Traditional Saudi Dancing

The most traditional of dances performed in Saudi Arabia is the Al Ardha which is also known as the “Sword Dance.”  Al Ardha is in fact the country’s national dance and naturally will be performed by men.  Every national day and at very special occasions the Al Ardha dance will be performed and at those same special occasions, even King Abdullah will participate in the dance.  It is a national dance that the majority of Saudi men know how to perform learning at a very young age.  My own husband told me he has participated at times in this dance.


According to Wikipedia, this sword dance is based on ancient Bedouin traditions: drummers beat out a rhythm and a poet chants verses while sword-carrying men dance shoulder to shoulder. Al-sihba folk music, from the Hejaz, has its origins in al-Andalus. In Mecca, Medina and Jeddah, dance and song incorporate the sound of the mizmar, an oboe-like woodwind instrument in the performance of the mizmar dance. The drum is also an important instrument according to traditional and tribal customs. Samri is a popular traditional form of music and dance in which poetry is sung.


This first video depicts a performance of Saudis at a large shopping center in Dubai demonstrating the traditional drum and sword dances of the Kingdom.  It is typical for the  men to be in a line close to one another:

 This second video features a visit of then Russian President Vladimir Putin to Saudi Arabia and how he is greeted with the traditional Ardha sword dance.  You will see how he and King Abdullah join in with the motions of this dance as they walk:

20 Responses

  1. Carol,

    Just a small correction. The Ardah is not performed by most Saudi’s. It is primarily a dance from Najed. There are many folk dances that are performed in places like Hijaz. The Saudi government has banned many of those dances destroying the local heritage in many of the provinces in favor of Najdi culture. A good example is Hijazi Mozmar dance which was banned for years and even today it is only allowed by special permission.

  2. Saudi in US – thank you for this information and obviously I need to do some additional research and perhaps write about the Hijazi Mozmar dance you described. Interestingly how the Ardah dance is promoted as THE national dance.

  3. Carol- you should have brought up the womens dances. One thing I found here on the EP is the tossing of long hair back and forth the women love when small girls do it. My inlaws in jeddah however have more of an upper body shoulder and arm movement than tossing their heads about (that looks like it may hurt after a while)

  4. Mizmar in it’s original form is more than just a dance and is banned because in its pure form has many practices that are categorized as black magic or witchcraft.

    Basically, a small fire is lit in the center of the dancing area. Some kind of bad smelling incense is then introduced into the fire. Reportedly, this is to chase away any angels and attract djinn. Then the dance starts. Dancers twirl the canes while dancing around the fire. Dropping the cane is considered very VERY bad form and could get you ridiculed for life. Every once in a while a challenge is thrown down. A challenger would indicate this by poking the fire with his cane. The two challengers are then left alone in the dance area. The dance starts with each one trying to outperform the other. Sometimes, a dance would turn into a real fight using the canes themselves. In these instances, the two assailants are said to have been possessed by djinn! According to tradition, Mizmar was also a way for Meccans to keep in shape for war.

    Nowadays, only the dancing part is done (in public) with no fire in sight. And is often seen in big ceremonies and parties. For instance, during my Milkah (engagement) ceremony I hired a Mizmar dancing troupe and participated in the dance myself along with some of the guests. I’m happy to say I didn’t drop my cane once! :)

  5. Well no wonder it was banned. Alhamduillah you did not drop the cane S.J – the wedding could have been called off!

    Nzingha – I’m always afriad somebody is going to hurt themselves doing the hair dance! I was at an assembly at my daughters school once and the older girls had a ‘soul train’ line going and two (one from each side f the line) would step in the middle and get to swinging the hair. There was an Afro-Saudi girl in line with short hair and she passed and just clapped her hand. I wish she had done the upper body shoulder ad arm thingy instread so she could have joined in the fun. I like both the hair and upper body dance better than the belly and booty shakin dance. I mean those are fine for your man but a little too seductive to be doing at women only gatherings.

    My nephew learned the sword dance in his heritage class.

  6. Nice videos! They let me on to other videos and other saudi dances.
    And I saw king Abdullah and king Fahd dance! King Fahd’s party looked a bit more swinging!
    So dancing and music and singing is allright after all.
    Such a relief!

    Me and a friend do gothic/tribal-fusion-bellydance, I love it: it’s more interesting and varied (and difficult) than just the bum/hip-wriggling.
    Which is also difficult.
    I love the hair-swinging.

  7. Thanks for the suggestion about a separate post on the women and way they dance with their hair. I usually avoid the women only functions with dancing as I’m just not all comfortable at them. And speaking of belly dancing, I’ve been at some women-only functions where belly dancing indeed takes place too!

  8. At least Vladimir Putin can dance in harmony with the music unlike Bush!

    Since culture can be lost just like that, efforts to keep up with the past customs and traditions that’s appropriate with religion should be maintained. It will be nice to showcase such dances instead of the much clichéd belly dancing when people think of Middle East.

  9. Well at least in Saudi Arabia I believe the traditional dances are nicely showcased; not only during the National Day celebrations but especially during the Al Janadriyah cultural festival. And one can usually find a program at least daily on one of the Saudi channels that features traditional song and dance.

    Some of my best experiences here in KSA have been at family gatherings when someone brings out a set of 3 drums and individuals take turns playing the traditional drums and everyone singing songs while some will also get up and dance. It is a very special time and experience.

  10. ” It will be nice to showcase such dances instead of the much clichéd belly dancing when people think of Middle East.” Firdaus Hashim

    I would rather listen to Muhammad Abdou. There are so many such dances in my country, I don’t like them, to be honest. Not on religious grounds, only as old-dated forms of art performed by mostly illeterate people.

  11. First of all Mohamed Ali, welcome to the blog. I can appreciate your views but may respectfully agree to disagree since I think these dances are also a part of the Saudi heritage and history.

  12. American Bedu, thanks for welcoming me to your attractive blog, which I discovered only recently. I liked the pics you posted in previous threads, so I lingered to see more.

    As to my view about these dances, be they Saudi or Moroccan, it remains a personal view. A Moroccan proverb goes, “To every kind of grain or seed there’s a (potiential) buyer.” That applies to everything, including people. That’s why Freud ended up exclaiming: “What does a woman want?” People’s tastes and preferances are sometimes entirely unpredictible. Once I jumbed from my chair when I heard Moroccan famous author Driss Chraib say on national TV, soon after his return to the country from France: “I like Shikhaat” Shikhaat is a Moroccan Arabic term for belly-dancers who dance to the tunes of the violon.

  13. Glad to have you back Mohamed Ali and hope that you will also express your views on other posts too.

  14. “and hope that you will also express your views on other posts too.”

    Sure. And I will certainly find something in your blog to post at my new page:

  15. Shukran, Mohamed Ali!

  16. Hi,

    I am looking for traditional saudi dancers and it is truly hard to get in touch with them.
    Kindly write me an email if you have any info.

    Thank you,

  17. Cynthia – welcome to the blog! You could probably be directed to several groups through the Saudi Ministry of Tourism or Ministry of Information. There are a number of groups who perform differing traditional Saudi dances and can be hired.

  18. […] their own business and some Saudi men (in accordance to custom) started to perform some of the traditional Saudi dances in the same manner as the video?  Hmmm….somebody should suggest this to the Ministry of […]

  19. Dear Cynthia are you looking for male or females.I am a dance instructor in Jeddah.I teach oriental dancing at the moment.I tought myself many different styles of dance.From Mj to samba, and have coreographed the American and British school shows.I am now practicing the khaliji traditional dance with the hair.

    Men are lucky they have entertainment groups that they can hire for weddings.
    For woman there is no problem hiring a singer,although even in a womans wedding there are no saudi traditional dancers for entertainment or any other entertainment .When it comes to woman working for this Job even if they are only performing for woman there is still a traditional or cultural bias against it.This is one of the reason that stops me from this idea,also hidden phone cameras!

  20. it’s amazing good job (y)

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