The “Barbs” is a certifiable hit in the Middle East. A fun mix of hip-hop and early 1980s-style break dancing melded with Arabic rhythms, the routine is performed by a bunch of young Saudis, including one wearing a dark suit and bright red high-top sneakers. Their video has gone viral.
“In a region that is often dealing with some kind of conflict and turmoil, it is no wonder that people seek ways to escape from the harsh realities of life by doing what many of us love to do: dance,” wrote Rym Ghazal, a columnist for the National, a newspaper based in Abu Dhabi. “I have to admit, at first I thought it a bit silly, but then I got into it and caught myself ‘barbsing.’”
The dance, which means “untidy” or “messy” in a Saudi dialect, was created by Majed al-Esa, an artist and director known for melding Saudi culture and diction with a Western style. The dance actually starts little more than halfway through the video when the youth in the red shoes says “Put your foot like this” in Arabic. He then shuffles the other foot, tilts his back back and wriggles sideways, bobbing his head like an ostrich to the song, which some say sounds a lot like "Bring It Back" by Travis Porter.
But like many aspects of free expression in the Middle East, there are unforeseen consequences: Take the two poor souls in Abu Dhabi who danced the Barbs while wearing military uniforms, and then uploaded it on social media sites. The Abu Dhabi government didn’t look at it kindly – and swiftly served an arrest warrant for them and took them to court. They were charged with disrespecting the military uniform and the national army. You can see the video that got them into trouble here.
The dance has also triggered the ire of conservative columnists and critics of social media in Saudi Arabia. Some describe the video as proof of how Western influences are spoiling their society. They have publicly urged a boycott of the dance and demanded that authorities arrest the performers for their “indecent” moves.
“Some added an Arabic hashtag that translates to 'don’t make stupid people famous,' ” Ghazal noted in her column.