The critically acclaimed Palestinian dance troupe, El-Funoun, is coming to the U.S. in November for the first time since 2006. The tour is scheduled to visit New Jersey (11/11), Washington D.C. (11/13), Chicago (11/16), and San Francisco (11/18).
El-Funoun was founded in 1979 in the West Bank city Al-Bireh by a small group of artists. The troupe, which is volunteer based, has performed about 1,500 times in Palestine and internationally. El-Funoun has won numerous awards over the years, including the Palestinian Authority’s “Palestine Award for Popular Folklore.”
Usama Houlila, one of the event’s organizer and a former dancer for El-Funoun, explained that the troupe uses song and dance to convey all aspects of Palestinian life.
“Funoun basically collects folkloric culture, the songs, the events, the factual Palestinian experience through the years and put it together in a performance,” Houlila said.
According to Houlila, El-Funoun usually has 200-250 active members in the troupe. Overall, he estimates that there are over 2,500 members who have been a part of the troupe, including many El-Funoun alumni like Houlila who remain active on an administrative level.
During their U.S. tour, El-Funoun will perform “‘Dance Freedom’ The Lure of Palestinian dance” which includes over a dozen dance numbers. The dances incorporate a variety of topics including Palestinian weddings, acts of resistance, the daily life of farming communities, and the city of Haifa.
“This performance culminates the art of resistance or resistance through art. So it celebrates the Palestinian folklore, it celebrates the Palestinian heritage, and incorporates the dances of the songs of resistance,” Houlila said.
The Chicago leg of El-Funoun’s tour includes an extra event held the night before the performance. The troupe will host a dance workshop and panel discussion at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC).
Houlila says that the purpose of the workshop is to “introduce the group to the community, to show dabke, to teach dabke, to discuss dabke, especially for people who are interested, people who don’t know it, or people who dabbled with it but are interested to see it from a professional perspective.”
The event also provides the Chicago community with a chance to meet members of the troupe before the performance.
“We’re basically opening an invitation to the entire community to meet the troupe in person at UIC and just have that interaction, dialogue, and continuity between people in the diaspora and people from Palestine,” Houlila said.
El-Funoun’s Chicago show will be hosted by Americans for a Vibrant Palestinian Economy (AVPE), an organization that aims to strengthen ties between Palestinian businesses and American markets.
According to Kais Salhut, a board member for AVPE, performances by groups like El-Funoun can advance the mission of the organization.
“Our organization’s mission is to create connections between Palestinian and American businesses to create opportunities in Palestine, and knowing how successful El-Funoun is and how good of a representative it is of Palestinian culture we thought that it would be good to show a cultural aspect of Palestine for the positive image of Palestine to help make these economic connections,” Salhut said.