Saudi Arabia tightens Ardah dance rules to keep tradition intact

Permission is now required for performances after residents said cultural significance was being undermined

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Anyone in Saudi Arabia who wants to perform the traditional Ardah dance will now have to submit a formal request after complaints that it was being devalued.

The requirement is one of several strict rules imposed by the National Centre for Saudi Ardah.

The new guidelines come after Saudi residents expressed their unhappiness on social media over the performance of the sword dance at the opening of shops and restaurants.

Online posts said Ardah — which combines poetry, drums and rhythmic dancing — should be allowed only in worthy settings.

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It is understandable why people get offended when the practice or the dance is taken of out its historical context
Ghazi Al Mulaifi, New York University Abu Dhabi

The centre, affiliated to Riyadh’s King Abdulaziz House, said government or private organisers who want to host the dance must submit an application on its website and adhere to the new rules.

All participants must be Saudi citizens, with no more than 25 performers in official dress, the Saudi Press Agency said.

The name of the band must not appear on the clothes or instruments of the dancers, who must not “deviate from the traditions of the performance”.

Traditionally a military dance, Ardah is now commonly performed at special occasions, including festivals and weddings.

Social media users said certain performances in non-formal settings undermined the dance’s historical and cultural significance.

Twitter user Faisal bin Yazaid said the dance should be performed only in places that reflect Saudi heritage and not at shop openings.

Another user, Nayef Abu Jasim, described Ardah as “a war dance whose splendour and value were preserved for kings and sons of kings who danced to its drums with pride and dignity”.

He said it had no place being performed at the opening of a restaurant.

Ghazi Al Mulaifi, a visiting assistant professor of Music at New York University Abu Dhabi, said there was always the danger of heritage being undermined.

The performances are derived from experience and traditions, which may eventually become a symbol of national identity, he said.

“It is understandable why people get offended when the practice or the dance is taken of out its historical context. People in the Gulf region are very interested and invested in their lineage and historical roots.”

The dance can last several hours, sometimes with short intermissions, including up to 50 lines of poetry.

It is performed throughout Saudi Arabia and was included on the Unesco Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2015.

Updated: January 11, 2023, 2:07 PM
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