Music and dance are inextricably linked in the traditional Arab world, and each musical instrument plays for a specific style of dance. Arabic music is traditionally accompanied by percussion instruments like drums and tambourines, wind instruments such as the soft Arabian flute called Nai, and string instruments such as the Rababa, violin and tanboura. Town songs, sea chantys and desert songs are popular, while ancient beats and songs have deeply influenced modern singing styles.
The Ayyala, an ancient dance form that emulates battle, is one of the more fascinating forms of Arabic dance practiced in the UAE. The Ayyalah is accompanied solely by drums. The leader of the ensemble is the big drum, known as Al-Ras. Its solid, deep voice sets the beat for the three smaller Takhamir drums.
Tambourines are sometimes used, too; these are known as Duffuf or Tiran.
The ensemble is sometimes completed by the use of copper cymbals. The dance is performed by at least 25 men, and sometimes by as many as 200. They stand in two rows, facing each other, arms linked. As they wave camel sticks in front of them, they sway back and forth to the beat and each row sings, in a declaration of challenges and boasts to the opposite side.
A quite different dance performed in the Emirates is the Liwa which was brought to the Gulf by East African traders. The Liwa is danced to African-style music and features a pipe-flute called the Mizmar. The three backing drums for this dance are the Shindo, the Jabwah, and the Jasser. The energetic ritual is performed at weddings and other special occasions, such as the return from a long sea voyage and the successful end of the pearl-diving season.
The Liwa begins with a Mizmar solo of about six minutes in slow tempo. The drums join in, followed by the ten dancers/singers, and gradually the pace increases to reach a spectacular swirl of activity. The whole dance takes about 25 minutes and both men and women can be involved in a performance.
Another local folk dance based on a more indigenous tradition is the Haban, also known as the Khamiri, or the Khayali. The name refers to the stringed musical instrument which dominates the dance. Persians refer to this same instrument as the Korba, or the local variation, Al Jorba. There are many popular musical groups which perform this special dance across the UAE, particularly at weddings in Dubai, Sharjah and Fujeirah.
The performance is organised with three groups. The first section is comprised of men, numbering six to eight, the second of the same number of women, and the third made up of nine or ten musicians. The conductor of the performance is essentially the player of the Haban, or Jorba, who is accompanied by drums of different dimensions and other rhythm instruments. The male and female dancers move on a two-step steady rhythm forwards and backwards, which is paced by the musicians who play between the rows.