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PHOTO CREDIT: Above photo by John Rickman Photography, San Jose, California.

Belly Dancing: Making Your Prop Balancing Memorable


By Saqra


Table of Contents




As a dear friend (Shira) once said: "A sword is not a hat." I must concur with that: no prop is just a hat, with the exception of the shamadan (candelabrum), which originally was also not a hat. Though now it pretty much is.

A sword is not a hat!

When we say that a dancer is treating her prop as a hat, it means this person leaves the prop on her head for too much of the routine. Some dancers have learned sword dancing as a dance where you place a sword on your head and basically just dance. The moment you put something on your head, there is no going back, you can't surprise the audience much after that. You've shot your best trick, the climax of your routine.

Now, that is fine if you are only dancing for 30-60 seconds. However, for something longer than that, there is an art to pacing a prop routine.

Scope of this Dance Tip

There are a ton of other topics surrounding each type of prop. I may eventually discuss these in other articles in the future. Not the least of them for general consideration is "intention and focus", and whether the dance is about you or the dance is about the prop. However, I'm not going to talk about that with this article. This article is solely about "how to structure a prop routine."

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Michael Baxter, Santa Clara, California.

Overview of Structure

Now, not every prop can work the same way. Some things can't be balanced. Some things don't belong on your head. Some things don't travel. Some things don't need to be presented. However! Your prop performance is most effective for the audience if presented in the following order:

  • Present your prop to the audience
  • Framing & Gesturing
  • Differential Balancing (anything but head)
  • Floor if appropriate
  • Balance on your head with the following movement hierarchy:
    • Move Slowly
    • Move Faster
    • Shimmies
    • Level Changes
    • Traveling Steps
    • Turns & Spins




What Each of the Above Categories Means

Present Your Prop to the Audience

Take a moment to show the audience your prop. Walk it around if appropriate. You do not need to dance, because that would distract your audience from the prop. This is the only time the prop really has impact with the audience, when you initially show it to them and they first see it.

  • You show them the thing.
  • You show them that you value it.
  • You physically explain that this thing is important and/or pretty and/or special and the best one of these things that there is by showing them the thing and showing them that you think it is important.

Framing & Gesturing

"Framing" refers to holding the prop still, then moving around it, using it as a reference point in the air. "Gesturing" means you wave the prop around, preferably in organized patterns and/or as part of a step.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Michael Baxter, Santa Clara, California.

Differential Balancing (Anything but Head)

Put the prop somewhere on your body — back of your hand, arm, knee, hip, shoulder, wherever, anywhere but your head.

Use the following movement hierarchy:

  1. Stationary
  2. Traveling
  3. Turning

What I mean by "movement hierarchy" is that turning is more impressive to the audience than stationary. Therefore, don't spin with the prop and then stand still doing hip work for an extended period of time with it in the same place, because that would be anti-climactic.


Floor Work if Appropriate

Five floor work positions are presented in my article titled "How to Improvise in Floor Work". It is okay to put the prop on your head toward the end, but then you will need to get back to your feet with that thing on your head.

Balance on Head

If you put the prop on your head, take your time. Your audience will happily watch you position something on your head for 15-20 seconds (a long time) without anything else to look at. You should not dance while you position the prop on your head. If you don't take a moment to stand still, you aren't giving the act of adjusting the prop's position enough respect, and therefore neither will your audience.

Use the following movement hierarchy:

  • Move Slowly
  • Move Faster
  • Shimmies
  • Level Changes
  • Traveling Steps
  • Turns & Spins

Oh, and if you are dancing with a shamadan (candelabrum with the head bands), then yeah... you are wearing a hat and might as well start at the "balance on the head" step. This is why a Baladi progression is such a good music choice if you are actually doing a dance performance with a shamadan instead of walking in a processional.




Closing Thoughts

If you've been told by another teacher to do something different with props; well, what do I always say? This stuff is just my opinion and your mileage may vary.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Michael Baxter, Santa Clara, California.




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About the Author

Saqra (Seattle, Washington, USA) is a powerful dance artist and a master instructor. Her fluidity, grace, and technical skill is highlighted by her friendly demeanor and clear joy of the dance. She did not inherit the diva gene.

Saqra won titles in Belly Dance USA (Oregon), Belly Dancer of the Year (California), Belly Dancer of the Universe (California), Wiggles of the West (Nevada), and many other competitions. She was voted "Best Kept Secret of 2005" and "Instructor of the Year 2008" by readers of Zaghareet Magazine.

Saqra's journey in this dance form began in 1977 and has led her to study with many of the best dancers in the world, including in America, Canada, Turkey and Egypt. Saqra continues to travel and study both in the USA and abroad and prides herself on proper research for anything she teaches. Folklore, fakelore, and stage creativity: all three are valuable, and Saqra clearly presents for each what they actually are. Saqra is constantly expanding her expertise in the traditional ethnic forms of the dance, the modern stage variants, and the continuing evolving fusion techniques, all these areas combined keep her material fresh and current.

Saqra is widely known as an event promoter, musician, music and instructional video producer, and a registered hypnotherapist in the state of Washington. That is enough stuff to start explaining what she has been doing in belly dance since 1977. Visit her at

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Michael Baxter, Santa Clara, California. In the photo, Saqra is holding her Teacher of the Year 2008 Award from Zaghareet Magazine.

Saqra with Award



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