The History of Belly Dance Props
The art of the belly dance, or Oriental dance, is recorded as early as 800 B.C. and was used for many forms of celebrations in Middle Eastern culture. In order to add variety and symbolism to their dances, belly dancers have adopted many props over time. Each prop has its own significance and importance within the dance.
Cane or Saidi
Cane dancing originated with farmers in the Upper regions of Egypt. The original steps, done by men, were militant and done with a straight stick, showing a traditional battle with waving and striking of the sticks between dancers. Later, women belly dancers invented a more playful version of the dance using a short curved cane and gentle swings. Modern steps include skipping and saluting with the cane. These flirtatious moves are typically done toward the middle of a routine to lighten the mood.
Scimitar or Sword
The scimitar has always been the traditional weapon throughout the Middle East, so it is only natural that the scimitar would make its way into belly dance routines as well. The scimitar dances were designed to reveal the power, strength, and goddess-like beauty of Arab women. Students should always use a dulled student sword and not move onto a professional scimitar until they can complete the full scimitar practice four times through without losing the scimitar. Modern moves involve balancing the scimitar on the dancer’s head while completing various moves while standing or kneeling.
Zills is the Turkish name for finger cymbals used by belly dancers. Musical instruments for fingers originated in 200 B.C. with wooden or ivory sticks used by dancers during celebrations. The Greeks introduced metal finger instruments that became finely tuned by Arabs. Learning how to properly play cymbals is difficult and starts with selecting the right zills. When selecting zills, test the cymbals by striking them together. If the zills make a bell-like sound and resonate for at least three seconds, then it is of good quality.
The shamadan is strictly an Egyptian belly dancing tradition used at wedding celebrations. Originally, the shamadan dancer would lead a wedding progression down the dark streets lighting every one's path with the candelabra atop their head. Modernly, the dance is done during the reception at the reception hall. The shamadan dance is considered one of the most advanced belly dance routines and should only be attempted by professional dancers.
The belly dancing veil is as old as the belly dance itself. In a culture where women where expected to remain veiled, belly dancing gave women a chance to unwrap and reveal their feminine beauty. Modernly, veils are used for transitional pieces, especially entrances where unveiling is considered highly captivating. An ideal veil should be long, lightweight and sheer so that it seemingly floats in the air.
Along with these tools, belly dancers also utilize tools such as trays, baskets and jugs filled with fruit, flowers, and even candles. As a dancer grows in experience, they will gain greater confidence and creativity with props and produce a more rich and captivating dance.
Getting started with swords, veils, canes or more? Don't let your prop be a crutch!