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UAE’s Al Ayyala: Movements and rhythms of chivalry and valour

UAE’s Al Ayyala: Movements and rhythms of chivalry and valour
10 Apr 2024 10:49

SARA ALZAABI (ABU DHABI)

Passed down through generations, the UAE’s traditional dance form of Al Ayyala carries the essence of Bedouin life and celebrates its ingrained values of dignity and honour.

This expressive traditional cultural performance is performed by men and boys while standing shoulder to shoulder in two opposing rows, each consisting of 20 or more, carrying bamboo sticks symbolising swords or spears.

The dance performance depicts a battle scene, with triumph or defeat conveyed through the alternative movements dancers make with their heads, shoulders, arms and canes.

Acknowledging Al-Ayyala’s cultural significance, the UAE and Oman worked together to get UNESCO recognition for it in 2014, confirming its status as a priceless intangible heritage.

Al-Ayyala is an indispensable feature at weddings and national occasions, and is performed often in front of heads of state and dignitaries.

Al-Ayyala is performed to the tunes of chanted poetry, usually Nabati poetry, where men chant verses, accompanied by music from brass instruments, drums and tambourines.

Additionally, a group of young women, the na’ashat, stand at the front of the two rows of men and toss their long hair from side-to-side in unison. This movement signifies their faith in the protection offered by their chivalrous male counterparts.

In the background, Al Abu (the father) sets the mood of the performance with the tone of the chanted poetry as drummers stand in between the rows while performers enact actions from the battlefield.

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