Sword dancers wear colorfully embroidered coats known as daghla.
The most common Ardah in Saudi, called the Najdi Ardah, was initially performed by Arab warriors in the central Najd region of Saudi before meeting their enemies on the battlefield. Sword dancing was a way for the men to display their weaponry and show their heroic spirit. The Najdi Ardah also recalls the battles led by King Abdulaziz Al Saud, the founder of Saudi Arabia.
Today, the folkloric dance is performed throughout the Saudi provinces and has become a symbol of traditional Saudi culture. In 2015, Ardah was inscribed on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
The sword dance features two lines of performers (usually, but not always, men) standing shoulder to shoulder and facing each other. The men wear traditional clothing that is specific to the Najd region of Saudi: long embroidered coats called daghla with upright collars and six buttons, which are layered over white cotton tunics called murowdin that have long triangular sleeves. The men wear leather ammunition belts diagonally across their chests and hold their swords in their right hands.
The Ardah begins with a single line of poetry that is repeated as a second group of men carrying drums steps between the men holding swords and moves in unison to the beat of their drums. The men carrying swords sway back and forth and side to side as they sing. Bending at the knee and leaning forward, they lift and lower their swords rhythmically. Another performer carries the national flag. The mood is celebratory and lively.
A sword dancing performance can continue for several hours, with short intermissions, with as many as 50 lines of poetry being sung. If a dancer gets tired, he can periodically rest his sword on his shoulder and continue stepping with the group.
Sword dancing is a popular attraction at the annual National Festival for Heritage and Culture.
One of the best places to see Ardah performed is at one of many cultural festivals, which are held in different regions throughout the year. One of the biggest festivals is the National Festival for Heritage and Culture in Al Janadriyah, which is held for two weeks in late winter or early spring outside Riyadh.