If you were to look back through the history of any culture or society on Earth, you’d be sure to find that dance has always been part of a tradition of bringing people together.
This is certainly true of Lebanese culture, where dancing has played and still does play a large role at any social gathering. Dancing helps to bring people together and can transcend cultural and societal differences and even language barriers.
When you talk about traditional Lebanese dancing, you’re really only talking about one dance: the Dabke, a traditional folk dance.
History of the dance
The word dabke is an Arabic derived word that means “stamping of the feet” and there really isn’t a more perfect way to surmise the dance so concisely.
The dabke originated in the Levant region, which in today’s terms comprises several countries including Lebanon, Palestine, Syria and Jordan. There is more than one theory regarding the origin of the dabke, with some believing that the dance has its roots in an ancient fertility dance the Canaanite people performed in biblical times to protect and encourage the growth of plants.
Another potential origin for the dabke comes in the form of a folk tradition, dating back to when houses were stone with roofs made from dirt, straw and wood. Bad weather would cause these roofs to crack and the people of the community would band together and help repair the roofs by forming a line and stomping the mud into place. In order to keep the work enjoyable the stomping developed into a dance and the stompers would sing.
This developed into the dabke we know today showing how important the dance was in bringing together and maintaining a sense of community.
What is the dabke?
The dabke is a cultural variant of line and circle dancing performed by both men and women. Several alternate variations of the dabke exist, but the most common is by far the al shamaliyya, which is known throughout the world.
Each time the dabke is performed, the most skilled dancer is considered the lawweeh – Arabic for leader – who stands at the edge of the line and controls and guides the other dancers. The lawweeh can introduce more complex dance moves into the dabke by performing them first, with the moves then being copied by the rest of the line.
If the lawweeh is feeling confident enough they can even break off from the rest of the dabke to perform their own solo moves in the centre of the dancers.
It is traditional for the dabke to be accompanied by singing, though the specific song will change depending on the occasion. The dabke is also backed by musical accompaniment, traditionally with instruments including the Oud, which is not dissimilar to a lute and creates deep mellow sounds and the Mijwiz, a reed clarinet that is very popular in Lebanese music.