Changes in modern societies had robbed many traditions and things that characterized life in the past. Now every thing is moving swiftly and hastily. Even folklore dance had lost its characteristics, originality and distinctive movements, and joined modernism which deformed every beautiful and original thing in our artistic, cultural and social life. Until a short time, most of the peoples of the world, used to express sorrow or anguish, joy or happiness in dances and rhythms spontaneously composed for several occasions and by different groups of people.
Swift and noisy rhythms now overwhelm the world and reflect states of boredom, restlessness and hopelessness. Just until recently, people, in dancing used to beat the ground hard with their feet to express their strength and vivacity, and their relation with earth and farming to symbolize fertility and prosperity, and to celebrate the coming of spring with its many feasts : the Fourth Of April, Flowers Day, Epiphany, Persian New Year’s Day , the Day Of God Baal Ascension From The Ground, And St. George’s Day. Folklore dance in Syria was influenced by many factors mainly, nature, the type of labore (mostly agricultural), and social habits. For example in the coastal mountains, dance used to be performed collectively and in quick steps. In Aleppo and Idlib dance was quieter, and less vivacious. In the Syrian Jazeera, (the eastern region) dance was inherited from the old Arab bedouin traditions like “al Dahha” dance.
Folklore dance in Syria was not merely a Dabka (beating the ground with feet in regular steps), but rather it was accompanied by rhythmic movements with men carrying swords or canes. Some kinds of dance were expressionist, while others were social or valorous.
Historian and traveler “al Masoudi” wrote in his book “Morouj al Thahab” (Meadows of Gold) that the Abbasid Caliph “al Mu’tamad” asked some people in his court to describe dancing, types of dances and the characters and features the dancer should have. They said: “Peoples and nations usually have different ways of dancing. In general there are eight kinds of rhythms for dancing: the slow, the quick, the swift, and the strong, the slow strong, the quick strong and the strong swift I and the very strong….The dancer should have certain characteristics in his, appearance, personality and in his performance.
As of his appearance he should have an attractive look, a slim body, a thin waist, a long neck, long whiskers, small feet and smooth flexible fingers and joints that help him bend easily and turn for a long time. He also should have long breath and should always dress elegantly. As of his personality he should be quick minded, good mannered, intelligent, well aware of the kinds of dance and the rules of every kind. As of his per formance he should be humorous, punctual, stable in movement, and able to perform hard movements while being stable, and should rotate and move his feet and hands in full harmony with music.
Syria has known, through its long history, most of the kinds of folklore dances, but unfortunately those who wrote about folklore dance couldn’t write in details about this art. “The Heritage of Dabka” a book written by the late writer “Adnan Bin Zurail” is considered one of the most important refernces about the art of dance. Bin Zurail gives detailed information about the traditions and development of Dabka. He also shows special interest in the dance of “Samah ” as one of the old inherited kinds of body expressions, very popular in all the Syrian regions. Samah was taught as a respectable and bashful kind of dance , with deep rules, special wording of songs and ballads, tunes and rhythms.
The present generation of dancers of Aleppo, learnt the Samah from Omar alBatsh, Abdulwahab Seifi, Saleh alBoshi, Adnan Mnini, Omar Aqqad and others. It has been said that men in Aleppo used to dance this kind of group dance and still do so until now. They attributed it to Sheikh Aqil of Munboj, one of the Sufis who inherited it from the ancestors and developed it, devising new movements of feet, which the dancer, whether male or female, should follow and sing while moving his /her hands. Sheikh Aqil used to call his followers who used to dance Samah “sons of art “A “son of art” should usually learn many tunes so that he can join the group any time, any where, and follow their steps harmoniously.
After Sheikh Aqil died in the thirteenth century AD, his followers pre served this art which combines sing ing, movements and rhythms while at the same time preserving veneration and calmness.
Of the most famous dances in Syria is the Dabka, a dance of several light coordinated steps with movements of the body that express vivacity of the males and tenderness of the females, accompanied by frequent organized
movements of feet, beating the ground in harmony with a drum, a flute or any other country musical instrument.
Usually Dabka is danced on songs, ballads or lyrics, any poetical sentences inherited from the predecessors heritage, usually composed by anonymous people who didn’t study at any institute or conservatory. Dabka is famous in Syria due to the lightness of movements, diversity of tunes and the joy it gives during performance. Hence every region of Syria has its own type of Dabka; Hawran, Deir Ezzor, Khan Sheikhoun, Salamieh, Hama, Qalamoun, and the Syrian coast.
Songs played with the Dabka are usually simple in words and rhythms so that they are understood easily every where, although each type expresses the traditions, the customs and even the dialect of the region where it was started.