Every year, Saudis perform Ardha, which is held annually as part of the Kingdom’s National Festival for Heritage and Culture. This iconic dance, which King Salman’s performance of it last year went viral across the social media sphere, is traditionally performed with two rows of men opposite one another, standing shoulder to shoulder, sometimes wielding a sword or cane, and is accompanied by drums and spoken poetry.
According to the Kingdom’s official tourism portal, Saudi Ardha “reflects the union of the people and the leadership and represents embodiment of pride, strength and cohesion of the nation. The atmosphere of joy and pleasure is filled through beautiful verses and the participants will be doing sober dances swaying with constant steps and holding sward of strength and pride in their hands.”
U.S. President Donald Trump dances with a sword as he arrives to a welcome ceremony by Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud at Al Murabba Palace in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia May 20, 2017
It is said that the dance has its roots in the Arabian Desert among the Bedouins and was originally performed only by males of the central Najd region of Saudi Arabia. It was often called Al-Ardha Al-Najdiyah to define its origin but is today popularly referred to as Saudi Ardha.
According to the online portal Saudi Arabesque, participants “wear traditional clothing specific to the Najd region of Saudi Arabia, long embroidered coats known as “daghla”, in tailored straight cut, with upright collar and six buttons. Daghla is worn over white cotton thawb called “murowdin”, with long triangular sleeves. Men hold swords in their right hands.”
Previously associated with military achievements, the drums were used to declare war, the swords were wielded, and poetry was recited. The name Ardha comes from the Arabic word “ard,” meaning “to parade” or “to show,” referring to its purpose at the time, which was to publicly display the fighting strength of a tribe, display weaponry, and boost morale and uplift the heroic spirit of participants before armed engagement.
Today, the dance is more of a folkloric dance, performed during special occasions and celebrations and has become a widespread practice throughout Saudi provinces. The Ardha recalls battles, wars, and victories led by the founder of Saudi Arabia, King Abdul Aziz Al Saud, making it a dance that holds a lot of the Kingdom’s heritage.