With these sword games and oriental costumes, these dances – called “Arada” (“show” in Arabic) – have become an increasingly popular entertainment to animate weddings and parties in Jordan.

These shows add “joyfulness to our ceremonies,” said Fahed Chehadeh, who called on the Bab al-Hara folk dance troupe to host his two sons’ graduation party in Amman.

“I am Jordanian of Syrian origin and I called on this group because I admire their dancing skills, their music, their costumes and their songs”, explains the 55-year-old man.

The dancers, all men, whose number is between 10 and 20, are dressed in black baggy trousers, white cotton t-shirts topped with embroidered jackets, a small white cap covering the top of the head and a white scarf tied around the waist.

– Swords and shields –

In addition to the drums, the performers are equipped with decorative swords and shields which they handle, mimicking a ceremonial fight.

Moutaz Boulad, head of the Bab al-Hara troupe, points out that the “Arada” dance shows are in high demand with a daily show in summer and several a week in winter.

Folk dancing has become a source of income for Syrian refugees who have fled war in their country since 2011, adds Moutaz Boulad, 60.

“At the beginning, some dancers were not very talented, but my sons and I taught them dance techniques to help them” and allow them to earn a living, explains this father who left Syria in 1988.

According to the UN, around 80% of Syrian refugees in Jordan live below the poverty line, on less than three dollars a day.

The dancers of the Bab al-Hara troupe come from different professional backgrounds, according to Mr. Boulad.

“Most of them have a job on the side. Some are university students, others are accountants, waiters, seamstresses or electricians (…) but dancing allows them to make ends meet,” adds he.

– “Identity and culture” –

One of the dancers, Ahmed Abou Chadi, 43, is a plumber. According to him, dancing has enabled him to provide for his three children since he left Syria in 2013.

“It’s not every day that I have clients as a plumber,” he says. “As an Arada dancer, I am paid 15 dinars (about 19 euros) per performance. It’s a small sum, but it helps me to survive.”

Another member of the troop, who prefers to speak on condition of anonymity, has worked in a medical laboratory since fleeing the city of Homs in central Syria in 2018.

Thanks to the dance, he manages to earn 300 dollars in addition to the 700 he receives from his day job in the laboratory.

“I applied for asylum for me and my family with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, hoping that we can restart our lives elsewhere,” he says.

For Ahmed Abou Chadi, dancing the Arada is an integral part of his life, despite exile and its difficulties.

“This dance is at the heart of Syrian identity and culture, it’s part of our daily lives. We must preserve it and teach it to our children and grandchildren,” he exclaims.

“This art runs through my veins, I can’t imagine my life without practicing it,” he adds, while saying he hopes to dance again in his native country.

“I will continue to dance wherever I am,” he says, “but for sure I want the situation in Syria to improve so that we can all come back there one day.”

The war in Syria has claimed around 500,000 lives since 2011, devastated the country’s infrastructure and displaced millions of people.

Jordan hosts some 650,000 Syrian refugees who are registered with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, but Amman says there are actually 1.3 million.