The Triangle Lebanese Association’s Dabke Troupe,in North Carolina
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The Triangle Lebanese Association’s Dabke Troupe;
A truly amazing group of young men and women who led and trained by dedicated individuals who have given hundreds of hours of their lives to keep our culture alive in NC.
The Dabke is a vibrant dance that is performed in cultures across the eastern Mediterranean for celebrations and social events to bring a community together.
The Lebanese form is said to have started when Lebanese villagers helped each other to stamp down the new roofs of their homes. This lively stomping turned into the dance form that the Lebanese community still practices today in North Carolina.
The dabke group of
North Carolina originally started with the foundation of the Triangle Lebanese Association (TLA) in 1986. In the Spring of 1985, Doumit Ishak and other members of the Lebanese community in the Triangle area went to the International Festival of Raleigh and saw how different communities in North Carolina shared their culture through food, arts, and dancing. Immediately after the festival Doumit knew that they must put together a dabke group to represent the Lebanese the following year. After the first few meetings, the TLA started to come together and Doumit started
to look for members who would be interested in dancing. Doumit and his friend Elie Najmni managed to get eighteen men and women together to perform for the first time at the International Festival in 1986.
Shortly after, the group was being coached and managed by Noha Gebrael, a leader from a dancing group in Boston who had moved down to the triangle area with her family. Noha worked the group hard to make them professional performers. Doumit joked about how it’s hard to make a professional Lebanese dabke group because everyone is too busy having fun dancing to pay attention to a coach. However, Noha managed them well and the North Carolina dabke group was booked for cultural events such as weddings and celebrations as well as public events across the East Coast. Noha left in 1988, but the group continued under the guidance of Betty Saleh, enabling
the dabke group to generate funds for the TLA through their performances.
As the dabke group developed so did the community; people started to have children and they wanted to pass on their culture to them. Due to this want, Doumit started classes on Sundays teaching children Arabic as well as the dabke. When his sister, Badia Ishak, moved to North Carolina in the 1990s, he passed the dabke classes on to her and she developed the children, teens and adult groups that continue today. Badia recalled how she has watched generations of Lebanese-American children dance their way through the different levels of the dabke since the first group’s performance at the International Festival in 1997. She thinks of them as her children and they think of her as a second mom, always having fun and giving her sweaty hugs after Sunday
practices at the 701 Café owned by Samir Yehya and Doumit.
Although the original dabke group has essentially retired, their children and grandchildren continue the tradition practicing for hours every Sunday and performing at festivals and cultural parties in the community. They wear
traditional costumes that Bearta, Badia and other mothers in the community have helped make from materials they got in Lebanon. The group has also developed their own traditions such as having slumber parties every year during the International Festival at Doumit’s house, known as “home base,” so that they can have breakfast together in the morning and go together for the second day of performances.
Bearta and Badia emphasized that this group is truly one big family and all of the dancers are like siblings to each other.
This concept of family was reiterated by Amira, Doumit’s daughter, and her friends Yara, Sima,and Ronnie who are all members in the dabke group. They note that the dance was so much a part of them that they could practically dabke before they could walk. As second generation Lebanese Americans they feel that the dabke group is a way for them to be surrounded by Lebanese culture
in a way that they don’t have access to in other parts of their lives. More importantly, it is a way for them to stay together; even when they fight and argue or are separated by schools and colleges, the group is their family and dancing always brings them back together. This was emphasized by Doumit who stated that in the community the dabke brings people of all religions and political persuasions together in a way that nothing else can; when the music starts the only thing that matters is the love of Lebanese culture, the happy memories of Lebanon, and the joy of dancing.
Amira, Yara, Sima, and Ronnie agree that this is evident when they perform as well. Everyone at the International Festival can’t wait to see the Lebanese group perform because they bring such energy and happiness to the dance floor that even those outside of the Lebanese community can feel it. It is evident from their descriptions that the dabke is a way for the Lebanese community to truly share their happiness and passion with one another.
This year the group will be performing again at the Lebanese Festival and the International Festival in Raleigh. They have also been invited to perform in Washington D.C. this month and will be performing at the Cedars in the Pines exhibition opening at the North Carolina Museum of History in February.
Interview and text by Darby Reiners
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