Lecture and Workshop/Demo: Perspectives and Practice - Syrian Debkah

Thu, June 9, 2011 6:30 pm at Alwan for the Arts

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Acclaimed among the folk traditions of the Levant, debkah has been adapted from a social line dance to staged choreographies of musical theatre and popular song. Join us for an evening lecture, demonstration and workshop as we step off the stage and into the debkah line to look further into the complex rhythms, step patterns, and social meanings of debkah of Syria.

Ethnomusicologist Shayna Silverstein begins with a presentation on contemporary practices and interpretations of Syrian debkah. Afterwards, experts in the debkah of their homeland, Syria, Rami Karabidg and Remonda Ghatas, follow up with a demonstration and lead us in a class.


$15 in advance online; or at door. $10 for members, students and seniors in advance online; or at door. ID/membership card checked at door; online purchase includes small service charge - use printout as your ticket.


A'la Raasi! Historical and Contemporary Perspectives on Popular Syrian Dance Musicwith Shayna Silverstein

In a country that gave birth to the first inscriptions of dancing figures and music, how do Syrians today celebrate the rich heritage of their music and dance traditions? In what ways are contemporary singers and dancers creatively adopting these traditions to express new social and political imaginaries? This lecture discusses how debkah, an improvisatory dance music practiced throughout Greater Syria, has been mobilized as a means for popular expression and social movements from the late 19th century to today. Drawing on extensive fieldwork conducted recently in Syria, the contemporary practice of debkah will be historically traced to the earlier repertoire of poet-singers Wadih El Safi, George Wassouf, and Wafik Habib, among others. Distinctions between regional styles and variants of this rhythmic dance form will be discussed in the comparative contexts of satellite music video, experimental theater, and documentary video production. As it circulates between intimate and public spaces of popular culture, debkah performance shifts political imaginaries of the dancing body in contemporary Syria and beyond.

Syrian Styling: Debkah Demonstration and Workshopwith Rami Karabidg and Remonda Ghatas

Expert debkah dancer, Rami, accompanied by Remonda, demonstrates Syrian debkah such as the slow and powerful a’rab, as well as a more upbeat Syrian variation and third debkah common to the Levant and diaspora, here in New York. Then, in the class that follows, Rami and Remonda get us on our feet and teach us to stomp and sway to debkah songs and rhythms in these three styles.


Shayna Silverstein

Shayna is completing her Ph.D. at the University of Chicago with a dissertation that examines the dabke genre of Syrian dance music in relation to gender and sexuality, globalization, nationalism, and performance studies. Her research has received substantial support from Fulbright-IIE, University of Chicago, and US Department of Education and has been published in the fields of anthropology, musicology, and Middle East studies. Shayna has taught at the University of Chicago and Dartmouth College, and consulted for arts initiatives including the Silk Road Project, Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, Cultures of Resistance, Tabadol, and the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. Trained as a dancer and musician, she plays violin and 'ud and has performed with members of the Silk Road Ensembleand Middle East Music Ensemble at the University of Chicago. Shayna received her B.A. in History from Yale University.

Rami Karabidg

Born in the city of Edlib, Syria, Rami settled in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn in 1995. Known as a skilled debkah dancer- he can be found at the head of debkah lines at any social gathering. Although Rami’s father’s family danced the debkah known as a’rab, traditional to his village of El-Bara, Rami only began to hone his skill in the line dance after migrating to the States. He began by learning Lebanese debkah commonly danced at weddings, concerts and parties throughout the New York area. Soon Rami learned more variations, including Syrian debkah, moving from the back of the line to the front. In 2007, on a trip home, Rami picked up contemporary and traditional debkah being danced in spaces as varied as Syrian beaches to family village weddings. In addition to his skill and love for debkah, Rami also has an ear for music; as a DJ he brought Arab-world music to social events, weddings and engagements in the NYC area from 2001-2008.

Remonda Ghatas

Remonda was born in Bayridge, Brooklyn, but has remained closely connected to the culture of her homeland, Syria, especially through her practice of debkah. She began to learn the dance during frequent childhood visits to her family’s hometown of Daraiya (Damascus). She first picked up steps at social gatherings, but soon was perfecting steps in practices with friends as debkah became a hobby and means of expressing pride for her heritage. Remonda is now recognized as a skilled debkah dancer and one of very few women who can take the lead at the head of a debkah line, among men; respected for her virtuosity and passion for debkah. Remonda also is moved by the musical elements of debkah - such as the strong beat, melody of the nay, and its mawwal or song, which inspire the mood and type of debkah to be danced.

Last updated: 2011-06-02 12:02:28

Debkah in Syria, Photo: Silverstein
Debkah in Syria, Photo: Silverstein
Tabl and debkah line, Syria, Photo: Silverstein
Tabl and debkah line, Syria, Photo: Silverstein
Shayna Silverstein
Shayna Silverstein
Rami Karabidg and friends debkah at a wedding
Rami Karabidg and friends debkah at a wedding

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