Night Club Debke

One of the styles of dance that I had to become proficient in when I started dancing on the Arabic Gulf and North African circuit is Debke.  Now it's become one of my favorite topics to teach in workshops partly because I'm a sucker for the music but also because it's fun to share with others what I've learned in the Middle East.  

Debke songs are so great to me because they manage to be totally earthy and soulful and at the same time totally upbeat and fun.  One  of the reasons I like teaching this style so much is that it's often a new style for the students.  Many are familiar with Saidi and/or cane dances, but Debke style cane dances are usually new to them.  

So what exactly is Debke style dance? Debke is a folk dance from the areas of Syria, Lebanon and Palestine.  It is typically a line dance and traditionally to a 6 count meter.  Both men and women do Debke, and the men's style can get get quite athletic with jumps, squats and I've even seen summersaults thrown in!. 


Now there is a discrepancy between traditional Debke dance/music to what we dance and dance to in a Debke inspired number at a night club. First off, the music for a Debke inspired piece is rarely a 6.  Most of the songs are Lebanese pop songs by artists like Fares Karam, Nagwa Karam and Melhem Zein (to name just a few) and they are usually in a 4/4 meter, but have a folkloric sound (what I call 'mountainy' or 'jebali') which is reminiscent of a traditional Debke.  
It's probably this folkloric sound which has created the parallel between Saidi and Debke in the night club setting.  Apart from the heavy 4/4 rhythms (Saidi, Beledy, Nawari amongst other rhythms) Debke like Saidi can also feature double reeds like Mizmars.  Rhythmically and instrumentally they are close enough to be interchangeable in a medley for example.  I have danced to Saidi and Lebanese 'Debke Pop' across the Middle East, including in Egypt.  

So what are the differences and similarities between Debke and Saidi dance wise?  Traditionally the differences are pretty big.  Debke is primarily a line dance and Saidi is not.  Both are very earthy and heavy, but my opinion Saidi is more so.  Jumping can be seen in both but Debke style jumping is higher energy, faster, often lighter in the feet where as Saidi jumps are once again heavier and perhaps more spars.  In a night club setting you can use canes as prop for both Debke and Saidi but the Lebanese style is much faster and therefore the cane is much slimmer.  I joke that sometimes you can't even see the cane because it's just a blur, but you might hear the whoosh of it!

Here is a clip of a Debke combo (to a 4/4 meter) from one of my classes

If you want to see some more videos I've compiled a playlist of Debke videos that you can find on my youtube channel.  Apart from this playlist I have some others and I often add videos.

For more info on the Debke workshops I teach click here.  

Lastly if you want to see Debke live sign up for one of my Dubai dance trips here ;) 

The Gap Between the Festival World and the 'Real World'

In 2005 started dancing in the Middle East and about two years ago I started splitting my time between the Middle East and teaching in (one of) my hometown(s), Stockholm as well as at international workshops and festivals.  
It was when I was reacquainting myself with the festival world that I was struck by the huge discrepancy between the festival world and what I call the ‘real’ world.  Now I realize that might sound snooty (but maybe that’s what enticed you to read this) but it’s shorter than ‘’clubs in the Middle East, performing to a native audience, with live music’.  
What is the difference you may ask? Well, for me there are 3 major factors, TIME, MUSIC and AUDIENCE. 
So, what I mean by TIME, is that my shows in the Middle East are most often around an hour in length. With that I have to create an arch to my show that spans and (hopefully) keeps the attention of the audience for that entire time.  
In contrast at festivals (for good reason) dancers are asked to shorten their performances to 3-7 min.  and what I’ve seen is a lot of dancers pulling out all the stops during these 3-7 minutes which as a person used to the pace of the Middle East can be a little exhausting, dare I say assaulting? 
Now for the second factor MUSIC.  It’s rare to find live music at festivals which once again is understandable since they are rarely available outside the Middle East, but it’s none-the-less tragic. The spontaneity of live music not only ads excitement but it is the only way (in my opinion) to bring out the highest level of genuine expression.  If you dance to a CD you ultimately know what is going to happen and thus your expression will more likely be rehearsed, not a matter of pure reaction.
Lastly the AUDIENCE.  At festivals we are of course dancing for other dancers (and perhaps their spouces or family that have been towed along), people who know what you are doing and have a totally different eye when looking at the dance.  I think this incites a style of dancing that is aimed at showing people what you can do rather than entertaining them, rather than moving them.  
I think it’s great that there are festivals.  I think they are a great venue for us as a community to explore in areas of fusion, to share with each other etc. but I hope that people understand that this this gap between the two worlds exist. 
My personal wish is that there is a more live music present at festivals, I think that would be a first step in narrowing the gap or perhaps building a bridge to what I call the ‘real’ world.  
Let me take this moment to plug a sponsor who is doing just this, Maelle ( is organizing a show on the 3rd of October in Brussels with……you guessed it, LIVE MUSIC.  I will be performing as well as many great dancers from the area as well as from Holland and the UK.  Please check it out here.  I will be teaching workshops the following days, for info on those click here. 
Also, do you want to learn how to dance to live music? Do it! A  tip is to check out Suhaila Salimpour’s certification program here, live improve is required…. and de-mystified. 



I made this documentary a while back and one of the reasons I made it was that people kept asking, 'What is it like being a dancer in the Middle East?'  

The question is short but the answer is terribly long, too long for a quick conversation and too long to write in an email. 
So my goal with this documentary was to cover some of the basic facts in hopes of beginning to answer the vast question of 'What is it like to be a dancer in the Middle East.  Part 1 is an introdution and about logistics, rehearsal, make up and costumes.  In part 2 I go into more details about my show and end with some remarks about my experiences.  Hope you enjoy!