Dabke and Local Giving: What Could be More Palestinian?

Palestinians love traditional Dabke dance as leaves of the trees love the morning dew, as birds love their nests. Haunted by longing for their lost homeland and identity, driven by a creative memory that refuses to bow down to their difficult living situation, young Palestinians rise to the light through Dabke. They break the constrictions of reality that have long enchained them. By pure will, they unveil hopes that were kept secret and had been impossible to actualize.

This love of Dabke led to the founding of Akalil Troupe (meaning “wreaths” in Arabic). The troupe nurtures dreams and reminds people of the continuing validity of their identity. If you have seen the young men and women of Akalil Troupe express themselves on stage, you would swear that they are butterflies in a field, faithful worshippers in the Church of the Nativity or the Al-Aqsa Mosque, or a rainfall that washes the soul clean of its sorrow.
Dabke is a Palestinian mixture of secrets. It is one of the most important representations of a deep artistic and cultural legacy that originated in northern Palestine, and then moved to the south in later stages of history. Hands interlock during the performance as a symbol of unity, solidarity and cooperation. Feet hit the ground as a sign of vigor, virility and determination, accompanied by songs that express the deep sense of belonging to the Palestinian land that they love, the gentle touch of a child, the memory of the beloved. It bursts with pride and enthusiasm, concern for the wheat in the field, evenings of entertainment, and traditional taboun bread.

The City of Nablus was preparing for the Shopping Festival and for their attempt to enter the Guinness Book of World Records by making the largest dish of kanafeh (a traditional Arab sweet). Thousands of guests were anticipating the event, which also promised a performance by Akalil. However, all members of Akalil Troupe required costumes, which were unavailable, as the raw materials and designs for costumes are very costly, and the troupe's resources were limited.
The troupe faced a real problem. They could not pull out of the performance, but how could they proceed when limited financial resources posed an impediment that felt as big as the Great Wall of China, threatening to prevent thousands from feasting their eyes on tableaus of Palestinian heritage?

Imad Mansour, a close friend of Akalil Troupe, knew about Dalia Association, so he approached them and explained the situation. He thought there might be funding available to help Akalil Troupe buy costumes. As it turned out, there was no funding – but funding is not a major obstacle for Dalia Association, which believes that Palestinian society already possesses many resources that are not necessarily financial, and which, if properly utilized, lead to desired social change and sustainable development.

Dalia Association tried to think creatively of Palestinian resources that could be “linked” with Akalil Troupe, and a few days later, one of Dalia's long-time volunteers dropped by the office. A Dabke dancer himself with the Ramallah-based Wishah Troupe (meaning "scarves" in Arabic), he was very familiar with the spikes in the road that Debke troups must navigate. In fact, Wishah Troupe needed new costumes, too, since their beautiful and expensive costumes from last year’s show could not be used again.

Aha! Dalia Association proposed to the volunteer that  Wishah Troupe could offer their last year’s costumes to Akalil Troupe for their performance during the Nablus Shopping Festival. The volunteer took the idea to the members of his troupe, who, despite being initially surprised, responded with enthusiasm. They invited representatives from Akalil Troupe to chose the outfits that fit the desired sizes. In this way, thousands of dollars were saved; Akalil Troupe was able to perform, to the delight of Nablus crowds; and Wishah, which was previously seeking assistance, realized that it had much to give. No one had to apply for a grant or write a report: it was a simple sharing of local resources.

In Nablus, thousands of thrilled audience members did not know this story. All forty members of Akalil Troupe performed to the cheers of the crowds, whose eyes glittered with admiration, confirming that a nation without tradition is a nation without culture. For its part, Dalia Association demonstrated with a simple but deeply significant example that the Palestinian nation has bountiful resources that can create change – change that can be realized far away from the culture of project proposals and funding agendas. Palestinian resources all around us can be linked with one another in a relationship of love, cooperation and gratitude, and with a "sash of giving, and garlands of laurel." If we use them well, these resources are able to make a crying child laugh.... and protect a green rose from dying.

This article is based on the Arabic version written by Huthayfa Jalamni. Dalia Association thanks Huthayfa for volunteering to document this story.