Jordan, the north of Saudi Arabia, and Yemen. A line dance, it is widely performed at weddings and joyous occasions. The leader of the dabke heads the line, alternating between facing the audience and the other dancers.

Dabke in Arabic is literally " stamping of the feet."[1] The leader, called raas ("head") or lawweeh ("waver"), is allowed to improvise on the type of dabke. The leader twirls a handkerchief or string of beads known as a masbha (similar to a rosary), while the rest of the dancers keep the rhythm. The dancers also use vocalizations to show energy and keep up the beat. The dabke leader is supposed to be like a tree, with arms in the air, a proud and upright trunk, and feet that stomp the ground in rhythm. At weddings, the singer begins with a mawwal. The raas or lawweeh takes the lead. Everyone does a basic 1-2-3 step before the song kicks in. At weddings, the dance is sometimes performed by a professional troupe dressed in costume.

The dabke was popularized in the 20th century by the Lebanese composers Assi and Mansour Rahbani and singers like Zaki Nassif, Fairuz, Wadih el Safi, and Nasri Shamseddine. Lebanon's most famous dabke troupes are "Firkat el Arz" and "Hayakel Baalback". Other troupes today include Ibdaa, Sareyyet Ramallah, and El-Funoun. The United States of America also has a few popular dabke troups, "Awiha Zaffe" in Ohio and "Zaffet Libnen" in San Diego.[citation needed]



Men dancing dabke, 1880

There is not one story on the origin of dabke, and it is difficult to find accounts of its origin from reputable sources, though many stories have been told. One common story is told below:

The "dabkeh" originated in the Levant where houses were built from stone with a roof made of wood, straw and dirt. The dirt roof had to be compacted which required stomping the dirt hard in a uniform way to compact it evenly. This event of cooperation is called ta'awon and from here comes the word awneh, meaning "help." This developed into the song Ala Dal Ouna (على دلعونا), or roughly translated "Let's go and help". The dabke and the rhythmic songs go together in an attempt to keep the work fun and useful.[2]


Female dabke dancers

Amongst Palestinians, two common types of dabke are the shamaliyya and sha'rawiyya - which have six measure phrases - and the karaadiyya which has square phrases (of four or eight measures). Another type is the dabke niswaniyyah, danced specifically by women. Each type of dabke dance has its own corresponding set of songs, the theme of which is often love.[1]

There are six main types of dabke:

Al-Shamaliyya (الشمالية): is probably the most famous type of dabke. It consists of a lawweeh (لويح) at the head of a group of men holding hands and formed in a semicircle. The lawweeh is expected to be particularly skilled in accuracy, ability to improvise, and quickness (generally light on his feet). Typically, the dabke begins with a musician playing a solo on the mijwiz or yarghoul of a Dal Ouna piece, often with two singers accompanying his music. The dancers develop a synchronized movement and step and when the singers finish their song, the lawweeh breaks from the semicircle to dance on his own. When the leader of the dabke sees that the men's steps are one, in sync, he instructs the dancers to slow down and begin a movement crossing their right foot in front of the opposite one (their left foot). The lawweeh continues to inform the dancers of their basic rhythms, and at this point other guests at the wedding or event occurring will join in the dabke line. This is the most popular and familiar form of dabke danced for happy family celebrations, such as weddings, circumcisions, the return of travelers, release of prisoners, and also for national holidays, in which dabke becomes a demonstration of national personality.[3]

Al-Sha’rawiyya (الشعراوية): is limited to men and is characterized by strong steps or stomps. The lawweeh is the most important element in this type of dabke.[3]

Al-Karaadiyya (الكرادية): is characterized by a lack of a lawweeh and slow movement with an azif (عازف) (flute player) in the middle of the circle.[3]

Al-Farah (الفره): is one of the most active types of dabke and therefore requires a high degree of physical fitness.[3]

Al-Ghazal (الغزل): is characterized by three strong stomps of the right foot, and is usually tiring for those dancing.[3]

Al-Sahja (السحجة): is a popular Palestinian dance which became significantly more popular in the time period before Al-Nakba, 1948, and became a part of the collective, popular Palestinian mind. Al-Sahja belongs mostly to northern and central Israel and the Palestinian Territories, and in the south has two kinds: As-Samir (السامر) and Al-Dahiyya (الدحية). As-Samir's form involves 2 rows of men on opposite walls, competing with folk poetry, sometimes improvised and even exchanging insults, competing in cleverness of retorts. Al-Dahiyya is a Bedouin version of the same kind in which there is a professional dancer, usually from a gypsy tribe, that dances between the two opposing walls of men who are competing for her attention, and at times give her money. Al-Sahja usually occurs the night before the wedding party of the groom (zafat al-'arees), with most of the men in the village participating, especially those who will be attending or are directly involved in the other wedding festivities.[3]

The Oxford International Encyclopedia of Dance also mentions these additional kinds of line dances in its entry under "Middle East":

"The murdah was originally performed by women in the Gulf while the men of the community were away on extended fishing and pearling expeditions. It involves two lines of dancers who move toward each other with small steps and then retreat while singing rhymed couplets. These couplets were largely laments for absent loved ones. Although seafaring is no longer economically important in the region, women continue to perform this dance at social gatherings.

The ahwash (Fr., ahouache) performed by Berber tribes of the Moroccan High Atlas Mountains, includes one or several curved lines of men and one or several curved lines of women, the whole forming a circle or ellipse around male drummers (Jouad and Lortat-Jacob, 1978; Lortat-Jacob, 1980). One line recites a poem that the other line responds to with another poem; then all move to the beat of the drums. Customarily, the whole community participates. While performing, women dancers hold themselves very straight and move with staccato steps, holding onto the weaving rod of the house. Women as well as men compose the poetry that is recited. A similar dance reported for Morocco is the dukkala. In one variation a man and woman facing each other compete to see which one can dance the longest (Mercier, 1927)."[4]

Song genres

There are numerous kinds of songs that are sung during and specifically for dabke, by both men and women respectively, depending on the occasion, song, and audience. Some of the most popular of these songs, such as Dal Ouna (دلعونا), Al Jafra (الجفرا), Al Dahiyya (الدحية), and Zareef il-Tool (ظريف الطول), are actually entire genres in themselves, in the sense that lyrics can vary significantly in each performance but the basic rhythm of the music is consistent and recognizable. This variation can be seen in the hundreds of lyrical variations heard and recorded of these songs which regardless of specific lyrics, are recognized by their rhythm and at times, a single phrase, as in Ala Dal Ouna, Jafra, and others. For example, even though one might have heard Ala Dal Ouna sung previously telling a different story in this famous love song, people will still call another song ascribing to the same rhythm and theme as Dal Ouna.[5]


1 popular instrument used is the lute. The word lute is an English word which comes from the Spanish laud, which came from the Arabic word for the instrument, al-ud (meaning the branch of a tree). The lute is shaped like a half pear with a short fretted neck. It has six courses of two strings and played with a plectrum, usually a trimmed eagle’s feather. This instrument creates a deep and mellow sound.

The mijwiz (مجوز) which literally means “double” in Arabic is a very popular instrument used in Lebanese music. It is a type of reed clarinet. It is played by breathing smoothly through a circular aperture at the end and by moving the fingers over the holes down the front of the tube in order to create the different notes. The minjjayrah is similar to the mijwiz, an open ended reed flute played in the same style..

The tablah is a small hand-drum also known as the durbakke. Most tablahs are beautifully decorated, some with wood, tile or bone inlay, etched metal, or paintings in designs typical of the Near East. One of the most commonly played of the percussion instruments; the tablah is a membranophone of goat or fish skin stretched over a vase-shaped drum with a wide neck. Usually made of earthenware or metal, it is placed either under the left arm or between the legs and struck in the middle for the strong beats and on the edge for the sharp in-between beats.

The daff, also known as the rikk, is a popular instrument corresponding to the tambourine. It consists of a round frame, covered on one side with goat or fish skin. Pairs of metal discs are set into the frame to produce the jingle when struck by the hand. The sounds of this percussion instrument set the rhythm of much Arab music, particularly in the performances of classical pieces.[6]

The arghul, (يرغول) also known as the yarghoul, is an instrument commonly used in solos, often accompanied by singers, that begin dabke performances. Unlike the mijwiz, it only has finger holes in one of its pipes/reeds. (see Al-Shamaliyya, under Types).

Performances and competitions

Competitions or shows may consist of different cultural dances and other dabke groups performing dabke. For example, the International Fiesta which is well known at the University at Buffalo consists of a series of clubs performing their cultural dances. This competition occurs every semester in the main stage theater of the UB Center for the Arts during the spring time, usually at the end of February or beginning of March. This allows the Organization of Arab Students to participate and show the cultural awareness of dabke. Many universities have an event called Arab Night or a similar title. When these shows occur, dabke is either performed on stage (inside or outside), in a hall on the floor, or outside on the floor.There are different steps that comprise the Debka dance: the belbel, the inzel, shemmel and taxi; a combination of each of these steps as well as the occasional jump and turn make the dance complete.[7] In America, the tradition has not been lost and is held in the same places as it would in the original homeland and the dance music is also commonly played in America at Arab-community cultural centers and conventions such as the annual convention hosted by the American Federation of Ramallah Palestine.[8]

World records

In August 2011, a group in a Lebanese village Dhour Chweir set a new world record. Organized by Dhour Chweir summer festivals, a human chain of 5,050.[9] Breaking the previous record of Canadians from Lebanese decency at Marcelin Wilson's Park with 4,475 people. The Canadian record was organized by Tollab, the Lebanese Student Federation in Montreal, with the participation of "La Troupe Folklorique Les Chevaliers du Liban," a human chain of 4,475 people danced the dabke for more than five minutes straight at Marcelin Wilson's Park,[10][11], who also broke a record of 2,743 set by a group of Arabs in Acre, Israel, who had broken an earlier record of 1,700 set in Toronto.[12]


  1. ^ a b Cohen, Katz, 2006, pp. 271-274.
  2. ^ http://www.sourat.com/dabke.htm
  3. ^ a b c d e f هشام عارف الموعد ومأمون احمد الموعد. فوكلور العرس و الغناء الشعبي: ليلة الحناء. سلسلة التراث الشفوي الفلسطيني الجزء الأول.
  4. ^ http://0-www.oxfordreference.com.library.lausys.georgetown.edu/views/ENTRY.html?entry=t171.e1157.s0001&srn=2&ssid=1017131773#FIRSTHIT
  5. ^ وليد ربيع, عبد العزيز ابوهذبا, عمر حمدان, محمد علي احمد. قرية ترمسعيا. "الفصل العشرون – الاغاني".
  6. ^ Badley, Bill and Zein al Jundi. "Europe Meets Asia". 2000. In Broughton, Simon and Ellingham, Mark with McConnachie, James and Duane, Orla (Ed.), World Music, Vol. 1: Africa, Europe and the Middle East, pp 391-395. Rough Guides Ltd, Penguin Books. ISBN 1-85828-636-0
  7. ^ Tekbali Yusra, Dabke appeals to Westeners, Arabs alike, The Arab American News.Com
  8. ^ http://www.afrp.org/
  9. ^ http://www.shweir.com
  10. ^ naharnet.com
  11. ^ La Troupe Folklorique Les Chevaliers du Liban (Montreal, Canada)
  12. ^ Israeli Arabs smash world record for largest 'Debke' folk dance - Haaretz - Israel News


  • Adra, Najwa. "Middle East" The International Encyclopedia of Dance. Ed. Selma Jeanne Cohen and the Dance Perspectives Foundation. Oxford University Press, 2003. Georgetown University. 3 December 2010 <http://www.oxfordreference.com/views/ENTRY.html?subview=Main&entry=t171.e1157.s0001>
  • Cohen, Dalia; Katz, Ruth (2006). Palestinian Arab music: a Maqām tradition in practice (Illustrated, annotated ed.). University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0226112993, 9780226112992. http://books.google.ca/books?id=M8AFPS2REcYC&pg=PA271&dq=dabke+palestine#v=onepage&q=dabke%20palestine&f=false. 
  • Kaschl, Elke. Dance and Authenticity in Israel and Palestine: Performing the Nation. Leiden & Boston, MA: Brill; 2003.
  • Ladkani, Jennifer. "Dabke Music and Dance and the Palestinian Refugee Experience: On the Outside looking in." Ph.D. dissertation, Florida State University, 2001.
  • McDonald, David A. "Poetics and the Performance of Violence in Israel/Palestine." Ethnomusicology. 53:1, Winter 2009.
  • .هشام عارف الموعد ومأمون احمد الموعد. فوكلور العرس و الغناء الشعبي: ليلة الحناء. سلسلة التراث الشفوي الفلسطيني الجزء الأول.
  • وليد ربيع, عبد العزيز ابوهذبا, عمر حمدان, محمد علي احمد. قرية ترمسعيا. الفصل العشرون – الاغاني

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