to Prop Or not to Prop...
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Some dancers might find that a prop would help them to have more confidence to perform in public
On the cover:
Using fire in a performance can be an exciting, but dangerous prop. Performance fire in Bellydance is not to be confused with Fire fans. Fire fans are often used in belly dance, especially in tribal fusion belly dance styles. Belly dancers typically move fire fans more slowly and in combination with the layered hip and arm dance movements distinctive to the art of belly dance.
To use a Prop or not to use a Prop, that's the question!
By prop I mean anything that is not the costume you’re wearing, or your body of course. According to Wikipedia, a prop is an object used on stage or on screen by actors during a performance, anything movable or portable. In our dance art, it would be things like canes, swords, Isis wings, cymbals or zils, candelabras, veils, and more. So it is an object that you will have to carry during performance, and to integrate it into your routine or dance piece, therefore requiring more attention from you and I would say, more confidence.
Some dancers might find that a prop would help them to have more confidence to perform in public, sort of like using a crutch to walk, but in reality it could work the other way around, it could get on your way to let yourself perform your best, since you will be worried about an object as well as yourself. I believe you need to gain confidence on your own performance before you add a prop to your dance, unless you are performing with a troupe in a choreography that uses a prop like a veil or other, and your instructor or troupe director gives you guidance and the assurance you need.
But as a solo performance, a prop should come after you gain enough experience on stage, and know that you will be able to handle the divided attention between your steps, your expressions, your moves, and your prop integration to the piece. It is more or less like doing the double opposite movement of hands on top of your head and on your belly, you have to practice a lot to be able to do it well.
For example, if you decide that you want to start playing cymbals or zils during your performance, you will have to practice a lot to get the confidence to playing a rhythm that goes with your music, while moving your body, expressing your emotions, and making use of the space. I once heard from an instructor that was teaching to play cymbals, that you can play cymbals to any song, and to any performance. That was very interesting to know, and after that I started paying attention to all music and to imagine how I could play the cymbals along. All music has a rhythm, find the pattern and play the accents and the way you go! Now, most Middle Eastern music has foreign patterns to the Western ears, like 7’s and 9’s, so make sure you understand these rhythms before trying your cymbals as a prop to a Middle Eastern song. A similar thing goes for props like drums or other instruments. I have managed to be able to swirl and play zils at the same time, but everyone has a strength, and you can explore yours.
The most common beginners prop is the veil. It is a very beautiful prop, and full of mystic, but also tricky to have it moving around our bodies during a performance. To avoid having issues like dropping a veil, or getting it tangled to your body or stuck to your costume, again, practice, practice, practice until you nail it with confidence. Another aspect of the veil is its texture and fabric weight, so a little research about the right kind of material, the right size for you, etc., will help you get there.
Other props like swords and candelabras require a lot of balance. Make sure you practice your balance by balancing a book on your head before going on stage the first time with a sword or a candelabra, especially if the candelabra has real candles! Even if you have acquired enough balancing practice, you still have to consider things like the type of floor you will be dancing at, and the shoes you will be wearing. I once performed a routine where I balanced a candelabra, I didn’t have real candles, but the battery candles holders were glass containers, and they were not glued to the candelabra, at one point I lost my balance because of the rough floor I was dancing on, got my foot stuck, and there went all the glass candle holders to the floor, they broke into pieces and it was a big mess to continue dancing… Not good! Lesson learned.
Similar to balancing swords and candelabras, are canes, although you can do more with canes than just balance them in your heads, arms or legs. It is good to learn how to swirl them with your hands very well, otherwise you can end up having a flying unidentified cane landing on someone’s head! It sounds funny to think about it, but it might not be so funny in real life!
Isis wings are a different story. They require some balance, but not as much as graceful and flowing movements. If not properly explored and learned, they can make your performance look boring instead of interesting. Because you have them attached to your neck or arms, and you need to know how to let them go and/or get them back in action, to create interesting changes to the dance. Fan veils also require a lot of flow with your arms, and different moves to make it interesting. Again, like veils, be careful not to tangle or get wings or fan veils stuck to your costumes or body during your show.
I have covered the most common props in belly dancing, of course there are other creative resources around, especially with new modalities coming from belly dance fusion and theatrical approaches. Make your research around, find a good teacher, watch other performers, and practice a lot!
Good luck in your journey! If you have any questions, do not hesitate to make a comment below, I will have the pleasure to answer you!
Until the next article!
May the power of dance be with you!
Miriam Cunha (a.k.a. Yonisha)
Miriam Cunha, Contributor: Fusion Artist Yonisha, also known as Miriam Cunha, was born in Guatemala, raised in Brazil, and is currently living in British Columbia, Canada. Miriam inherited her artistic abilities from her mother Miriam Castillo, who is a teacher and a graphic artist, and her father Antonio Cunha (also known as Tony Mell), who is a professional Brazilian musician, arranger and composer and a member of the famous Trio Irakitan. At early ages she was already composing melodies, writing poems, dancing,... (more...)