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Men dancing dabke in Al-Bireh, West Bank
The Levant, Birthplace of the Dabke

Dabke (Arabic: دبكة‎) is a modern Levantine Arab folk circle dance of possible Canaanite[1] or Phoenician[2] origin.

It is popular in Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Turkey.[3] It is a form of both circle dance and line dancing and is widely performed at weddings and joyous occasions. The line forms from right to left. The leader of the dabke heads the line, alternating between facing the audience and the other dancers.

In English, its name is also transliterated "dabka","dabki", "dabkeh", "debke", "debkah", "debki", "debka".


Men dancing dabke, 1880

According to one folk tradition, the dance 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 Dalouna (Arabic: على دلعونا‎), 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.[4][better source needed]


In Jordan there are around 19 types of The Jordanian Dabke. Habel Mwadea’ (حبل مودع) is the Jordanian dabke of any type performed by men and women jointly.[5] Jordanian dabke types include and not limited to:[5]

  • Al-Karaadiyya (الكرادية) also known as Al-Taiyyara (الطيارة)
  • Al-Tas’awiyya (التسعاوية) also known as Al-Ma’aniyya (المعانية)
  • Al-Sha’rawiyya (الشعراوية)
  • Al-Darrazi (الدرازي)
  • Al-Shamaliyya (الشمالية)
  • Al-’Askariyya (العسكرية)
  • Al-Joufiyya (الجوفية)
  • Al-Ghawarneh (الغوارنة) also known as Deir ’Ala (دير علا)
  • Wahad w Nos (واحد ونص)
  • Abu ’Alanda (أبو علنده)
  • Al-Aqabawiyya (العقباوية)
  • Al-Ramthawiyya (الرمثاوية)
  • Al-Sahja (السحجة) limited to men
  • Al-Dahiyya (الدحية) limited to men
  • Al-Hashi (الحاشي) limited to women
  • Al-Farradiyya (الفرّادية) limited to women
  • Al-Jamma’iyya (الجمّاعية) also limited to women
  • Al-’Adiyya (العادية) also known as Al-Dalo’una (دبكة الدلعونا) which is probably the easiest and least active type of the Jordanian dabke.[5]

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.[6]

Women dabke dancers

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.[7]

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.[7]

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.[7]

Al-Farah (الفره): is one of the most active types of dabke and therefore requires a high degree of physical fitness.[7]

Al-Ghazal (الغزل): is characterized by three strong stomps of the right foot, and is usually tiring for those dancing.[7]

Al-Sahja (السحجة): is a popular Palestinian and Jordanian dance which became significantly more popular during the British Mandate for Palestine. 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 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.[7]

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).[8]

Song genres[edit]

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.[9]


The Oud, from which the English word "lute" comes, is shaped like a half pear with a short non-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 means “double” in Arabic is very popular 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. Though today fishskin heads are rarely used due to the climate. When used it becomes loose, you would have to heat the head to get the correct sound back. The membrane or head of the drum is now made out of plastic. The most common head is from Alexandria, Egypt.

The daff, also known as the Riq, is similar 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.[10]

The arghul, (يرغول) also known as the yarghoul, is 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[edit]

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.[11] 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.[12]

World records[edit]

In August 2011, a group in a Lebanese village Dhour El Choueir, Lebanon set a new world record. Organized by Dhour El Choueir Summer Festival, a human chain of 5,050 was made and currently holds the world record.[13]

Dhour El Choueir event broke the record set by Tollab, Lebanese Student Federation in Montreal, with the participation of "La Troupe Folklorique Les Chevaliers du Liban" that had made a human chain of 4,475 people dancing the dabke for more than five minutes straight at Montreal's Marcelin Wilson Park.[14][15]

Tollab had itself broken a record of 2,743 set by a group of Israeli Arabs in Acre, Israel. An earlier record of 1,700 had been set in Toronto.[16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Kaschl, Elke (2003). Dance and Authenticity in Israel and Palestine: Performing the Nation. BRILL. 
  2. ^ The Arab World, Volume 8. Arab Information Center. 1962. 
  3. ^ Emami, Gazelle (2012-06-01). "New 'Stomp' In Town". Huffington Post. 
  4. ^ http://www.sourat.com/dabke.htm
  5. ^ a b c http://www.allofjo.net/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=12074:2011-05-21-20-17-50&catid=51:2010-06-06-04-19-21&Itemid=263
  6. ^ Cohen, Katz, 2006, pp. 271-274.
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ http://0-www.oxfordreference.com.library.lausys.georgetown.edu/views/ENTRY.html?entry=t171.e1157.s0001&srn=2&ssid=1017131773#FIRSTHIT
  9. ^ وليد ربيع, عبد العزيز ابوهذبا, عمر حمدان, محمد علي احمد. قرية ترمسعيا. "الفصل العشرون – الاغاني".
  10. ^ 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
  11. ^ Tekbali Yusra, Dabke appeals to Westeners, Arabs alike, The Arab American News.Com
  12. ^ http://www.afrp.org/
  13. ^ http://www.shweir.com
  14. ^ naharnet.com
  15. ^ La Troupe Folklorique Les Chevaliers du Liban (Montreal, Canada)
  16. ^ 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 978-0-226-11299-2. 
  • 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.
  • Rowe, Nicholas. "Dance and Political Credibility: The Appropriation of Dabkeh by Zionism, Pan-Arabism, and Palestinian Nationalism." Middle East Journal, 65.3 (2011): 363-80. Summer 2011. Web. 20 Mar. 2012. Print.
  • Rowe, Nicholas. “Raising Dust: a Cultural History of Dance in Palestine.” Publisher London ; New York, NY : I.B. Tauris ; New York, NY : Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.
  • Handelsman, JoEllen. 3, Dance Styles of the Middle East. “Near and Middle Eastern Dance Workbook.” 2nd ed. Tucson: Premium Source, 2012. 7. Print.
  • .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

External links[edit]