Stories from Afar & Up Close

Move Your Feet

The sunny days of the past week have reminded me of summer in Lebanon, and got me reminiscing about the many nights we spent in Barometre, a small pub here in Hamra. When the nights are hot and the bar is so full the people spill out onto the terrace all the way to the street, there is always the moment that the dabkeh starts. It’s either a particular song, or someone comes in with a big drum and beats the right rhythm, and then the men get in line and start dancing. It’s one of those things I really like about Lebanese men, that they are not afraid to dance, and that they do so with more grace than a broken robot.

Dabkeh is usually danced at weddings and other (family-)gatherings, not in bars, but in Barometre people insist on doing this traditional dance. Although often a men-only affair, women can and do participate in it as well. Some parts are slow, some parts are faster, and sometimes the jumping and moving of the feet goes so fast I can do nothing but sit and stare in awe. It looks something like this:

(warning: the quality of image and sound is not perfect, but the spirit of dabkeh is captured perfectly [edited to add: the original video was removed from YouTube, so below is a new one!])

Watching this makes me remember the summer-camp we organized at the NGO in South Lebanon where I used to work. On the last day, a contingent of Italian UNIFIL soldiers passed by to see what was going on, just as a group of teenage boys was performing a dance for the other participants. Rather than getting all self-conscious, the boys made it an even bigger show, and even invited the Italians to join. Mediterranean as they are, of course they immediately took the opportunity to dance, dancing along outside on a field in the sun.

How unfortunate, I thought, that Dutch boys don’t know how to dance. That most of them are too shy, or too self-conscious to move to the music together with others. But then I remembered the hype of a little while ago… and it turns out they do dance! And it’s not even that different from the Lebanese dabkeh!

I passed it off as Dutch folklore to my Arabic teachers, and they totally believed me…