Israelis and Palestinians–Dancing in Circles

In music class this week we’re going to dance dance dance!

Palestinian folk dancing:
The primary Palestinian folk dance is the dabke, which is centuries old. No one really knows the dabke’s origins, though one tradition explains that the dance began in a region where houses were built of stone walls but had roofs made of wood, straw and dirt. Workers and neighbors would stomp the dirt with their feet to compact it, singing “Let’s go and help.” This helpful, communal verse developed into a song called, “Ala Dal Ouna” and formed the backdrop for the dance. [Learn how to dance the Lebanese dabke.]

Did you know there are six main types of dabke? Sure you did.

Al-Shamaliyya: the most popular form of dabke. In Al-Shamaliyya there is a leader, called the lawweeh, who starts the dance by leading a group of men–usually, men–who hold hands and form a semicircle, then invites others, usually the guests at a wedding or community event, to join in the dabke line. This type of dabke is “danced for happy family celebrations, such as weddings, circumcisions, the return of travelers, release of prisoners, and also for national holidays, in which dabke becomes a demonstration of national personality.”

— Al-Sha’rawiyya:
is limited to men who make very strong stomps and follow the lead of a very strong lawweeh

Al-Karaadiyya: there
is no lawweeh. Instead, the dance moves slowly, following the lead of a flute player (azif) in the middle of the circle.

Al-Farah: “is one of
the most active types of dabke and therefore requires a high degree of physical fitness.”

Al-Ghazal: “is
characterized by three strong stomps of the right foot, and is usually tiring for those dancing.”

Al-Sahja: this form
of dabke has two sub-forms: As-Samir, which involves two rows of dancers standing along opposite walls competing against each other by improvising clever folk poetry. Al-Dahiyya is a Bedouin variant in which a female dancer moves between the two lines of men, who compete through their poetry for her attention. Usually this form appears in the night before a wedding as somewhat of a bachelor party.

Israeli folk dancing:

Unlike most folk dancing from around the world, which draws upon centuries or more of tradition, Israeli folk dancing–much like Sheirei Eretz introduced above–originated in the mid 20th century as a conscious element of Zionist settlers’ mission to unify multicultural Jewish immigrants into one “people of Israel.” Settlers and their descendants choreographed dances that touched upon religious issues, celebrated the land of Israel as a Jewish homeland and celebrated the communal nature of the settlers’ work. They
intertwined elements of folk dance from around the Jewish world, but especially featured simple circle dances that found inspiration in Eastern European traditions. After the first Israeli dance festival, which took place in 1944, folk dancers asserted their work as an important cultural and artistic form. Today Israelis may spend more time dancing in nightclubs than in community centers, but they still enjoy folk dances in private and public celebrations, as do Jews in their own communities worldwide. (Want to know where to go for an Israeli dance class near you? Visit for a country by country guide.)

There are hundreds of dances that one would consider to be Israel folk dances, though there are a number of basic steps that appear again and again in the choreography. Curtis Loftin’s Messianic Jewish Machol Dance Ministries [what is “Messianic Judaism?“] lists twenty, some of them with their own sub-variants, though there are surely more. Here are some highlights:

the Yemenite step | Grapevine | Hora | Basic Mayims | 7-Up Lift | World Hands | Basketball Turn | Coupe

If you want to see Israeli dancing in action, Curtis Loftin graciously points us to some examples, such as this lively Hora Habika. If you’re looking for international examples of Jews and non-Jews doing Israeli dances,’s wonderfully helpful page entitled, “Making life a bit easier” actually does make life easier. For example, let’s say the developer of a world music class for little kids and their grownups was interested in dancing, “Mayim Mayim” with his students. Wherever would he look for a video example? Easy as pie, he would go to Belakut and the page would direct him to this example of people dancing “Mayim,” or maybe this one.

In class we’re going to dance both the dabke and “Mayim Mayim.” You’ll love it.

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