Selecting, Using and Storing Balanced Belly Dance Props By Princess Farhana

Belly dance Props

Before you buy a sword, or scimitar (a larger, sharply curved sword), make sure it is correctly balanced. Swords are easy to test: a sword that isn’t balanced at all will fall flat on your hand (or head) making it completely useless. One that is balanced properly will stand straight on its blade. If a sword isn't balanced it may lean and will be more prone to wobble. Sometimes, you can kind of tweak the handle with your hand or a screwdriver (some are loose) and get it into correct balance; with some swords, you can actually take the entire handle off, turn it upside down, and it will balance better, but it may be awkward to hold. Some swords are made especially for belly dancing and/or decoration, and are usually lighter and smaller than real military ones. Smaller or used swords usually cost somewhere between $30-$100.00, larger scimitars or antiques may cost more than $100.00. However, if it isn't balanced, don't buy it, there are plenty around that are.

Belly dance Swords

Swords should be stored, if possible, laying flat on the floor or shelf, or on a wall-rack (you can sometimes find specially designed display racks at military or antique shops). If you store swords standing on their end, they may fall over and if this happens, they could get jarred out of perfect balance. If this occurs, try playing with the handle. When you get it where you want, you may want to glue it in place. In order to balance the sword on your head, try it with a mirror and find the balance point, which is usually a little off- center because of the weight of the handle, and mark it with a little dot of magic marker if you want. Some swords are scored at the balance point, making them easier to keep on top of your head, but you could also glue a small piece of sandpaper or Velcro onto the blade to keep it from sliding around on your hair. Some people lightly wax the balance point- you can also take surfboard wax or even a candle, and rub it on the blade and get the same results. Some dancers like to wear a turban or tightly wrapped headscarf when belly dancing with a sword. In a cabaret performance, you may want to wear a fall; it will help keep it from siding around on your head, especially during spins. It is NEVER a good idea to try out a new head-wrap or wig before a show- make sure to rehearse with it until you are completely comfortable with it before hitting the stage. Once onstage, remember to go slow, and adjust the sword when necessary. It’s still impressive, and not nearly as embarrassing as having a sword falling off! If you do happen to drop your sword, DO NOT GRAB FOR IT! Even a blade that isn't sharp can injure you if caught at a bad angle. Duck out of the way of a falling sword, the point can hurt you. Calmly pick it up, put it back on, and continue your dance. While belly dancing, especially during floor work, takes the time necessary to re-adjust your skirts under yourself, the last thing you need is to get distracted by fabric bunching around your legs. Pantaloons or harem pants are also a good idea, either by them or under your skirt, so you don't "flash" and put on more of a show than you intended to!

Belly dance Shamadans

Shamadans (candelabrum) are traditionally used in the Egyptian wedding procession, or zeffah. In the centuries before electricity was used, dancers would balance large, lit-up candelabrum on top of their heads, to illuminate the bride and groom’s faces during their first appearance as man and wife.

For an imported shamadan, expect to pay anywhere between $100.00-$300.00, outside of Egypt. There are many different styles, some are extremely intricate, and others are more utilitarian. Shamadans from Egypt are large and sometimes not altogether stable the arms may move around, but this can be fixed with pliers or by soldering or gluing them. The crown of the shamadan should have a snug, almost tight fit around your head, resting just above the temples. If your shamadan is too loose, it will wobble on your head. It is easy to glue sponge rubber or some other type of padding to the inside of the crown to prevent it from slipping around, and this will provide you with a more comfortable fit, as well.

Larger shamadans look very impressive, but slightly smaller ones are more portable, and much easier to work with. Never leave one in your car or trunk- even the slightest heat in a short amount of time will melt the candles! When traveling with a shamadan by car, lay it on it's side or strap it in with a seat belt. The crystals or beads and coins decorating some shamadans can be repaired if the chains break with a jewelry pliers or even a tweezers. After every use, clean out the candle's drip-cups, (use a butterknife and pry the dried wax out) or the wax will build up and be more prone to spill onto your hair. Some of the candleholders may be loose- wrap your candles with tinfoil for a snug fit. Longer candles are also heavier, short emergency candles look good and are lighter on your head, they're also cheaper than dinner candles-remember, you're going to have to use at least nine, maybe twelve candles. Even if a candle is "drip less", there's no such thing when it's on your head!

Caution when belly dancing

When belly dancing at a wedding or on a stage, avoid air-conditioning vents as it will blow the hot wax onto you! Also be careful of ceiling and doorway clearance, and of course, be very careful of draperies! Also- makes sure to thoroughly check with your venue concerning fire/insurance laws. Many places do not allow open flames. In this case, you can purchase battery-operated candles (from a craft shop or florist supply store) but note that these candles will be much heavier and more difficult to balance.

As far as costuming goes, if you aren't used to wearing a shamadan, don't pick a costume where the wax drips will show or ruin it. Many beledy dresses made in Egypt are made of netting, which is easy to pick the dried melted way from. - Of course, these are best if you don’t want to stain your costume. When using real candles, don't light up until just before you're about to dance because of the wax-drip factor. If you're not doing a zeffah (Egyptian bridal procession), pick a slower song or a taxim, because belly dancing quickly with a shamadan negates its stately beauty.

Written by: Princess Farhana