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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.