Tradition in Motion: DABKEH!


Author/Creator ORCID





MA in Cultural Sustainability

Citation of Original Publication


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This Capstone, Tradition in Motion: DABKEH! (TIM) is an online collection of documentation of dabkeh dancers (dabbikah) based in the West Bank, Palestine and Brooklyn, New York. TIM provides a platform to share the voices of these practitioners, a framework to explore issues fundamental to cultural sustainability, and to highlight dabkeh’s multiplicity of meanings, and dynamism. Edited videos of interviews with dabbikah and accompanying materials are organized on the Tumblr platform,, to highlight important themes which reoccur throughout the narratives. Supporting and linked media is on additional platforms (Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube). Media footage is drawn from fieldwork conducted in Beit Sahour, the occupied West Bank (2009) and New York City (2012). Additional footage in Brooklyn, NY (2015) was recorded with the help of City Lore’s Documentation Institute. Dabkeh is a music and dance social tradition of the Levant area (Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, Syria) of the Middle East. It is performed socially at celebrations, in stage choreographies by troupes, and even in street protests. Dabkeh is rooted in village folk traditions, performed in lines and circles, with rhythmic stomping and syncopated foot patterns. It is also one of the most popular and beloved dances performed by Arab Americans, not solely by those of Levantine descent, at social gatherings, festivals and political events. Considering the misrepresentations and racism facing Palestinians and Arab Americans, TIM provides an alternative voice which values tradition, art and self-expression. It provides a platform for Arab re-presentation of themselves as artists, tradition bearers, dancers, and creators, in contrast to mass media’s depictions of them as terrorists, chauvinists, and mysterious backwards-looking exotic figures. Traditional cultural knowledge and practices of dabkeh (dance, music, community) are at risk in part due to migration, exile, and marginalization through discrimination or overt occupation of Palestinian territories. In the years following September 11th, and again currently, due to upheaval in the region and to phenomena related to Daesh (ISIS); Arab Americans and Muslims are facing increased discrimination and erosion of their civil and cultural rights in America and abroad. The pressures of surveillance of Arab American communities, and everyday prejudices combine with the common stresses of immigration to undo family, community and traditional culture. TIM looks at dabkeh as a cultural antidote to this undoing. It explores dabkeh as a dynamic and vital element of traditional culture and of everyday life, danced not only in social gatherings but also as a public statement of protest and identity. “[B]ecause “how a people are represented is how they are treated” ( Hall, 1998, p. 27), the act of representation is also an act of material consequences” . TIM collocutors speak of dabkeh as an affirmation 1 of their existence as Palestinians, as Arabs, as bearers of culture and tradition. TIM’s sharing of Arab American and Palestinian experiences of a beloved dance tradition, is a small step in sustaining their culture, their self-representation and sharing it with a wider audience. 1 Madison, D. Soyini. 2012. Critical Ethnography: Method, Ethics, and Performance, 196. Washington D.C, Sage Publications.