Wala dalouna w ala dalouna…I’m sure you’ve heard those catchy lyrics at Arab weddings and in various Palestinian folk songs and chants. You’re probably finishing the rest of the song at this point. The phrase ala dalouna came to be when builders and villagers used to form a line and join hands to stomp cracked mud into place when the weather damaged the roofs of their houses. This patching work was done to prevent rain from seeping in on stormy days. The joint effort needed to achieve this communal task is ta’awon (cooperation), from which the Arabic word awneh (help) is derived from. This event developed into the popular dabke song titled “Ala Dalouna,” roughly translated to “Let’s go and help.” In this case, the legwork needed to compact the roofs is what we now call the popular Levantine folk dance—dabke—which literally means “stamping of the feet” in Arabic.
The dabke and folk songs kept work in the village enjoyable. Today, dabke reminds Palestinians of community, cooperation, and solidarity; we perform it worldwide at weddings, family gatherings, and celebrations. It’s an energetic dance that combines circle and line dancing, different levels of footwork, spins, and tricks. Today there are over twenty variations of dabke in different Arab countries, including Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen.
Palestinian Dabke Troupe at Wedding:
Amongst Palestinians, the two most common types of dabke are the shamaliyya and sha’rawiyya (six measure phrases). Al-Shamaliyya is the most famous and incorporates the typical dabke step—left foot crossing over the right foot two times—and different hops. The lawweeh, or leader, heads the line of men and controls the tempo/energy. He/she is expected to synchronize the dancers and be light on his/her feet and accurate. Typically, the lawweeh breaks from the line and dances in the center or switches places to show off more moves. He/she is identified by a handkerchief or a masbha (string of beads) in their hand, which they use to keep the dancers’ rhythm. Al-Shamaliyya is typically peformed at weddings, family celebrations, the release of prisoners, and national holidays. Al-Sha’rawiyya is limited to men and is characterized by stomps/strong steps; the laweeh is the most important element in this form of dabke (Wikipedia).
Traditional Dabke in Palestinian Village:
Some of the most popular dabke songs are actually entire genres in themselves. Ala Dalouna is one example of this since in each performance, the lyrics will differ, but the flow of the music is familiar and constant throughout the entire process. Some other popular genres are Al Jafra, Al Dahiyya, and Zareef il-Tool. The dominant theme of the dabke song genres is often love. The dabke music typically contains the oud, mijwiz, tablah, daff, and yarghoul instruments (see The Sounds of Palestine article for more details on these).
In America, the tradition has not been lost and can be seen performed by professional troupes at weddings, cultural organizations at universities, parties, festivals, and conventions. Dabke has united Arabs across nations and generations and is our go-to move for burning up the dance floor!
Houston Palestine Festival 2017:
Jerusalem Dabke Group:
About the writer: Tasneem Ibrahim
Tasneem is an engineer by day and a bookworm by night. She loves to write, travel, cook, watch movies, and spend time with her family in her free time. Her roots run deep in the Palestinian village of Sinjil. I think that it would do the general public good to educate themselves on our peoples’ rich history and culture.