Archive for April, 2011

Dancing with the veilI’ve decided to start to bring props into my Thursday night class, and of course, one of the *gentler* of the props to dance with is the veil. I really love the veil, it’s really the only prop that I feel comfortable with, I think it looks beautiful and graceful and dramatic, and I believe that once you dance with a veil, it’s very hard to going back to just having the air beneath your arms, so to speak.
I can get completely mesmerised watching a dancer with a veil, but it’s one of those things where the dancer needs to be GOOD at manipulating her slither of silk, otherwise it can look like a drawn out wrestling match with snapped back wrists and twisted contorted elbows and arms that make it more of a pain than pleasure to watch, and most probably, dance.

Now, there is most definitely a rich and colourful history linked with oriental dancing and the veil, and this I’ll leave to the experts, so a good place to start would be Shira’s website. After you’ve got the backstory down, I can offer my top five tips for taming the veil, based on my own experiences over the years.

Tip 1 – Don’t let the veil control you, YOU control the veil
This is actually a really difficult lesson to learn. When you start with the veil, it can become unruly and seem to take on a life of its own. You frequently become wrapped up in it, tied up in knots, all of a sudden it’s around your neck, or clinging onto your pony tail… I think the panic that comes with having to dance with a non-body part results in a lot of over-activity with the hands and therefore the veil. Try to relax and believe that you are in control. If that veil starts getting crazy, you can just fling it into a dark corner and leave yourself, alone, dancing in the spotlight…

Tip 2 – Your veil should be the backdrop to your moves
Remember that the point of the veil is to accentuate and highlights the wonderful body work that you are showing off. It helps to bring a hip drop to life, or provide a wonderful scene for your shimmies, it can be used infront of your body to show off a slinky figure of eight in silhouette. It is not the veil that the audience should be watching, but the veil will guide the audience of where to look and provide a fluffy cushion on which to place your killer moves.

Tip 3 – Avoid the claw, gentle finger work needed
This is something I continuously have to work on. Lightly grasping the veil between your fingers, not screwing your hand up into a clammy fist with swathes of veil fabric crushed within. Sometimes, in fear of point 1, you may feel like clinging onto the corners of your veil for dear life, just to avoid accidentally flinging it into the audience, however this can cause more harm than good, as you can end up winding the veil into a bundle of fabric on your fist, twisting it up along your arms, or finding it incredibly difficult to turn the veil as you end up mummifying yourself along the way. It’s hard to trust in the grip of a light fingered approach, but it will look infinitely more elegant this way.
Tip 4 – Less is more
Sometimes I think it’s easy to get carried away when you have a veil. It can feel like you are flying and whoosing around and it’s so exciting that you want to flap your wings and spin and shake and do all manner of unusual and bizarre new movements with your veil. However, as with most things bellydance, it always looks better from the audience perspective to do LESS rather than more. I in particular like to spin my veil infront of me, changing directions, at various speeds. Now this can easily look like a crazed washerwoman, churning her smalls, god only knows how it would look to an audience, I’m guessing that “elegant” wouldn’t be a word used to describe it! It’s very hard to keep it simple when you learn lots of different combinations, but you have to keep returning to the fact that the veil is there to accentuate the dance and not for it’s own “veil show”. Think less, and do even less than that, and aim for elegance along the way.
Tip 5 – Look out for danger accessories
My final tip is one from experience – and not just me, but fellow dance partners coming a cropper with their veils. Be really careful to consider your costume when doing a veil dance. Look out for pony tails, hair ornaments, dangy earrings, chunky bejewelled necklaces, arm cuffs, diamante encrusted bangles, fancy silver rings, particularly sequined costumes or hip belts… the list goes on… all of these items have the dreaded “snag factor”. Depending on the material with which your veil is made, the way it drapes so nicely against your body, and the delicate nature of the veil, it’s almost like the thing goes looking for something on your person to snag onto and remain there until you forcably have to yank it away, mid-dance, without the audience spotting, and hoping that it doesn’t rip your veil, rip off your costume or cause a sudden shift of your hair arrangement.
The other danger is that your veil becomes permanently attached to your headband and you have to finish the rest of your dance (probably at least another 4 minutes to go) trying to convince the audience that you did infact choreograph the dance to have all that time saluting them. If you are going to have a fancy snaggable costume, practise practise practise in the costume with the veil, remember to give your veil space to move around you (extend those arms), and be prepared for emergency maneouvres, should the veil get a mind of it’s own…

So that’s my tips, all really to make sure that you remain the boss in this delightful partnership. If you don’t have a veil, you can easily make one with a couple meters of chiffon or silk, or pick up a sarong, scarf, curtain or tablecloth and have a go in the park… quick.. whilst the sun’s out 🙂


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