Cultural Dance – an expanded story.

3 03 2010

There are only five practice days left before the big performance on Friday. Dancers start trickling into the old game room on campus and wait for others to arrive. International Fiesta is the biggest event for all of the international clubs at the University at Buffalo. It is a competition of culture, dance, and passion. Students from literally around the world come together on this one night, to showcase their dancing abilities that directly reflect who they are and where they came from. The music is getting prepared over at a make-shift DJ table in the center of the room. Even with a little speaker trouble, the dancers from the Organization of Arab Students (OAS) are ready to practice for their performance.  

The women line up in preparation for the belly dance routine that will be intermingled with a Dabkeh performance by both men and women. No costumes are necessary tonight, as most of the dancers are dressed in comfortable attire. Two girls have donned long black skirts that seem to sway effortlessly with the rattling coins that are embellished on them. It is beautiful to watch, even if it is a very informal practice. Snake like arm movements are perfectly choreographed with fast shaking hips. They are all college students and they are all keeping a tradition alive. What keeps these kids from being typical college students and going out on a week night? Why do they spend hours rehearsing and perfecting these choreographies? 

The excitement from just visualizing the dance is too difficult to pass up. Once the music starts playing, it just flows through your blood, making it impossible to not participate

says Zeyad Saeed, the current President of OAS.

A quick music change leads into a much stronger dance called Dabkeh. The men use quick footwork with straight-laced arms to make a very visual impact. They are very precise and in rhythm with the music. You can tell by the look on their faces how much effort and time was spent perfecting this piece especially. Rawey Kased, the choreographer and a principle dancer for the Dabkeh performance, helps the other students with some tough footwork. He knows the whole six minute routine by heart. The music unexpectedly cuts out and yet he does not stop.

I could do this all day

he reveals. The importance of carrying on this beautiful tradition by learning and performing cultural dance is incredibly inspiring.

A week later, the night of the show has finally come. After months of preparing for this performance the lights dim in the theatre. The audience is greeted with a golden yellow background and shadowed outlines of the belly dancers in a long line. It is incredibly striking to look at. Smoke fills the bottom of the stage as the music starts up. The OAS dancers complete effortless transitions from belly dance to Dabkeh back and forth until a very strong finale piece with both groups combined. It is really one of the most energetic and exciting dances of the entire night, as a student is overheard saying “that is the best I have ever seen them dance”.

Kased began his cultural dance journey at a young age, starting out when he was around ten years old. On coming to college, “I met people who were excited to learn” he says. He enjoyed teaching Dabkeh as well as learning from other students. It was a way for them to expose their culture and interact with other international clubs. OAS is one of those unique kinds of organizations with members from all over the Middle East including places like Yemen, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon, Kurdistan, and other Gulf States.

People bond over this kind of dance and it is the best way to visually expose our culture

says Kased. You can tell how much passion he has by the way he emphasizes the work they have all put in to performing at International Fiesta. “The competition maybe the last thing I really think about when I am dancing Dabkeh”, he says. “It keeps me in shape and I have fun doing it. Teaching non-Arabs is especially fun because I get to show people a dance they have never done and may have never even seen before”.

When asked why joining a cultural organization like the Organization of Arab Students and participating in cultural dance was so important, Saeed revealed,

Living in America, OAS gives you a chance to engage with the Arabic culture. There are not many opportunities to carry out these activities with the absence of a club like OAS. It creates that feeling of the Middle East”.

These students have created and developed an incredible organization that keeps their culture alive in college. It is refreshing to speak to such engaging individuals who have such a passion for traditional dance. When asked if he would ever consider stopping dancing, Kased says

I will never stop until my feet tell me to stop. I would stay up all night, every night to teach people this dance. One day I want to make a Dabkeh competition where people from all over can come to compete and show off new moves and new music. I will never, ever stop”.




One response

24 06 2010
Zeyad Saeed

This was very well written. Thank you Katherine!

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