The importance of dance in Oman funun

The first thing that captures the attention of a non-Omani who watches traditional Omani funun is the fact that they always include some form of movement. Dance is an important element in the structure of Oman's traditional arts. Movement is always closely linked to the musical form, its role and its function in society. For example, the movement in the religious genre, the malid is suitable to the sober, religious situation. The participants in the tauhid part move and sway in a solemn way which emphasizes the religious purpose. In order to stress the element of joy in entertainment genres, dancers in the rabbuba genre, for example, step in a very light and quick way to the fast joyful rhythm which is accentuated by fast drum beats. Conversely, the female dancer moves very slowly to the seven-unit rhythm to express her sad feelings in the dan genre of Dhofar.

The continued involvement of the dance element in Oman's funun confirms their ancient cultural inheritance. Most ancient civilizations linked all musical elements of poetry, dance and melody together by rhythm.

It is interesting to note that the involvement of all kinds of dance in Omani genres is not limited to a certain region or district in the Sultanate, but can be observed in all parts of the country. All classification groups of Oman's traditional funun involve dance and there are thus the following genres:

1. Sabre (sword) genres.
2. Religious genres.
3. Marine genres.
4. Bedouin genres.
5. Social occasions genres (weddings etc.)
6. Traditional healing genres.
7. Entertainment genres.

Agricultural genres are not mentioned because in agricultural work songs one needs movement to carry out one's job. Thus there is movement, but it cannot be considered dance.

There are some Omani traditional genres which do not involve musical or rhythmical movement at all, such as the wanna or the tariq, in which one person sings while riding his camel to entertain himself during his long travels. There is no place for movement in such a genre.

Also, mauled al Barazngi genre, in which the prophet's biography is recited, does not involve movement, as the audience listens intently to the prophet's story and does not make any movement or dance.

The importance of studying dance

Researchers and others who are interested in traditional and non-traditional music sciences (like ballet) know the importance of dance as an integral part of music. However, the study of movement is not easy for many reasons:

1. In order to study a scientific matter, it should be analysed and examined from many aspects. Therefore, this matter should be 'concrete and tangible' - i.e. it should be repeatable and constantly available so that one can re-examine and keep it. This was impossible before the invention of recording materials such as film, TV and video.
2. Unlike other musical elements, such as poetry, melody and rhythm, there was no method of notating the dance movements which made its study very difficult. Dance needs to be notated so that it can be submitted to scientific and analytical study. Baron Rudolf Laban managed, in the 1950's, to invent a method to notate dance movements. It was named Labanotation after him. Hence, dance specialists were able to notate every dance movement, be it by the body, hands, legs, hips or waist etc. by using this notational method.

Technical and technological advances in the field of visual recording began in the early 20th century with the 'silent film'. By the late 1920's with the invention of the audio-visual film, it was possible to record dances with music. Furthermore, the invention of television played an important role in the possibility of introducing dance works. The use of television in industrial countries began as follows:

1935 - Germany
1936 - Great Britain
1939 - Soviet Union
1944 - United States
1950 - Japan
1951 - France

The expansion of these techniques was restricted to big establishments, centres or some production companies. They didn't spread on the individual levels because of their high, unaffordable prices and it was not easy for the ordinary citizen to use and operate them. The invention of the video recorder thus represented a turning point in recording dance. It allowed every individual - not just researchers - to record and replay the dance movements in the arts. Being easy to use and maintain, video recordings became an important component of 'field work' - i.e. it became easy to make recordings at the natural scene of the genre, and there was no problem in moving the equipment to any place. Accordingly, the involvement of sound, picture and movement in scientific research centres of musical funun became almost compulsory. It became impossible for any of these centres to do without all of this equipment if they wanted to be regarded as recognized integrated research centres at all. In order to facilitate the study and examination of the dance element, scientific research centres are not only interested in collecting the genres but also in introducing suitable archival methods to facilitate looking up the various dances. The 'Oman Centre for Traditional Music' follows this approach.

Dance as an effective rhythmic element

It is natural that dance follows the basic rhythm of the musical form. This can be seen in most cases, whether in Omani or non-Omani funun. Sometimes dance constitutes a new rhythmic line in the entire rhythmic structure of the genre in Omani funun as has been seen previously. Dance, while providing an independent element in the rhythmic structure as a whole through its active participation.

For instance, in the rauwah genre of Musandam, in the fourth part, i.e. the siriya, the body movement adds a new binary layer to the prevalent ternary rhythm of the instruments.

Since these two different divisions are performed at the same time and within the same rhythmical cell, the result is called 'polyrhythm' - in this case, an overlapping of 2-unit groups (= body movements) against 3-unit groups (= drum rhythm).

The dance element in the sot silam of Dhofar adds two lines to the multiple rhythmic fabric. The movements of the body, swaying up and down, underline the division of the 12 basic units into two halves. However, the body movements divide each half into 2 + 4 units. The steps also divide the 12 units into two halves. However, the division here is reversed into 4 + 2 units. Here, the ability of the female dance to provide the polyrhythm by differently timed but simultaneous movements of her body and feet can be seen. This requires high skill and concentration.

A striking element in the shubbaniya genre of Dhofar is the fact that although it is a young girls' genre, men can participate through regular jumps at the beginning and at the end. On scrutinizing the rhythmical structure of this dance, it is discovered that it is based on a simple binary rhythm, the base rhythm consisting of two beats, one on each pulse. This basic rhythm is provided by the drums. The male dance movements, i.e. the jumping, combine two of these binary cycles into a new bigger rhythmic unit, comprising four drum beats. The melody, however, stretches over five of the rhythmic cycles of the drums. Thus the rhythmic structures, especially of the melody and the leaps, are overlapping, as the melody ends within the third dancing cycle.

It must be noted that in the aforementioned examples, part of the rhythm is performed only by the dancers and thus depends on the element of vision. In other words, the rhythmic additions provided by dance are only visual and not audible. This confirms a) the role of dance in Omani genres, b) the importance of documenting these genres by means of visual recording, taking into account dance as an important element in their structures. In order to preserve the structures of these original genres, they should be collected by audio-visual equipment.

The Dancer as Instrumentalist

Besides the performance link between dancer and instrumentalist, we find some genres in Oman that unite these two elements even in one person. In this case, the performer can be considered a dancer and instrumentalist at the same time. This phenomenon appears in two variations:

1. The sound of the instrument is produced through the dance movement.
2. Playing is accompanied by a dance movement of the instrumentalist.

The first variant refers to 'idiophone' rhythmic instruments whose sound is produced by shaking. The mangur player in the tanbura genre, for example, produces the rhythm through his body movement. He often accentuates the basic elements of the rhythm. In other instances, the mangur player tries to increase the beats and sounds through intensifying his body movement - i.e. the shaking of his hips where he ties the instrument. In this case, he embellishes the rhythm. However, the basic rhythm of the tanbura genre, also called the nuban is maintained.

The mikwara genre dancer ties a khirkhash around his body. This group of small bells produces the sound when the dancer moves to embellish the rhythm of the mikwara and not to accentuate the basic rhythm.

A necklace made of bells, called lubus also belongs to this first group and is part of the idiophone rhythmic instruments' group. The dancer ties the lubus to his or her leg and the rhythm is produced according to the dancer's steps. The lubus accentuates the basic rhythm which consists of 2 beats at the start and the middle of the quadruple rhythmic cycle.

The second variant considers dance as an additional element besides playing. Thus the sound is produced by playing the instrument separately, independent of the dance movement itself. For instance, in the rauwah genre of Musandam the drum player dances while he beats the drum. His drum sometimes accentuates the basic metre; sometimes adds a new rhythmic line. Also, the drummers in wilayat ar-rigal from Khasab dance while they play the rhythm. In wailiyat an-nisa in Manah female dancers can be seen holding a silver adad in their hands and shaking it to match the required rhythm. The unity of the dance and playing is clearly seen in both versions.

This site is designed and maintained by Oman Electronic Network.
Copyright © 2002 Ministry of Information. All rights reserved.
Copyright of all photographs belongs to the Ministry of Information from whom permission must
be sought for use in any other format, i.e. whether this be in a printed or electronic form, or in a retrieval system