The “Barbaric” dabke: Masculinity, dance, and autocracy in contemporary Syrian cultural production

Shayna Silverstein*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


This essay analyzes how dance, gender, and state power function together as a significant node of critique in recent cultural production that addresses authoritarianism in Syria. Identifying the symbolic trope of dabke, a popular dance ubiquitous in Syrian life, selected films, literature, and choreography, this essay argues that the discussed works dislodge dabke from its feminized association with authenticity, folk culture, and nationhood to instead represent dabke as a form of hegemonic masculinity that perpetuates sovereignty, patriarchy, and autocracy. Through the rendering of embodied acts of dabke performance, hegemonic and resilient modes of masculinity are equated with spectacles of violence attached to the state, repressive tactics by the police state, and performative complicity with the regime. This essay argues that sovereign and autocratic forms of power are not universal abstractions but are embedded in the gendered structures of the society in which such power is performed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)197-219
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Middle East Women's Studies
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jul 1 2021


  • Authoritarianism
  • Dance
  • Masculinity
  • Syria

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Gender Studies
  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science


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