Belly dancing, which is the westernized version of the traditional Arabic dance called raqs sharqi, has evolved over time and encompasses many dance styles. In many of those styles of belly dancing, props are used to enhance the dancing and make it more interesting and enjoyable. These are some of the basic props that may be used while dancing:
Zills or Finger Cymbals
Finger cymbals have been used in traditional belly dancing for hundreds of years, and at least as far back as 500 A.D. Finger cymbals, called sagat in Arabic or zills in Turkish, are placed upon the thumb and middle finger of both of the dancer’s hands. They can add interest to the dance performance, as well as to the instrumentality and rhythm, and also to any Arabic belly dance song that may accompany the Arabic belly dancing performance.
Finger cymbals vary in size, style, and materials used. The type used is generally left up to personal preference and the style of dance being done. The cymbals are attached to the fingers with an elastic band, and can make a resonant or dull sound, depending on the way they are struck together.
Belly Dancing with a Veil
Veil dancing has really only taken place within the past century and mostly came about from influence from western culture. Although dancing with a veil is not as traditional in belly dancing, it is still a very popular part of belly dancing. Veils provide an aura mystery and femininity.
A veil is made of light fabric such as silk that flows freely. Dances done using a veil are usually slower, using softer music. The veil can be wrapped around the belly dancer’s body, it can be held up by the dancer so that it flows behind her as she moves and spins, and can be used in many other ways to accent the dance.
Dancing with a cane in belly dancing comes from dances in Upper Egypt, traditionally done by shepherds. The male version of the cane dance is called Tahib, and it is masculine with a martial arts emphasis. Women later adopted the cane as part of belly dancing, but they adapted it to be more flirtatious and light-hearted.
The canes women use in belly dancing are more delicate than those used for the male version of the dance. The cane is usually made from bamboo with a hook on the end.
Using a sword as a prop in belly dancing was not traditionally done by women in the Middle East. In Egypt, men performed a martial arts dance with an upraised sword, but using a sword during belly dancing comes more from western influence.
In America and other western countries, swords are used to demonstrate a woman’s balance, power, and poise. During belly dancing, the sword is balanced on the head and in the hands, and the sword is generally dull in order to protect the dancer and her audience. Sword dancing can be very dramatic and interesting when done properly.
There are many different props that can be used in belly dancing. Many of the props have a historical context and come from some of the traditional dances of the Middle East, while other props are heavily influenced by western culture. Props can add interest and enjoyment to belly dancing.