Dabke, also known as ‘dabkeh’ started in the mountainous regions above the Mediterranean coastline and the Tigris River. Originally, the Dabke dance was a creation of the people of the villages and towns of Lebanon. During that time, there had been changes in the weather. The villagers of Lebanon formed a dance based on building their homes. Most of these regions had flat roofs made of tree branches and topped with mud. However, with changes in the weather, the mud would crack and the roofs had to be fixed. Also, according to one folk tradition, houses in the Levant were built from stone with a roof of wood, straw and dirt. The Lebanese would fix the roof by holding hands, forming a line and starting to stomp their feet while walking on the roof to adjust the mud. When the mud started to crack, the owner of the house would call its neighbours to help them with the roof. He would yell ‘ta’awon’ or ‘awneh’ meaning ‘help’ and in turn, the neighbours would come running saying ‘Ala Dal Ouna’ meaning ‘let’s go and help’. All the people would come together on the roof and start stomping the mud and this is how the Dabke dance originated.
As discussed above, it is performed in two forms–line and circle. However, it is the leader called ‘raas’ or ‘lawweeh’ who is allowed to improvise its type. He guides the dancers by twirling a handkerchief or string of beads called masba. He is like a tree that spreads its arms in the air with proud and upright trunk and feet which stomps the ground in rhythm. He heads the line by alternating its facing to the audience and the other dancers. In order to keep up to the beat, the dancers use vocalizations to show energy. During the weddings, the raas or lawweeh takes the lead after the singer begins with the mawwal. Before the song kicks in, the basic step of 1–2–3 is performed by the dancers.
Dabke is not of one kind. It has many variations. They are:
- Jordanian Dabke: There are about 19 types of Jordanian Dabke, out of which Habel Mwadea is a type which is performed jointly by men and women. Few others include Al–Karaadiyya, Al–Tas’awaiyya, Al–Sha’rawiyya, Al–Askariyya, Al–Joufiyya, Al–Ghawarneh, Abu’Alanda and many others.
- Palestinian Dabke: There are two common types of Palestinian Dabke namely Shamaliyya and Sha’rawiyya. The former consists of a lawweef as the head of the group of the dancers holding hands forming a semicircle whereas the latter is characterised by steps or stomps limited to men. There are about six phrases in these variations. In addition to these, the other forms include Al–Karaadiyya, Al–Farah, Al–Ghazal, and Al–Sahja.
Different types of Dabke are distinguished by its music and the region it comes from. There are five main components of Dabke in terms of instrumentation. They include the lute, the tablah (a small hand drum), mijwiz (similar to red clarinet with two pipes), the daff (like a tambourine), and the arghul (like mijwiz but with finger holes on one of the topics). The Al–Shamaliyya begins with the mijwiz or arghul in solo or can be accompanied by a singer. However, as the other instruments join in, the music gets going.
Common rules for Dabke include:
- Dancers who perform Dabke in line should hold hands and align shoulders. Their shoulders should not be separated during the performance.
- The line should move counter–clockwise.
- The owner of the house (traditional) or the leader heads the line.
- Dancers at both the ends of the line have worry beads or cane which they wave while dancing.
- It is performed by both men and women, except some of the variations of the Jordanian Dabke.