Why dance traditions mean a lot to Emiratis

Even young Emirati men like to participate in traditional dances, which are well received because it shows how much passion they have to maintain traditions to the present day.

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Dear Ali: Where do the traditional dances take place in the UAE and what is the meaning behind them? CP, Abu Dhabi

Dear CP: Our traditional dances (ayyala and yollah) are regularly performed at most of the heritage villages in the country. You are more than welcome to come and see them. The dances include poetry and traditional music and are a unique artistic performance that we love to share with others.

Even young Emirati men like to participate in traditional dances, which are well received because it shows how much passion they have to maintain our traditions to the present day.

These dances symbolise a specific part of our past that dates back to the desert life of our people, who had to face many hardships. Music and dance played a major role because they helped our people to overcome those obstacles.

No matter what the it was, every task had its own song and rhythm and always encouraged good teamwork. Traditional songs were sung at many different occasions. Our people sang the razfah at weddings. The ayyala and yollah are related to battles in a way but are performed differently. Also, on dhows during the pearl-diving days, one man called the naham would lead the group in order to motivate the other men to keep on working hard.

Another place where we would not only exchange songs but also tales and poetry was around the desert campfire. Besides the campfires, we would sing and dance whenever we have celebrations, especially on National Day.

Life in the desert also meant having to fight in battles to protect the camps of our people. The traditional harbiyah dance comes from the Arabic word for war, "harb".

Whenever you see it being performed today it is actually staging the battles of our people. Before the dance, drums and shouts are heard to warn that an attack is approaching and are prepared to fight. Once this happens, the men stand in a row holding their swords, guns and sticks and re-enact a battle with the attackers. If the attackers are defeated, then that is when the dance and musical performance comes in, as a celebration of the victory. At the same time, it is an appreciation of our successful national spirit of unity that has been passed on from generation to generation.

Dear Ali: I would like to come and visit the UAE on my next vacation. Is it safe to travel in the UAE alone as a woman? KR, Copenhagen

Dear KR: You don't have to worry. I can assure you that as a woman you can travel here alone since we do have a very low crime rate in our country and aggression towards women is rather a rare occasion.

It's pretty safe and peaceful here even walking down the streets during night time without a man at your side. You can hardly find that being the case in other, especially Western, countries.

Another advantage that contributes to the safety factor is the gender segregation on which our society is based. This means we have some public areas that are visited mainly by men and others that are only for women or visited by women more, for example. If the men do interact with women then there should be a lot of respect and distance involved.

To avoid feeling too uncomfortable, just be careful not to enter areas that are only meant for men and don't go to an area where you see a lot of men gathered together in the cafes or malls.

If you dress a little more conservatively than you are used to in Denmark, then you will be on the safe side and won't attract too much attention in the UAE. I hope this helps.

Ali Al Saloom is a cultural adviser and public speaker from the UAE. Follow @AskAli on Twitter, and visit www.ask-ali.com to ask him a question and to find his guidebooks to the UAE, priced at Dh50.