Shayna Silverstein’s research examines the politics and aesthetics of sound, movement, and performance in the contemporary Middle East (or Southwest Asia and North Africa/SWANA). Her first book, Fraught Balance: The Embodied Politics of Dabke Dance Music in Syria (Wesleyan University Press, 2024), analyzes how Syrian dabke, a popular dance music suffused with collectivism and cultural memory, has paradoxically contributed to isolation and fragmentation within Syrian society from the formation of the authoritarian nation-state to the recent conflict. She also writes about the politics of body, performance, and culture in the Syrian diaspora. Her research generally attests to the centrality of performance in constituting and destabilizing social spaces, processes, and structures in the SWANA region. She is keen to imagine ways of thinking about, hearing for, and writing in detail about the body that jostle new conversations in and between performance, dance, and sound/music studies.

Silverstein’s teaching interests include embodiment, ethnographic methods, ethnomusicology, performance, popular culture, social theory, sound studies, and Middle Eastern studies. Active in several music ensembles, she plays violin and ‘ud, and has also trained extensively in dance, yoga, and martial arts. Silverstein is also a core faculty member of Northwestern’s Program in Middle East and North African Studies.


Ph.D.   University of Chicago, Ethnomusicology, 2012                  

B.A.    Yale University, History, 2000

Other Publications

2024. Fraught Balance: The Embodied Politics of Dabke Dance Music in Syria. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press.

2023. “’I Dance, I Revolt:’ The Migratory Politics of Syrianness in Mithkal Alzghair’s Displacement (2017).” The Middle East Journal of Culture and Communication. 16:3

2022. “Singing Impassability: Song, Seas, and Syrian Migration.” In Encounters in Ethnomusicology: Essays in Honor of Philip V. Bohlman, edited by Michael A. Figueroa, Jaime Jones, and Timothy Rommen. Berlin: Lit Verlag.

2021. “The ‘Barbaric’ Dabke: Masculinity, Dance, and Autocracy in Contemporary Syrian Cultural Production.” Journal of Middle Eastern Women’s Studies. 17:2.

2020. “Mourning the Nightingale’s Song: The Audibility of Networked Performances in Protests and Funerals of the Arab Revolutions.Performance Matters, Vol. 6 (2), 94-111.

2021. “An (Un)Marked Foreigner: Race-Making in Egyptian, Syrian, and German Popular Cultures.” In Lateral 10.1. Co-authored with Darci Sprengel.

2019. “Disorienting Sounds: A Sensory Ethnography of Syrian Dance Music” in Remapping Sound Studies, edited by Jim Sykes and Gavin Steingo. Duke University Press.

2019. “On Sirens and Lampposts: Sound, Affect, and Space at the Women’s March,” Music & Politics, Volume XIII, No. 1.

2016. “The Punk Arab: Demystifying Omar Souleyman’s Techno-Dabke.” In Punk Ethnography: Artists and Scholars Listen to Sublime Frequencies. Edited by Michael Veal and E. Tammy Kim. Wesleyan, CT: Wesleyan University Press.

2016. “Public Pleasures: Negotiating Gender and Morality through Syrian Popular Dance.” In Islam and Popular Culture. Edited by Karin van Nieuwkerk, Martin Stokes, and Mark LeVine. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.

2015. “Cultural Liberalization or Marginalization? The Cultural Politics of Syrian Folk Dance during Social Market Reform.” In Syria from Reform to Revolt: Culture, Society and Religion. Edited by Leif Stenberg and Christa Salamandra. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press.

2013.   “Transforming Space: The Production of Contemporary Syrian Art Music.” In The Arab Avant-Garde: Music, Politics, Modernity. Edited by Kay Dickinson, Thomas Burkhalter, and Ben Harbert. Wesleyan, CT: Wesleyan University Press.

2012. “New Wave Dabke: The Stars of Musiqa Shaʿbiyya in the Levant.” Out of the Absurdity of Life. Edited by Theresa Beyer and Thomas Burkhalter. Solothurn, Switzerland: Traversion Press.

2012. “Syria’s Radical Dabke.” In “The Art and Culture of the Arab Revolts,” a special issue of Middle East Report 263 (Summer).

2012. Encyclopedia of 21st-Century Anthropology. “Music and Dance.” Edited by Jim Birxh. UK: Sage Press.

Blog Posts


    2019. “Syrian Bodies, Sonic Ruptures,” [in]Transition: Journal of Videographic Film & Moving Image, 6.2. (Audiography/Sound Art)

    2020. “I Water.” a creative work produced for Northwestern University’s Dept of Performance Studies program, Care2: Texturing our Viral Times


    Performance Studies International, Society for Ethnomusicology, Dance Studies Association, International Association for the Study of Popular Music, Middle East Studies Association, Syrian Studies Association, Great Lakes Association for Sound Studies, Yale Arab Alumni Association

    Shayna Silverstein

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