Arts, Culture & Media

Next time you're at a Saudi wedding, don't be surprised if you're asked to do the penguin dance

It goes something like this: Sidekick. Sidekick. Bunny-hop forward. Bunny-hop back. Three bunny-hops forward.

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(This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.)

Repeat.

This dance, called the "penguin dance" or "raqsat al-batriq" in Arabic, is a hit in Saudi Arabia. Families do it at home, at gatherings and at weddings.

Several YouTube videos have appeared online, in which Saudis are doing the penguin dance.

One includes a father in his traditional attire standing next to his daughter and they hop back and forth together in the living room. That video has received close to 2 million views so far.

It's not clear how the dance became popular in Saudi Arabia, but Ellen Knickmeyer, reporter for the Wall Street Journal thinks the Internet has played some part.

"Saudis spend a lot of time online, watching videos," she says. "They're one of the world's biggest consumers of YouTube and there are dances that show variations of the penguin dance and Saudis say they saw these videos, and once it hit Saudi, it just spread."

Given that many other diversions are banned in Saudi Arabia, the dance has become something that families can do together.

"Movie theaters in Saudi Arabia are banned and a lot of public entertainment places that the rest of the world has are banned too," Knickmeyer says.

Meanwhile some conservative Saudis aren't seeing this as a fun, family activity.

"There are some people who are expressing the view that this is something that's a foreign import and it's not something that Muslims or Saudis should do," she says.

Knickmeyer says she has seen tweets calling the penguin dance a Zionist plot or an attempt to convert Saudis to Christianity.

But so far, she says, there hasn't been a major attempt by the government to ban the dance. Most pressure has come from the families themselves.

Knickmeyer spoke to some teenagers who wanted to do the dance, but their families told them it's not something for men to do.

For now though, some Saudis are just having fun with the dance.

"The fact that they're willing to show the lighter side of things...it's a way for [them] to show that they're real people and they enjoy having fun."

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