ZviDance, a New York based dance company founded by Israeli-born dancer and choreographer Zvi Gotheiner, has appropriated Dabke and added it to their repertoire, performing at multiple venues and most recently, as part of Lincoln Center’s Out of Doors festival. Although ZviDance acknowledges that Dabke’s roots are in Lebanon, Syria and Palestine, the Company fails to realize that by performing Dabke and labeling it Israeli, they are engaging in cultural appropriation. We acknowledge that culture is fluid but so long as there is inequality, there can be no cultural exchange.
We are dancers in a New York-based Dabke troupe. This message is in response to ZviDance’s Dabke performance at Lincoln Center. Zvi, you’re right. Dabke’s roots originate in Syria, Lebanon and Palestine. And yes, Dabke comes from the Arabic word meaning “stomping the ground.”
We get that your goal is “cross cultural” expression, but Zvi, your delivery just misses the mark. As dancers, we know that art is a powerful thing. Art has the power to change people. But stomp as hard as you might, art will not break down real physical barriers that separate people. You can’t simply dance away barriers and borders that are policed by tanks and teenage soldiers armed with lethal weapons.
Palestinians and Israelis could never dance together so long as a concrete wall divides them. While you, and other Israelis have appropriated Dabke for your own purposes, and no one restricts your free cultural expression, Palestinians have been arrested for dancing Dabke by the Israeli military. Their right to free expression is limited by the Israeli military occupation that governs their lives.
We all know that under Israeli law, Israelis and Palestinians do not have equal rights. Like it or not, by appropriating dabke, and labeling it Israeli, you further the power imbalance. This makes us feel taken advantage of.
You may not realize it but your cultural appropriation is our cultural loss.
Dabke is inherently communal; hand in hand, stomping in unison, we express our joys and sorrows alike. Our problem is not with Israelis dancing Dabke. Our real problem is with the whitewashing of reality and ignoring the consequences it has on the people who live it.
Dabke dancers across the world have a message for ZviDance: our cultural heritage is not your natural resource.
Join us in asking ZviDance to stop its cultural appropriation.