“When we challenge the preservation of our artistic heritage in the present, our work is not merely to preserve its ancient image such as how archaeological objects are preserved in museums. When artistic heritage lives in the spirit of the people, in their eyes, and in their ears, its value is accorded a renewed life. It follows that the civilization of the motherland in her post reaches a position of artistic value in the bygone arts… Therefore we gather ancient heritage and record it anxiously in our present moment. Then we make it an issue of polishing and cultivating it in order to present it in a new cond[i]tion that awakens our yearning for sight and sound.” (Qassab, 2012)
What was Dabke?
The reason I chose to introduce dabke in the past tense is because this whole portfolio is a discourse between the origin and formation of the dance in the past compared to its representation now. In other words between dabke as a social dance in the Levant  region (Greater Syria) and its postcolonial staged form and political representation nowadays.
Dabka (also spelled dabkeh, dabka, dubki, and with the plural, dabkaat) could be defined as ‘a circling folk dance made up of intricate steps and stomps.’ (Rowe, 2011)  'Once such origin may have developed from Canaanite fertility rites wherein communities joined in the energetic foot stomping dance to scare away malicious spirits, clearing the way for healthy and secure growth of their seedlings. However, the more popularly recognized origin is derived from traditional house-building in the Levant where houses were structured with stone and made with a roof consisting of wood, straw and dirt (mud). In order to have a stable roof, the dirt had to be compacted. To achieve this aim, it is said that family and neighbors would come together and perform what is now recognized as the dabka in order to make the roof work fun.’ [This is where the most common music and dance style Dal’ouna originated from; it used to mean: “Come to help us”] ‘The rhythmic patterns were a joyful way to keep things in sync and effective.’ (Paliroots, 2018)
What is Dabke?
'Until World War I the name Syria generally referred to Greater or geographical Syria, which extends from the Taurus Mountains in the north to the Sinai in the south, and between the Mediterranean in the west and the desert in the east.' (Encyclopedia, 2020) Up until that point in history (will be discussed in the next section), dabke was merely a cultural tradition that extended from its use in building homes to being a celebratory dance performed in lines and circles in events such as weddings. In a postcolonial context where the historical (Greater Syria) turned into “Syria, Jordan, Palestine-later on Israel-, Lebanon and Iraq” The use and representation of dabke took a curve in each of the newly formed political countries. The lyrics combined with the pre-existing music styles became country-specific and highly political. Even the outfits and costumes displayed started carrying details that are area or city-specific. For example, in 1961, Adnān al-Manīnī published a manuscript called “al-Raqs al-Shaʿbiyya.” This manuscript reflects 'contemporaneous debates on models of nationalism, specifically qawmiyya and wataniyya , and attributes dabke practice with new meanings that correlate with these national agendas, themselves steeped in the long traditions of liberal Arab intellectualism. Dabke is resignified as secular, rural, and youthful in ways that internalize other subjectivities, such as religious and tribal, and indicate how the modern Syrian nation is formed through the production of alterity.' (Silverstein, 2012) ‘Furthermore, dabke became a marker of difference for the Syrian nation amongst others in the emergent order of nation-states by which political and cultural leaders positioned their various interests’ (Provence 2005, Gelvin 1998, Wein 2011).
Dabke, according to Silverstein, was developed as ‘Folk Dance in and as Colonial Encounter’. 'As a custom and tradition (adāt wa taqlid) practiced throughout the region, dabke was of particular service to models of state and society debated by Arab nationalists in the Mandate period.' (Silverstein, 2012) This discourse applies, and is not limited to, Syria and all the newly-formed Levant countries at that time. Each country developed this dance and its use and representation in slightly different measures, turning it from a folk tradition to a political statement each time it is performed on stage, locally and internationally. This whole debate of dabke’s transformation in context also resulted in change in the aesthetics of the dance. ‘Choreographers actively distanced themselves from the Oriental spirit (...) which means ruḥ sharqiyya that signifies and is signified by the popularity of the commercial and entertainment arts. Their distantiation may be situated in the negotiation of ruḥ sharqiyya as a form of cultural intimacy that suggests distinctions of taste between these two fields of cultural production.’ (Silverstein, 2012)
Why perform at the British Museum?
To give more context, ‘[o]n May 19, 1916, representatives of Great Britain and France secretly reach[ed] an accord, known as the Sykes-Picot agreement, by which most of the Arab lands under the rule of the Ottoman Empire are to be divided into British and French spheres of influence with the conclusion of World War I. In its designated sphere, it was agreed, each country shall be allowed to establish such direct or indirect administration or control as they desire and as they may think fit to arrange with the Arab State or Confederation of Arab States.’
The museum holds in its Middle-East or Ancient Levant section a very wide colonial collection of artifacts and huge pieces of heritage and history of this area. The Ancient Levant section is the museum ‘corresponds to the modern states of Syria (western part), Lebanon, Israel, Palestine and Jordan.’ ‘The Department of the Middle East, numbering some 330,000 works, forms a significant part of the collections of the British Museum, and the world's largest collection of Mesopotamian antiquities outside Iraq.’  Thus, my performance in the British museum in the bigger concept represented by Naiara and Subhashini of the Orient is an attempt to highlight the swift, yet notable change dabke has “evolved” into as a result of the Greater Syria partition in a postcolonial context; which resulted in a political and aesthetic aspects. While the political aspect has been discussed, it is fair to note that this is a continuously evolving representation that shifts and evolves with new agendas and political leaders. The aesthetic side of dabke included a change in both the music and instruments used; using more modern and electronic instruments; a change in outfits used by the performers to fit the political background represented on stage, using either costumes with embroidery that represents a specific region or city, or at many international occasions wearing black outfits with only a scarf or a headscarf that represents the embroidery pattern of the country represented. The change in the way of performing and choreographing is the aspect which will be highlighted and displayed in my performance in the British museum. After all, the core of these changes as history tells it is a result of the political division of (Greater Syria) by Britain and France.
Execution and plan of performance:
The whole performance starts in the upper floor, from room 57 to room 59. Before I show up the musicians will starts playing the music style Dal’ouna for a minute or so to establish the beat and the ambience to the audience. The music, at this point consisting of an org, darabuka and a flute, will accompany a vocalist singing the basic lyrics of Dal’ouna in its pre-colonial context, to eliminate any bias or guessing from which exact post mandate country the lyrics are. After a minute I will walk in in a traditional “thawb” (A handmade long piece of garment that covers the whole body and arms, with unique embroidery from the historical Syrian region), clapping with the beat and looking at the audience while signaling for the audience to come up and join me. I will walk across the room allowing space for the audience to stand in line next to each other to my left side and to hold hands. I will then start doing the basic steps of Dal’ouna while keeping constant eye contact with the audience allowing them to copy my movements and follow; inducing the concept of ‘public intimacies’ (Guilbault 2010). ‘According to Guilbault’s formulation of this term, public intimacies refers to the processes by which various contacts between musicians and audiences in a public space produce spatial proximities through the live performance of popular dance music.’ (Silverstein, 2012) This concept refers back to the original context from which this dance was created historically, for social inclusion and engagement in public spaces.
I will keep the line moving until-with a pre-agreement with the musicians, the music starts changing to an upbeat with new instruments joining such as the electric guitar accompanying some electro dance music. At this point I will detach from the line and start performing a solo symbolizing the new aesthetics and formation of dabke as it is staged nowadays adding more performativity elements, and holding a Jordanian flag, indicating the political-post mandate-country I represent. Instead of engaging with the audience in a dance that was social, I am shifting their position to spectators who are encouraged to clap and follow, but only watch me perform dabke. I will end the performance after I have moved the audience to the South-Asian section where Subhashini will take over.
Gill, N.S. "Maps of the Levant." ThoughtCo, Feb. 11, 2020, thoughtco.com/maps-of-the-levant-119279.
Rowe, N. (2011) Dance and Political Credibility: The Appropriation of Dabkeh by Zionism, Pan-Arabism, and Palestinian Nationalism. The Middle East Journal. Volume 65, Number 3, pp. 363-380
Paliroots (2018) The History of the Palestinian Dabka and National Roof Over Your Head Day. Available at: https://www.paliroots.com/blogs/news/the-history-of-the-palestinian-dabka-and-national-roof-over-your-head-day
Silverstein, S. (2012). Mobilizing bodies in Syria: Dabke, popular culture, and the politics of belonging. UMI Proquest
Guilbault, Jocelyne. 2010. “Politics through Pleasure: Party Music in Trinidad.” In Music Traditions, Cultures & Contexts, 279-294. Waterloo, Ont.: Wilfred Laurier University Press.
Gelvin, James L. 1998. Divided Loyalties: Nationalism and Mass Politics in Syria at the Close of Empire. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
The British Museum (2020) Ancient Levant. Available at: https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/galleries/ancient-levant. (Accessed: 6 May 2020)
Encyclopedia.com (2020) GreaterSyria. Available at: https://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/greater-syria. (Accessed: 5 May 2020)'
History.com (2019) Britain and France conclude Sykes-Picot agreement. Available at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/britain-and-france-conclude-sykes-picot-agreement (Accessed: 5 May 2020)