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Northwestern School of Communication

Shayna Silverstein

Assistant Professor; Director of Undergraduate Studies
Shayna Silverstein is currently researching the history and practice of sound art across the South West Asia and North Africa (SWANA) region, asking how sonic praxis voices histories, geographies, and socialities of this region in ways that shape contemporary art worlds and their global politics.

Area(s) of Expertise

Dance, Dance Studies, Ethnography, Ethnomusicology, MENA Studies, Social Theory, Sound Cultures, Sound Studies
Shayna Silverstein

Shayna Silverstein’s research examines the politics and aesthetics of sound, movement, and performance in the contemporary Middle East. Her first book, Fraught Balance: The Embodied Politics of Dabke Dance Music in Syria, analyzes how Syrian dabke, a popular dance music suffused with the 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 in Southwest Asia and North Africa (SWANA). 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 publications include an award-winning article in the Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies, an audiography in [in]Transition: Journal of Videographic Film & Moving Image, and articles in Music & Politics, Middle East Journal of Culture and Communication, and Lateral, among other scholarly publications. Her research has been supported by the Institute for Citizens & Scholars, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Fulbright Program, as well as the Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities and Buffett Institute for Global Affairs at Northwestern University. She currently serves on the Editorial Board of Northwestern University Press, the Editorial Advisory Board for the Sound Studies series of Bloomsbury Press, and on the Society for Ethnomusicology Advisory Council.


  • PhD Ethnomusicology, University of Chicago
  • BA History, Yale University


  • Fraught Balance: The Embodied Politics of Dabke Dance Music in Syria. Wesleyan University Press: 2024.
  • ’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.
  • “The ‘Barbaric’ Dabke: Masculinity, Dance, and Autocracy in Contemporary Syrian Cultural Production.” Journal of Middle Eastern Women’s Studies. 17:2.
  • “An (Un)Marked Foreigner: Race-Making in Egyptian, Syrian, and German Popular Cultures,” co-authored with Darci Sprengel, in special issue “Cultural Constructions of Race and Racism in the Middle East and North Africa” of Lateral, edited by Rayya El Zein.
  • “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.
  • “Disorienting Sounds: A Sensory Ethnography of Syrian Dance Music.” In Remapping Sound Studies. Edited by James Sykes and Gavin Steingo. Duke University Press.
  • “On Sirens and Lampposts: Sound, Affect, and Space at the Women’s March,” Music & Politics, Volume XIII, No. 1.
  • “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, 2016.
  • “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, 2015.
  • “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, 2013.
  • “Syria’s Radical Dabke.” Middle East Report 263 (Summer 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.
  • Encyclopedia of 21st-Century Anthropology. “Music and Dance.” Edited by Jim Birxh. UK: Sage Press, 2012.

Awards and Grants


  • AMS 75 PAYS Book Subvention (American Musicological Society), 2023
  • Marcia Herndon Article Award (Gender and Sexualities Section of the Society for Ethnomusicology), 2022
  • Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities Faculty Fellowship, 2018-19 
  • Institute for Citizens & Scholars Career Enhancement Fellowship, 2017 
  • Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship, Penn Humanities Forum, University of Pennsylvania, 2013-14
  • Franke Dissertation Fellowship, University of Chicago, 2010
  • Fulbright-IIE Fellowship, Syria, 2008


  • PerfSt 220: Sound Cultures
  • PerfSt 304: Sonic Practices of the Middle East and North Africa
  • PerfSt 312: Yoga: Pedagogy, Practice, and Politics
  • PerfSt 330: Contemporary Middle Eastern Performance
  • PerfSt 515: Listening: Methods and Issues
  • PerfSt 515: Sound Ethnography