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Saudi Penguin Dance: A Muslim Gangnam Style?

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“I know what you’re doing in there! Cut it out!”

In a land where movie theaters are banned and tribal customs are rampant, a strange fad has swept through Saudi Arabia.

A fun, yet odd, craze seemed to take over last year. But it wasn’t until recently that the Penguin Dance, which is similar to the American Bunny Hop, has hit YouTube and social networks all over the world.

The mother of Abdulaziz al Qahtani, an 18-year-old Saudi university student, had warned him about the dance before; however, he still managed to post a video of both he and his sister doing the quirky side-kick, side-kick, hop hop hop movements behind closed doors.

A young Saudi girl wrote on Twitter: “Last night I swayed, I chanted, I penguin danced.”

The dance, or “raqsat al-batriq” in Arabic, is mostly done at wedding parties, on school playgrounds, and on Riyadh’s Thalia Street, the city’s main drag for young people. But Saudis just seem to like sharing videos of themselves, whether it be at home or in public, doing the little hops and bounces in traditional dress: men in white robes (or thobes) and women in black abayas.

Although no one really knows where it came from, most Saudis first saw it online. In fact, Saudis are one of the leading world consumers of video-sharing media like YouTube and Keek.

“We saw it on videos,” said Mr. Qahtani.

But this hopping about isn’t happening without controversy. At a wedding in January, an argument broke out between the groom’s family and the bride’s family when the groom wanted to celebrate with the Penguin Dance. The bride’s family protested.

Ms. Ashraf, an Egyptian woman who has lived in Saudi Arabia all her life, said she tried to get the DJ to play the Penguin Dance at the all-female party for her wedding. The DJ refused. Now, married, she still wants to break into a little kick-bounce at home when her friends come over, but she doesn’t.

“Here, we sit. We drink tea,” Ms. Ashraf said.

Some Arab tweeters have even gone so far to call the Penguin Dance a pernicious Western import, a Christian ruse. One man showed a chart of the dance, claiming that the steps formed a Christian cross.

Yet young Saudis continue to dance, making sure only to participate when the government-paid religious police aren’t around.

“We like it because it’s something the families can do together,” said a Saudi university student.

Despite the image that many see of Saudi Arabia, this dance is proving that, no matter how strict the culture, Saudis like to have fun and enjoy life as much as anyone else.

“The penguin craze is a manifestation of that,” said Leila Molaei, a London-based expert in Middle Eastern dance. “It’s a bit of fun.”

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Image via YouTube

Saudi Penguin Dance: A Muslim Gangnam Style?
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