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Ask The Gypsy

Questions and Answers: Topics:

If you have a question or an answer to these Bellydance topics, send it to Email and we will post it for you. Thanks. Penny

Question: RE: PROPS:

There's a new DVD by Princess Farhana which deals specifically with props, including candles and swords, balancing and choosing props. You can buy it online in our catalogue. Farhana's Belly Dance & Balance: The Art of Sword and Shamadan, 46 min Video-

"No other video teaches these special aspects of balancing and also gives you the "nuts and bolts" of preparation and care for your balance accessories. Additionally, Princess Farhana reveals secrets about the hottest moves for enhancing your bellydance performance. This video is a MUST for any dance video library." - Marta Schill, co-author of The Compleat Belly Dancer and President of M.E.C.D.A. -- Thanks, The Pink Gypsy


Hi there!

I'm looking for historical information on different belly dance props, particularly for swords and canes. I'm also interested in more information on candles, flowers, veils, zills, glasses, tamborines, and scarves.

The information I'm looking for is not how to use them, but along the lines of: Why is a <prop name> used in a dance? Does it symbolize anything? Where/when did it originate? What effect is trying to be achieved?

I'm often asked these questions after performing with a sword or cane, and it's awkward when I can't give them historical background facts. Can you help? Or could you recommend some books or other resources where I could do some digging myself?

Thanks so much! :-) - Juni (a.k.a. Tracey T.)]



Answer 1:

Hello, Juni,

... about dancing props. I can tell you what I know, and then refer you to some dancers' websites that may be more beneficial to you. BTW, these are some excellent questions.

You ask particularly about cane and swords used in our dance. I do know that cane dancing is an authentic dance type, commonly known as Raks al Assaya. Raks being dance, assaya - cane. It is a feminine variation of the Raks al Tahtib (stick dance) that men in Egypt perform.

The large sticks for the men represented weapons, so the dance is strong and forceful. In direct opposition to this, women dance with delicate canes, with a lighthearted, sassy emphasis. I do believe it is Saiidi in derivation, reflecting in the music rhythm (called Saiidi), as well as the geographical location, the Saiidi port in Egypt.

Sword dancing is not derived from any Arabic cultural dance, but has been brought into the "balancing" aspect, that IS popular in the dance genre. That much being said, I will refer you to two extremely knowledgeable dancers' home pages: Shira at www.shira.net , and Morocco, at www.tiac.net/users/morocco Between these two sites, you will probably glean as much info as you need, but if not, try to email them with your specific questions.

It is good to hear someone requesting valid info on our dance form! Lots of misconceptions exist, and I think the truth is just as fascinating as the fiction! I wish you the best.

Catharae


Answer 2: "In regard to the use of props in bellydance, you may want to contact someone in the S.C.A. or Society for Creative Anachronism. They have dance & music guilds all over the country and guild members are usually quite amazingly knowledgeable about things of this nature. The S.C.A. website is www.sca.org" April Hoy


Answer 3: "Oriental dance is, reportedly, the most ancient recorded form of dance in the world. It was practiced long before Arabs dominated the area we now know as the Middle East. However it has become an integral and recognizable part of Arabic culture over time. Throughout the world dance has commonly been used to tell history, stories, to teach the younger generation or replicate day to day activities. The physical motion of say grinding wheat or gathering water was/is refined and expressed with music to illustrate the duties of food preparation.

Other subjects may include sex education, birth, seduction, seasonal changes, combat, courting and so on. That being said we know that Arabic dance did not originate out of the nightclub- it came out of the village.

You indicated specifically that you were interested in cane and sword use, there historical and or symbolic status. Cane dance is a FOLK dance. By folk I mean a dance done by "common, working" people. The cane/stick is an instrument of rural living, used for traversing, herding and other day to day practices. Items such as this work there way into a cultures expression in dance like the basket with grain or laundry, the pot to carry water and so on.

In regards to the sword, I have never seen or read of an Arabic woman dancing with a sword. Once I saw an Arabic woman dance with two small daggers, which could have been a personal statement rather than a cultural tradition, and that is the closet to sword dance in the Middle East that I have witnessed. I have seen men In North Africa perform dances with swords in mock battles.

Veil, I think this is kind of a controversial topic among dancers. I have seen footage from the 1940's to present day that show Arabic women (in the Middle East) using veils in stage performances. However they enter with the veil dancing to a fast rhythm, it's never wrapped on their bodies, and is discarded rather quickly. That pattern still holds true for Arabic women who use a veil in their performance today. Egypt, where most public dancing is done in four star hotels etc., is 90% Muslim, Islam is the official religion of Egypt. Taking a veil off and dancing with it may look like stripping and it's an offense to Muslims who believe that women should cover their hair and or face. In the United States, without the same religious restrictions, dancing with a veil is quite popular. Some have commented that when Hollywood got interested in "belly dance" in the 40's and 50's the American dancers did not know enough movements to fill a routine and used a veil to eat up time thus it was an American invention and not authentic Arabic dance but who knows what people did/do in their homes...

I do not consider finger cymbals a prop they are a percussion instrument. The use of finger cymbals affixed to the thumbs and middle fingers of male and female dancers' hands was recorded as early as 500 A.D.

Algeria, Bahrain, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Greece, Iraq, Iran, Israel/Palestine, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Turkey, UAE and Yeman. First find the origin of the "prop" then focus on researching that country. I have seen Tunisian women use ceramic water pots in their performance- to gather more information I might contact a cultural preservation center in Tunisia or a department at a University specializing in North African studies. These may seem like long shots for such detailed information but it will turn you on to people who have studied the arts of that region...

BEWARE of material that was written during the 18th century. Recent books such as Serpent of the Nile use material from authors of the 18th century when Europeans had a fascination with anything Oriental. European MEN (and virtually only men) travelers in Arabic countries had about as much access to Arabic women as an infidel can have, which is to say they met and saw prostitutes. Images through portrait and written word were mostly the European's fantasy tinged with racism and not a reality."

BRANDT,GALIA galia_brandt@nonhp-ex.cv.hp.com


Answer 4: CANDLE DANCING

I will tell you what I know about votive candle dancing:

Serena was known as the dancer with candles. Years ago I thought she picked up the dance in the Greek night clubs she performed in. Yet, recently I asked Rip (her husband) how Serena came to dance with candles. He told me that when they were young they saw a Filipino dancer perform with candles in his hands and balance them on his feet. Rip said to Serena "why don't you try that?" Hence, she became famous for her beautiful candle dance where she would flutter them on her belly.

Moreover, I am a Greek folk dancer (and belly dancer) and know that candle dancing is native to Metalini Greece (bordering on Asia Minor--Turkey). This dance is a traditional folk dance performed with candles in ones hands to a Sirto rhythm. The name of the dance means "fire" in Greek. Steps are simple consisting of a step-back crossing step in a triplet pattern.

Moreover, the dancer will turn with this step. Candles are held and spiraled in a circular manner. Also they are brought into the dancer's chest and out to the audience. Sometimes the dancer twists the candles in a figure eight over the head and down to the body (in the same way American belly dancers do!!).

In conclusion, the candle dance comes from a variety of regions including Greece. If anyone knows more about this dance please write me at: wingeddancer123@hotmail.com. My web site is: www.wingeddancer.com. Zahraa


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