The Traditional Lebanese Dance Form – Debke
By Morwenna Assaf
DEBKE is a line and formation dance found in the Eastern Arabic countries known as the Levant. The countries involved are Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Palestine and Iraq. The dance is a proud, communal dance done at most occasions and gatherings. It is also worked into theatrical plays in Lebanon. It is Lebanon’s national dance and is our favored area of study.
The movements consist of walking, leaping, fast footwork, kicks and stomps of feet and heels. The before mentioned movements are all done in unison. Even in Lebanon (a tiny country no bigger than Delaware) there are variations in steps and styles. This carries over to the USA where there are pockets of immigrants from a particular area. You can tell where they come from by the debke they do even before their accent gives them away.
The leader or rais is always on the front of the line. He may change the step or do fancy steps. The second in line keeps the line going with the basic steps to keep the rhythm. He usually has a mizpah (prayer beads) or a knotted handkerchief which he twirls in time to the music. A lady leader might have a soft hankie or scarf. This is for the communal debke style. There are also performing style debke which is much fancier with choreography done by all members. The choreography is comprised of a basic syllabus and some raks sharki (bellydance) moves. The men are very strong in their movements with jumping, fast turning and heavy stomping and even vocals. The ladies on the other hand are softer and less aggressive. The performing style today is mixed with more balletic and theatrical moves.
Debke music is distinctive. It is a 4/4 with an override of 6. This means even though it is 4/4 you count 6 steps in each 8 counts of music. There is always a pulse somewhere with the body or else where. Debke is a very energetic dance form. The right hand is held up and left hand down. In Lebanon there are many styles. Main styles are Beiruty, known for the capital city, Mountain and Baalbek. The latter two are called beledi or country debkes.
ARABIC WORDS: The following list is comprised of some basic words used for the syllabus of Debke dancing and training.
Himsik = Hold
Schmaal = Left
Yamiin = Right
Debke = Stomp or Stamp
Beledi = Country
Mashi = Walk
Wa Nos = ½
Matimshi = Don’t walk
Inzel = Go down (Bend knees)
Itlas – Spring up (jump)
WAYLI, WAYLI – (In the spirit) (feeling)