Yemeni folk dancing: A celebration of weddings and war [Archives:2008/1150/Culture]

April 28 2008

Ismail Al-Ghabri
[email protected]

The art of folk dancing in Yemen dramatically correlates with its people's life on Earth.

Dancing is a visual representation of language, communicating with others and expressing the impacts of environmental conditions in one's life.

This method of expressing one's interaction with his or her surrounding environment comes in the form of body movements developed over the passage of time so that they become a characteristic feature of a society's folk arts practiced and staged whenever a social or religious occasion arises.

Dancing stems from the Latin word, choreography, meaning, “dance-written,” which later referred to the current art of dancing. It is defined as an instinctive human activity resulting from a spontaneous reaction to the sound of musical rhythms.

Dancing is the combination of regular body movements performed in conjunction with musical or drum rhythms, which form the outlines of traditional and folkloric heritage in a particular society's art of dancing.

Folk dances traditionally are performed during social events by those with little or no professional training, with new dancers often learning informally by observing and/or receiving help from others.

Folk dancing is viewed as more of a social activity rather than competitive, although there are professional and semi-professional folk dance groups and occasional folk dance competitions.

Yemeni folk dancing is linked closely to the daily activities of its people, their customs and religious occasions, also involving other occasions, such as giving birth, welcoming guest tribes, celebrating victories or preparing for imminent war.

Such social conditions form the background and framework of each type of dance, its rhythms, its particular set of movements and its art in general, which has survived throughout the ages.

One of Yemen's most important folk dances, which originated here, is pipe dancing. This type of dance is popular at wedding parties in the capital city of Sana'a. A team dance of not less than four participants, men, women or both may perform it.

However, before this is the Baraa or jambiyya (dagger) dance, which is the most famous among Yemenis and has spread nationwide.

The Baraa is a war-related dance expressing war preparations in a regular tone.

It consists of four different rhythms, ending with a fast rhythm signifying fighting capability and the fighters' utmost readiness to carry their weapons and go to battle.

Every Yemeni district has its own folk dances with special rhythms, costumes and movements.

For example, Hadramout city is well known for its diverse dance rhythms, one of which is Al-Edda dancing, performed by only males.

The Tihama also has different types of folk dances, including Al-Hukfah and Fursan, which display the dancers' skills at leaping over camels. The rhythms in Tihama music are similar to those of Africa due to migration, trade exchange and close borders with Africa.

There's also a famous dance in Lahj governorate called Al-Sharh, which is known to all Yemenis, as well as Arabs in neighboring countries. This dance is performed by a couple of male and female dancers to the accompanying fast musical rhythms of the oud, drums and other musical instruments.