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Dabke — Palestine’s Favourite Dance

Palestinian Culture at its funnest.

Dabke (also pronounced “Debka”), is a traditional folk dance from the different countries which make up the Levant. It also refers to the genre of loud, fast-paced and usually exuberant Arab music which accompanies the dance. Palestinians took a particular liking to this dance and began to embrace it as an expression of their national heritage, especially after having to endure the occupation and constant waves of cultural oppression.

Its a community based dance, usually occurring during weddings and other formal events, but many times a dabke line might form spontaneously during parties and other social gatherings. It’s fun because everyone joins in as every Palestinian or Arab culture lover knows the moves—-which are quite easy once you pick them up.

Dancers form a line or a semi-circle, usually holding hands or grasping shoulders. Its a dance of steps and stomps, either slow and subtle, or fast exaggerated cathartic leaps. There is a leader in the front of the line who conducts the dancing and sometimes twirls a stick or a string. This “raas” (literally ‘head’) usually gets first dibs on improvising and showing off.

Interestingly enough, this dance originates from the way they used to make houses in the levant as the wood, straw and dirt made roofs needed to be manually compacted after every rainfall. This required many strong young men to compact the dirt with their feet in a synchronized way so that the roof will come out even. The workers started stomping in rhythm to make their grievous work a little more enjoyable and eventually musicians joined in on the fun. In fact, the word “dabke” even means “stomping of the feet” — much like you’ll see here:

In 2007, 2,743 Palestinian citizens, Israelis and other dance lovers amassed in the mixed city of Acre, Israel and danced their hearts out for 7 minutes to set the world record for the longest dabke line ever:

Check out the Al Zaytouna and El Funoun dance groups for more.

Yonah Adelman