On Saturday evening, the casual and intimate setting of Dodd living room set the stage for New York’s Palestinian Dabke Brigades, whose ranks include Abdullah Awad ’13, who is currently studying abroad at Columbia, to perform their traditional dance.
Delicious baklava, hummus and a hot tea served at the onset of the show certainly enticed the audience and coaxed them into sitting and watching while munching.
As the performers entered the room, they introduced themselves and their mission: Interestingly, the performers employ dance as a resistance to the “cultural and physical occupation of Palestine.” The dancers did not introduce themselves individually but instead showcased the diverse religious, ethnic and professional worlds they all hailed from. For most of them, performing Palestinian dance was simply a hobby.
As the show began, I was overcome by an undeniable sense of déjà-vu: The performance bore an uncanny resemblance to a dance performed as a celebration of Hanukkah according to Jewish tradition. The steps were strikingly similar, from holding hands and moving in a circle to stomping with alternating feet. The clothing was also similar – all of the performers wore thick cloths with a row of coins at one end wrapped around the body, as well as intricately embroidered tops.
Without a doubt, one of my favorite aspects of the dance was the powerful beats that drove it. These were tones that shook you to the bones, created by a history of people so rich that you could feel it in every note: the separation of a nation, the preaching of an ancient religion, the passion in its culture.
The dancing was very traditional and toned-down; although not as aesthetically stimulating as more contemporary performances, it was an interesting show to watch. However, having been spoiled by the rich artistic scenes produced by the ’62 Center and our various neighboring museums, I realized that my expectations for a performance had risen substantially even when it came to one put on inside a dorm. The performers were certainly engaging and enthused, but did not hide the fact that they performed strictly as a hobby. As a result, it was certainly more of a fun and intimate dance rather than a professional show – something, of course, to be expected from the setting.
Perhaps the best part of the show was its interactive portion. The dancers had promised the audience a chance to learn dabke, a traditional Palestinian dance in which participants hold hands in a large circle and tap their feet alternatively, all the while circling around the room. Although some of us were apprehensive at first, the troupe was insistent – following its friendly encouragement, almost all of the audience was up, holding hands and tapping their feet, delving firsthand into this old and beautiful culture.
This was a very unique and interesting sight to behold: a diverse group of people brought together to learn about a tradition that is so frequently and mistakenly associated exclusively with violence and conflict. It was interesting to witness the joy coming from this gathering and compare it to the potent phobia of the Middle East so virulent in the United States. The intimate and comfortable setting of Dodd living room was certainly a catalyst for this kind of learning and acceptance of diversity.