One of the greatest traditional dances in Lebanon, the Dabke, is also one that has stood the test of time and remains very popular, practiced by Lebanese of all ages. For many, a party is not a party without a Dabke!
A need for synchronization
In the past, the roofs of houses in Lebanon were made of tree branches topped with mud. With changing weather conditions, especially during the rainy season, the mud would crack and start to leak. Fixing it meant the mud had to be stomped on in a forceful and steady manner. While the roofs were not an especially large surface, stomping on then was hardly a one-man job.
This is why the house owner would call upon his neighbors for help and they would stand side by side in a single line and begin stomping in a synchronized manner, while walking on the roof to adjust the mud. This was known as “al-awneh”, which literally meant “help.” In order to maximize their synchronization, the men would improvise a pattern for stomping that they would all follow. Just for fun, some of these stomping sessions were accompanied by music mainly from the “mejwiz”, a double flute, and hence the dabke was born.
Later, with the introduction of the “mahdaleh” a stone roller, there was no longer a need for stomping, but in order to keep the tradition alive, the neighbors would gather on the front porch of the house and dance the dabke to celebrate the end of the work on the roof.
With the introduction of music, the “al-awneh” was referred to as “daloonah”, which included some songs to accompany the rhythm of the traditional instruments. Since day one, the Dabke has been a symbol of fraternity, solidarity and virility because of the way it was danced. Today, Dabke is an essential part of any Lebanese celebration. Whenever family and friends gather around a traditional mezze and a drink of arak, music will certainly fill the air as someone takes out his derbakeh (drums) to accompany everybody in the dabke!
The rules of Dabke
Dabke should be danced in a line, where dancers hold hands and align their shoulders. Shoulders should not separate during the performance. When they dance, the line moves counter clockwise. Dabke is for both men and women. The more people to stomp, the quicker the roof would be done, so anybody was welcome.
Heading the line was the owner of the house, or the person being celebrated. In some villages, the eldest takes the lead. Today, it is the person that dances best, as a lot is required from the leader.
The leader is the one who has all the moves, who jumps up and down and can raise both his hands while dancing, a move that is not allowed for other dancers except the one at the other end of the line, who can only raise his left arm.
Those who are at both ends of the dabke line usually have worry beads or a cane, which they wave while dancing. Traditionally it was a handkerchief meant to wipe the sweat off the stompers’ faces as they danced.
” Since day one, the dabke has been a symbol of fraternal love, solidarity and virility because of the way it was danced”
If you thought there was only one kind, think again. The variations 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.
The dabke challenge
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 many songs of Dabke
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.
Dabke holds a record!
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.
Sandra Khalil, editorial contributor at Lebanon Traveler, reminisces about a village dance she will never forget.
“I remember attending the Mar Mema celebrations in my grandmother’s village when I was younger. Aside from the usual mouneh, saj and song, people mostly looked forward to the dabke. I had seen people dance dabke before, but it was never like this. The festivities took place at the village’s school. Everybody gathered in the courtyard and held hands. As soon as the dalouna began they all synchronized their steps .And on and on and on it went… The line grew longer and longer and soon formed a double and even triple circle. Seen from the stairs, the line looked like a giant snail. I kept growing till dawn as the villagers kept dancing. One of the most enthusiastic dancers was a friend of my uncle’s. On the day of the festival, he had just gotten the results of his cholesterol test and it was through the roof. He wore a jacket (though it was in mid September) and was the first on the dance floor and the last to leave. The next day he went to take the cholesterol test again, and what do you know, it was down to normal! Dabke was a miracle cure!
Where to learn
Studio Caracalla +961 1 499904
Nameless Dance Academy +961 252525
Diva Ballet and Arts +961 5 807391
M. Robert +961 3 925440
Several tutorials are available on YouTube. Join the Tollabtube Channel, where you will find a pretty interesting instructional video for dabke.
At the village festivals
During the sunny seasons, the villages all around the country organize festivals, where there is bound to be a dabke. Ask some locals and they will be glad to help!
Where to see
Where there is a celebration, there’s a dabke, be it at a wedding, christening, birthday or a simple gathering of friends. In summer, several local plays and performances will take place during which dance troops like Caracalla or the Rahbani productions take dabke to a new level! Rahbani movies are full of dabke. These include Bayaa’ Al Khawatim (Ring’s Salesman), Safar Barlik (The Exile) and Bint El Haris (The Daughter of the Watchman). Director Phillipe Aractinji in his acclaimed movie Al Bosta, starring Nadine Labaki, showcased the traditional dabke, modernized it and created the Techno Dabke.
Special thanks to Dr. Khodor Terro, founder of Barja Dance Group