Yemen’s traditional dances: manifold and original [Archives:2005/868/Culture]

August 15 2005

Hassan Al-Zaidi
Yemen is among the top Arab countries that enjoy rich folklores. Popular dance in Yemen is highly original having distinctive rhythms and various manifestations. Modes of dance differ as you travel across the country. Publicly performed dances are limited to men while women have their own performed indoors. In Yemen, there are no night clubs for dance as it is the case in other countries. Therefore, dances are performed mainly on special occasions such as weddings. On such an occasion, one can find different styles of dance. For example, in the area of Sana'a, the popular dance is bara'. It is performed to the music of drums only or along with the pipe.

Dancers hold their jambias (daggers) in their hands while dancing. Some people claim that this dance is named after the district where it originated, Bura', which is rich in folklores like seasonal dances, songs and chants.

There are other types of dance such as hamadani which is performed by the people in the area of Hamadan, a suburb to the west of the city of Sana'a. Kawkabani dance, named after the city of Kawkaban, is among the most popular dances in Yemen. Kawkaban is located to the west of Sana'a and is frequently mentioned in books of popular poetry and songs. Its residents are known for their interest in singing.

On the other hand, Tihama, a coastal plain on the Red Sea within the province of Hodeidah, has dances characterized by African rhythms. The songs of this area have also been influenced by Indian tunes and melodies as it is the case with popular songs in the coastal provinces of Aden and Hadhramout.

Popular dances in Tihama are characterized by flexible smooth and swift movement. They are of different types and fall into various subcategories with several labels.

Particularly in the area of Zabid, a part of Hodeidah province, there is a multiplicity of songs accompanied by dances called shami, Yamani, serar etc.

A distinguished mode of dance can be seen in the provinces of Lahj, Abyan, and Shabwa. This dance is known for its quick rhythm. To perform it, movement of dancers' feet should be in harmony with the quick-paced rhythm of drums.

In the city of Taiz, folkloric dances include two main genres which are zubairi and bar'ah. These two kinds have similar rhythms. Drum beaters, usually women, perform songs simultaneously while men dance. This happens at the time of festivals and weddings.

The area of Abs, to the north of the city of Hodeidah, has its own ways of dance such as sharqi and zair which are performed in groups outdoors on moonlit meadows. Bridegrooms perform these dances themselves to express their mirth and happiness on the days of their weddings.

Yemen is rich in the art of dance. In this article, we managed to shed light for a moment on the most popular sorts in the country. A minute review of them may be tackled in next issues.