Abu Dhabi Music and Dance

The Arabic Cultural Traditional of the UAE

arabic oud

The UAE is made up of seven Emirates and although each may have slightly different cultural traditions the overall musical and dance traditions of the UAE are based on the Khaliji style of music common in this area of the world.

A huge part of the culture and traditions of the UAE, this beautiful style of music can be mesmerizing for expats living in the UAE!


Khalili Arabic Music

emirati children dancing and playing music

The Khalili music uses the traditional drum – Tabl (otherwise known as a goblet drum, chalice drum, doumbek or tarbooka).

There is also the Nay a long flute type instrument and the Rababah which resembles a violin also there is the oud.

The oud is a traditional instrument from the same musical family as the guitar and is similar to the lute. It is pear shaped and has eleven strings and no frets.

Together with the Khalili traditional music the UAE also includes the Bedouin folk music which also uses drums and tambourines in its music.

Typically the traditional music and dance of the UAE tells a story and more than often the dances performed by men tell the story of brave battles. Like other countries the traditional music and dance really shines during festivals and celebrations.


Arabic Dance


For reasons of religious modesty women and men usually dance separately, the dancing is in formation either lines or circles unlike what you may be used to seeing in the west when male and female couples dance together.

Some of the most popular traditional UAE dances which visitors are likely to see are those danced by large groups of men telling the story of a battle.

Ayyalah is one of the most familiar war dances where swords (wooden sticks are used these days) are drawn in rhythmic turn and two lines of men form opposite each other while poetry is recited over the music. There is sometimes an adjacent group of women separately dancing in colorful garb.

Harbiya is similar but with repeated phrases rather than poetry. Liwa is danced to loud drum beats to get the troop's spirits up; Haban (Khamiri/Khayali) is another example of this tradition and Mated is a dance which celebrates the birthday of Mohammed.

Other UAE music used to be performed to give a moral boost to workers while they were diving or working at a well. On these occasions a "song leader" (Nahaan) would begin the singing and the laborers would join in.


Where to See Traditional Emirati Dance

If you want to see some traditional dance performed to traditional UAE music there are a few places you could try.

Contact the Cultural Foundation in Abu Dhabi where they sometimes have performances (Sheikh Zayed the Second Street) .

Arabian Adventures operates tours our of Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Fujairah where they take you out to a Bedouin camp for a meal and a night's entertainment of traditional food, music and dance. More about tours here!

At the Abu Dhabi Heritage Village you can not only experience what traditional Bedouin life must have been like but also see traditional dancing to UAE music. See more about the village here.

On special occasions there are performances at the Abu Dhabi Corniche, Zayed Al Adil Heritage Village, Helton Park and the Emirate Heritage Club. The Abu Dhabi Folk Dance Group is the most famous traditional dance troop in UAE. You can also ask at your hotel for cultural shows specifically for tourists.

If you're lucky enough to be in the UAE during the Al Maidan Festival maybe you can see the competition for the best local dancer. Also during National Day and other celebratory events you are more likely to see the traditional dancing. Perhaps the best way to enjoy original traditional UAE music and dancing is to get to know the locals and get invited to a wedding!



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Arab Dance and Music