The Dabke is an Arabic folk dance that started in the mountainous regions above the Mediterranean coastline and the Tigriss River. It is of possible Canaanite or Phoenician origin. According to some sources the Phoenicians were the first teachers of the dance in the world, and the Dabke is a representative descendant of the Phoenician dances.
According to one folk tradition, when the Dabke dance was first created it was mainly danced by people of the villages and towns of Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Jordan, Iraq, and some quasi-Bedouin tribes that were living in nearby territories.
In Lebanon, the Dabke dance was originally formed because of the different seasons Lebanon was exposed to. In Lebanon, and many of the other regions where the Dabke is danced, the houses were built from stone with a flat roof made of wood, straw and dirt topped with mud. Therefore, when the weather started to change, the mud would crack and the roofs would have to be fixed. the villagers had to adjust accordingly and they ended up forming a dance based on building their homes. The dirt roof had to be compacted which required stomping the dirt hard in a uniform way to compact it evenly. To fix the roof the Lebanese would hold hands, form a line, and start stomping their feet while walking on the roof so that the mud would adjust. In historical folklore, it is said that when the mud started to crack the owner of the house would call to the neighbors to have them help with the roof. He would yell, “Al-Awneh” which translates to “let’s go and help.” Then all of the neighbors and family members would get on the roof and start stomping to adjust the mud.
This event of cooperation is called ta’awon and from here comes the word awneh, meaning, “help.” This developed into the song Ala Dalouna roughly translated, “Let’s go and help”. The dabke and the Dalouna rhythmic songs go together in an attempt to keep the work fun, energized, and useful.
Once many years passed and the villagers found new ways to build their houses, the Dabke was passed down through families as a tradition of how their culture was built. The words sung while dancing the Dabke were also passed down from when the families and neighbors would help each other fix cracks in their roofs. The Daloonah is a form of improvised singing while dancing the Dabke. In the ancient times of the Dabke, Daloonah (improvised singing) was created and added to keep the men working in the cold weather warmer because singing helped them stimulate their blood pressure to produce more energy while working in the cold.
In today’s Lebanese culture the Dabke is still danced and is one of the Lebanese’s most famous traditions. The Dabke has been passed down from generation to generation and is performed in almost every Lebanese household. Possibly it’s one of the reasons why we are very traditional and our families are close to each other. With the ancestral tradition of the Dabke, family is thought to be a whole village, which I believe is why so many Lebanese families and Arabic’s connect with one another because in some ways they both have the same historical heritage.
The Dabke passed down throughout history has been made livelier and more joyous and is usually performed or danced at weddings, special occasions, and family gatherings. However, when the Dabke was first created the dance was slow and static. The dance progressively began to change after the First World War when many immigrants were coming to Lebanon, and the dance has further changed in minute ways from generation to generation.
Today the Dabke is a line dance where everyone stands in a line holding hands facing outwards or to the audience (if there is an audience). The dance usually starts with a musician playing a solo and then the dancers start to move together creating a synchronized movement and step. This usually consists of stepping with the left foot and right foot and then crossing the left foot and right foot over. Each of these steps has a little hop, kind of like a Greek dance.
While dancing the Dabke, there is one main leader, usually a male called the “Lawweeh” who is expected to be the most skilled in the group of dancers. He heads the line, alternating between facing the audience and the other dancers. The Lawweeh should be able to improvise and is usually extremely light on his feet. He directs the dancers to slow down or speed up and helps keep the energy of the dance while giving directions. He also may sing out in song, break out of the line to improvise by himself, or try and get more family members or audience members to join the line as well.
Dancers can challenge each other while dancing. The two who are leading can show off their moves, jumping up and down until one of them stumbles. This mistake will take them to the end of the line and the second couple in line will have to take up the challenge and so on till the evening ends. Usually, in this everybody is a winner and a good time is enjoyed by one and all.
The Dabke has many traditional songs each adapting to a certain speed and style. The most famous are the dalouna, which is a very popular format that many use to improvise on. There is also the howara, another popular and fast beat format, often improvised to fit the situation. Additional popular songs include the Aal maneh, ya bou el hiba, among others.
There are variations that come with the differing regions. Dalouna is the most common type of Dabke danced all over Mount Lebanon. It is in six beats and is usually accompanied by a minjeira (flute) or mizmar (copper flute) and tabel (drum). Clapping sounds add joy to the combination.
Ra’sit el Aarja (the limping dance) is the traditional dabke of Baalbek. It is slower than the common dabke and is divided into 12 beats. The music is usually a combination of a minjeira or mijwiz or rabehbeh (violin like instrument) and drum. Each combination may be accompanied by clapping.
Metalteh, traditional to Barja in the South, is composed of 16 beats and its music is also a mix of minjeira and tabel.
In August 2011, a group in the Lebanese village of Dhour El Choueir set a new world record. Organized by the Dhour El Choueir Summer Festival, a human chain of 5,050 was made and currently holds the world record in the Guinness Book of World Records.
The Dabke is a dance that has been passed down over time and still resonates with many people all over the world. Like many other dance forms, Dabke started in a culture that was going through struggles, looked for ways to make things enjoyable, and turned to dance. It will continue to be passed down through generations and will hopefully continue to remind people of how their roots as a culture were established and how they are heavily impacted by their ancestors and historical traditions today.
The Dabke is a symbol of fraternal love, solidarity, and virility because of the way and reason it was danced. In Lebanon, we are raised since times passed to hold hands, help each other, work hard to achieve our goals, while being merry and joyful, all with the loving help of a supportive community that come together in physically building their homes. What a beautiful message and story to share with our loved ones about the beauty and greatness of this little piece of land we call ours.
As we say here “hayda nihna, wo hayda jawna” (this is us and this is our air/spirit).
Some clips that I love on dabke: