Friday, April 24, 2009
A belly dancer without a veil is like a butterfly without wings. When I was a beginning baby belly dancer, veils entranced me…but I was also scared of them! It all seemed so complicated, like it required so much technique and co-ordination… and of course, I was convinced that veil work was a skill a mere mortal such as myself would never master! Downtrodden and frustrated, I dragged my veil out of my dance bag and doggedly started to practice. As a last resort, I shyly asked a few seasoned dancers if they could help. Thankfully, they took pity on me and generously taught me some tricks, and after a little while…veil work actually began to be fun!
Now, seventeen years later, one of the first things I teach to my beginner classes is basic veil technique. Many of the movements are easily mastered, therefore instantly gratifying, and a way to counteract the feelings of frustration and clumsiness beginning dancers may experience. A roomful of adult women playing with veils is usually as giggly and delightful as a bunch of little girls at a slumber party. Veils give you permission to play while you dance, and can become an extension of your on-stage persona. They will bring out all the different facets of your personality, whether goddess, seductress, fairy princess, temple dancer, or vamp.
For thousands of years, dancers using flowing veils were depicted in the art of ancient civilizations. From statues found in Egyptian tombs to Grecian mosaic tile work, from East Indian wall carvings to frescoes painted in Constantinople, diaphanous fabric and the female form in motion seem to be constant companions. Today, as Oriental Dancers continue the ancient tradition, using veils to add an air of mystery and allure to an already hypnotic dance form. We use our veils in many ways: to draw attention to the area of the body we want the audience to look at, to momentarily flirt with and connect to the crowd, or as a swirling, colorful frame for breathtaking spins. Some dancers like to enter a stage with a veil flying behind them, others like to enter traditionally wrapped in their veils. If you
Plan to discard your veil after using it onstage; make sure to throw it well out of your performance area or dance-path. There’s a good reason for this:
A veil can actually become a safety hazard. A veil and a slick wooden floor are a dangerous combination- if you step on your veil, you can actually slide unexpectedly on it; and if you happen to be dancing in a restaurant, it’s Murphy’s Law that waiters and diners will step on directly on top of it. Personally, I don’t know how anyone would assume that a brightly colored piece of sheer fabric laying in the middle of the floor is part of a restaurant’s décor, but this is a common occurrence!
A veil should conceal and reveal – it should flow around the dancer and move with her like a magical rainbow. Veils are used extensively in Turkish and American Cabaret belly dance, though Egyptian dancers typically only use a veil for entrances. Because of this stylistic difference, many Egyptian veils are heavily embellished with beads and sequins, making working with them an exercise in futility- they get caught on everything: your cymbals, your hair, the fringe on your costumes. But since most Westerners think that veil work and belly dance are synonymous, many Egyptian style dancers in the US and Europe will add in a few extra flourishes, due to “popular demand”. I will use my beautifully decorated Egyptian veils for photo-shoots, but swap out a much easier to work with plain silk or chiffon veil when I really want to get down to business onstage. There are many types of veils to choose from, rectangular, semi-circular, full circle, embellished or plain, natural or synthetic fabric. Most professional veils are about two and a half to three yards long- depending on what feels most comfortable for you, or the desired affect. Many dancers have mastered the use of double veils, or four-yard veils, both of which are stunning in performance.
With a bit of practice, your veil can become your best friend. Another perk to think about is that veil work is marvelous for the muscles in your upper body. Try holding one up and moving with it for a few minutes- you will not believe how heavy a few ounces of silk or chiffon can become! Veil work is great for toning and sculpting your shoulders and upper arms. Please remember to always warm up thoroughly before you practice and perform in order to prevent injury!