Dancing the Dabke

The dabke is a passionate, lively Lebanese folk dance. As the national dance of Lebanon, it is common at weddings,

A group of a dozen men dance the powerfully evocative Dabke around a drummer. It's reminiscent of the Maori's Haka but with a more celebrative tone. Beirut, Lebanon. Photo copyright Genevieve Hathaway Photography.

parties, and local Beirut night clubs.  To experience the power of this dance, watch a group of men dance the dabke.  It evokes masculine energy.

Dabke in Arabic means  literally “stamping of the feet,” and is done  either in a line or a circle.  It’s a simple four beat dance with most of the aerobatics performed by the leader.  The leader, called raas (“head”) or lawweeh (“waver”), is allowed to improvise on the type of dabke.  As the dance progresses the leader rotates so each person has a chance to passionately wow the onlookers with their dabke skills.

The dabke was popularized in the 20th century by the Lebanese composers Assi and Mansour Rahbani. Not just a favorite among the older generation; attend any local Beirut bar on a Friday or Saturday night and there’s a good chance you’ll see a dabke or two break out.

My first dabke experience was at a Beirut local restaurant in the neighborhood of Gemmazyeh. It’s a favorite Friday night location among young Beiruitis looking for a good night out with their friends.  Long tables accommodate dining family style. A local band played and the dabke started early.  Shortly, after the troop of 6 musicians began to play my friend Abed grabbed a few other guys and started the Lebanese dance.  Pretty soon the line of stomping, weaving and spinning men extended to over a dozen people crammed in a circle around an drummer pounding out the beat.   It looked more like a tribal war dance than a folksy wedding jig.

Seeing the dabke danced by locals on their “evening out on the town” provides a unique insight into the Lebanese culture – passion for life, the love of friends and family, and the honoring of their tradition and roots.



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