Ottawa Dancers’ Blogletter 2018/03/18

A Dancers’ Guide to getting the most out of the Ottawa Souk Part 4 – Props

Although you don’t need to use props when you dance either Belly dance or Bollywood dance, there are props available for each.  I will discuss various props available and make suggestions on what to look for when shopping for a prop.

Bollywood Props

Does Bollywood dance even have props?  A short answer would be yes.  The dupatta, head scarf/veil, hand kerchiefs, sticks and wooden saap/sapp are just a few props that I personally know of, used and/or have seen in various performances in person or in videos online.  Many of the props that are listed below are used with Bhangra songs and/or more folkloric style of Indian dancing.

  • Dupatta – This is a common long neck scarf worn by women with outfits.  It can remain decorative around their necks or wrapped with purpose around their bodies.  Often you can get the dupatta with the matching outfit.  I have used and created dance combinations which involved similar twirls that I use for belly dance veil as well as swishing them in a single hand to add a little flair to a song.  Length can vary slightly depending on the style of outfit you may buy it with.  If you’re looking to get one separate from a costume for dancing, I would recommend finding a fabric that isn’t too slippery, as you may find yourself constantly adjusting it while you dance.  A good length would be a minimum of your open arms from finger tip to finger tip.
  • Head scarf/veil – If you’re wearing the head scarf as a head scarf you don’t want it as long as a belly dance veil; 2 yards would be a good length and will provide you some mobility to swish the veil about your sides as well as play peek-a-boo with your eyes.  If you’re planning on doing a bit more fusion bollywood with some belly dance veil flavouring than a standard 3 yard veil is a good place to start.
  • Hand kerchiefs – These are the two tiny square pieces of fabrics that tie at to each of your wrists.  Often used more for Bhangra style music.
  • Sticks – There are two different types of sticks, that I currently know of, that are used in Bollywood dancing; dandiya and daang.  Both are used in more traditional style of Indian dancing but have started to be incorporated in some Bollywood dances.  Dandiya sticks come in pairs and are about 1 foot in length and are used often at Navratri events.  They can be decorative or just plain wood dowels.  The daang stick is a single wood sitck with a small curve/hook at the end.  This prop is used mostly for Bhangra style pieces.  Before using either of these props for Bollywood fusion pieces, I highly recommend doing some research and understand their traditional uses before just grabbing them and throwing them in to a choreography.
  • Saap/Sapp – I have never used this prop but I have seen them in action.  This is the wooden accordion or wooden “X” prop that closes and opens.  These are used in Bhangra pieces and often are part of a dance choreography that will involve the use of the daang.  I cannot provide any purchasing tips on this items, as I’ve never used them.

Belly dance Props

Like Bollywood, belly dance props can come from the folkloric style of the dance.  Traditional props for belly dance would be considered as follows:  stick, zills, melaya, shamadan and veil while modern props would be fans, weighted veils, isis wings, poi (veil, fire etc.), candles, sword etc.

  • Stick – Also known as an assaya is primarily associated with the folkloric style of belly dance known as Saidi.  There is also the folkloric style Tahtib which more focused on the men’s stick fight dance.  The Tahtib sticks are often thicker and longer than the assays used in the Saidi style dances.  For belly dance use, we tend to use a thinner (5/8″ to 1″ diameter) straight stick or one that has a hook at the end.  Belly dance sticks are often more decorative than the Tahtib stick.  It can be wrapped fully in a foil tape or just wrapped by a line of foil tape.  Some hook style sticks will be fully beaded with a small foil only wrapped area at the bottom end for holding the stick.  The straight stick verses the hook is a personal preference.  An advantage of a straight stick over a hook is that it would less likely get caught in the long belly arms of a saidi dress or an oriental costume, if you only have a small saidi portion in your song.  The advantages of a full foil stick versus a beaded stick are that the foil is usually more durable than the beads and easily reparable, while a damaged beaded stick requires more time to find matching sequins and beads if you lose them while dancing.  I personally recommend going with the foil style of stick over the beaded stick if you plan on hitting the floor with the stick, as some dance moves require.
  • Zills – Also known as sagat or finger cymbals, come in varying sizes, materials and sounds.  Larger zills tend to be heavier but are typically better for outdoor events, while small zills are lighter and more common indoors.  A good quality zill will be made from metal that doesn’t damage easily (brass is common) and will provide as nice sound.  The shape of the zill change the sound as well and is something to consider when purchasing a pair.  Low quality metal for zills will bend easier and often will have a more tin sound.  When shopping for zills ask the vendor if you can hear the sound of the zills.  If they’re brand new, out of the box/pouch, zills will most likely not have their elastics attached; to hear their sound balance one zill in your palm and hit it with the other zill to get an idea of the sound or ask the vendor if they have a similar pair that is ready to try.  It is not recommended to play long with zills as the sound can be disruptive to others around.
  • Melaya – This is a folkloric prop and is often associated with the folkloric style of Baladi.  The most common melaya style you will find for purchase will be a large black fabric with payette edging and a centreline in the middle of the fabric with  individual payettes placed in the remaining black space between the edging.  The payette style melaya is apparently more Alexandrian in the style but there is a version of the melaya without the payettes which is also folkloric in style (the origin of area, I need to confirm).  The melaya is rather large and should be able to easily wrap around your body and tucked into one side.
  • Shamadan – As known as the candlebra is used most often as part of the zaffa or wedding processional, which leads a new bride and groom a reception hall.  It can be performed as a solo or group piece on stage as well.  A good resource to inquire more about dancing with a shamadan is with Denise Enan at Studio Oasis in Gatineau.  Should you choose to purchase one at the Souk, see if you can place it on your head to feel the weight and balance of it on your head.  Shamadans will most often not come with candles.  Some newer shamadans are able to hold battery operate tea lights while other use more traditional candles.  If you’re going to be performing with a shamadan with live candles, it is recommended that you confirm with the venue you’re performing at that you are indeed allowed to dance with an open flame.
  • Veil – Ah veil…I won’t talk forever about veil but this will be forever my favourite prop.  Some may argue it’s not a traditional prop for belly dance and well, I would say that the veil is the transitional prop that bridges the old to the new belly dance styles.  The veil was traditionally used mostly for entrances and glamorized in the golden age of belly dance by dancer like Taheya Cairoca and films.  Now, veil is used either for full songs, fusion songs, in single or double formats as well as in various shapes and lengths.  What should one do when shopping for a veil?  Well honestly, I will go more in-depth in my next blog, otherwise you’ll be reading forever and there are still the modern props to get through.  Trust me, the veil will need it’s own blog.
  • Fans – At first I thought to just say fan veils, but then I remembered one dance routine which involved fans that were made with peacock feathers.  So fans, can be made with just the standard material you’d find in the regular folding fans or can be made with feathers or silk fabric.  If the fans are being made with silk then there are short and long edge silk finishes to the veils.  The long edge silk finished fan veil is what is commonly known as fan veils.  Regardless of what material you decide to buy the fan must be able to easily open and close in your hand.  If the fans are made with wood, check for rough edges that may exist.  Look at the pivot connector that holds the fan together; does it look solid?  Do they feel comfortable in your hand.  If you’re buying a silk fan veil look at the edges and check the condition of the silk.  Regardless, silk will bruise and will have normal wear and tear but if you’re buying new this should be pretty minimal at the start.
  • Weighted veils – Another modern prop that comes in a pair as well as different shapes and sized.  Most often this props will be more square-like with two of its edges weighted with drapery cord.  There are weighted veils that will have one longer edge like a tail to provide a neat look to the whipping veils around you.  If you’ve never seen weighted veils in action, I will be happy to provide you with a demonstration, definitely at the Souk and perhaps in a future video.
  • Isis Wings – I would consider isis wings as part of the “veil” family as it’s fabric float in the air under the control of the dancer.  There are two large piece of fabric that is pressed done in a “paper accordion” shape which has two rods (wood, plastic or metal) tucked into the ends that a dancer holds.  Isis wings can come in various fabric but most often will be a synthetic material that is shiny and can be translucent to opaque.  When looking at Isis wings try the neck piece on that anchors the wings to you.  If they are too tight then you may need to add a bit of fabric to the neck collar for your personal comfort.  Isis wings tend to be one size and may require some alterations for dancers shorter than 5’4″ or who do not dance in heels.
  • Poi – Poi is quite the modern addition to belly dance and would be considered a very fusion style prop.  It can be a bean bag ball attached to a string, which can then have a veil attached to it and swung around with talent and practice, or it can be battery operated balls that would require a dark stage to see the full affect.  Poi also can be the fire version of the balls as well.  For anything that is attached to a string, I would recommend looking at the quality of the string and how the poi is structured to ensure that there would be a next to nil chance of the string breaking or any part of the poi coming apart while dancing.
  • Candles – Candles are the tea light size candles that are held in each hand and carefully moved about the body or can be part of a tray set that is balanced upon the head.
  • Sword – There are a few different styles of swords that exist for dancing.  They are often curved in the blade and may or may not come with a sheath.  When looking at swords, take into consideration the weight and balance point of the sword.  Ask the vendor if you can try balancing the sword on your head or other body parts that you may plan to balance the sword on.  Give the handle and hilt a jiggle to test how solid the handle is attached to the blade.  All dance swords should not be sharp.

Although there other folkloric and modern props I have not discussed here the most common ones you may come across have been briefly discussed.  I hope I’ve peeked your interest in some props and maybe help you consider what things to look at when shopping.  Have fun and find your dance…prop!

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