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Photo of Shira

 

 

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

Tips & Tricks for
Belly Dancing With a Sword

by Shira

 

Table of Contents

 

Dancing with a sword can convey a feeling of power, of being in control. A dancer with a sword has a weapon, and demonstrates that she is at ease with handling it! Audiences are fascinated by swords – when the dancer first produces one, people wonder what she is going to do with it. When she balances it, they are very impressed by the skill required. Audience members rarely heckle a dancer with a sword.

Here are some tips for dancers who are just beginning to learn how to work with swords. Click on any of the photos with this article to see them in more detail.

Shira Belly Dancing with a Sword

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by William M. Smith, Iowa City, Iowa.

 

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Choosing a Sword & Preparing It for Use

By Shira

  • Buying a Sword. Not sure which type of sword to buy? Some swords balance well, others don't. Heavier swords will stay in place more easily than lighter-weight ones. Balance the sword on your hand before you buy it. If it won't balance on your hand in the store, it probably won't balance properly on your head, stomach, chin, hip, or shoulder while you're dancing.
  • Buying A Sword. Beware of chromed swords – they look beautiful, but the chrome is very slippery and will make the sword more likely to fall off your head. They are not recommended for newcomers to balancing!
  • Buying a Sword. Swords with slightly thicker blades that have not been sharpened are more comfortable to balance than those with thin blades that have been sharpened.
  • Securing The Knob. Some swords have a handle with a knob on the end that can be twisted to adjust the balance. For this kind of sword, you can use rubber O rings (purchased in the plumbing supply section of the hardware store) as a washer to ensure a secure fit on the threads.
  • Don't Slip! If you want to balance your sword on your hip such as I'm doing in the photo to the right, beware of wearing a power net midriff cover. These can be quite slippery. The sword will stick better to bare skin.
  • Don't Slip! Keep an inexpensive votive candle in your dance supplies. Before going on stage with your sword, rub the candle back and forth across the part of the sword's edge that will rest on your head. This will help the sword stay in place while you're dancing.

Shira Belly Dancing With a Sword

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by William M. Smith, Iowa City, Iowa.

  • Don't Slip! Before dancing, place a small amount of bowler's grip (sold in bowling alleys) on the sword. This will make it stay more securely on the balancing point.
  • Don't Slip! Practice balancing on the hip in the costume you plan to wear before trying it in public. Swords usually behave well when resting against bare skin, but the fabric used for some body stockings and midriff-covering dresses can cause the sword to slip. I never balance a sword on my hip when wearing a mesh body stocking.
  • Don't Slip! Spritz a little hair spray onto the top of your head where the sword will rest before you begin your performance. This will make your hair a little sticky and help the sword stay in place while you're dancing.
  • Permanent Modifications? Beware of advice to carve notches into your sword, use nail polish to attach grains of sand, or anything else that will permanently modify the sword. If an audience member gets hold of the sword and sees the modification, you will lose all credibility.

Shira Belly Dancing With a Sword

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

  • Maturing Your Skill. Eventually, as you become experienced in using a sword, you should discontinue use of any cheats such as those described above under "Don't Slip". By the time you start using a sword in your professional gigs, you should have outgrown the cheats. Continuing to use them just shows that you're still unsure of your own skill and possibly are not really ready to be using a sword in professional gigs.

 

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Learning to Balance

  • Breaking Hair. You might notice that the weight of the sword on your head may cause some hair to break close to the scalp. Don't worry, it'll grow back, and I promise you won't develop a bald spot from it! I've been doing sword balancing for over 25 years on my bare head, and I haven't developed a bald spot yet!
  • Prevent Pain. When you're new to sword balancing, you'll notice that it hurts to have a heavy object on its edge resting on your head. For that reason, don't do more than 15 continuous minutes at a time of balancing practice. Or, alternate 5 minutes with the sword followed by 5 minutes without.
  • Prevent Pain. If you must practice balancing itself for more than 15 minutes, put on either a turban or a Cleopatra-style headdress such as the one in the photo to the right after 10 minutes of practicing to cushion your head. You do need some time practicing bareheaded so you can master the skill, but there is no need to endure unnecessary pain.
  • Dealing With Pain. When you're new to balancing a sword on your head, you probably will get a headache after a very short time of balancing. Don't push yourself too hard at first. Start with no more than 5-10 minutes at once of balancing. Once you're used to that, you can gradually extend to longer.

Shira Wearing Cleopatra-Style Headdress

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by William M. Smith, Iowa City, Iowa.

  • Isolate! If you have trouble keeping the sword on your head, perhaps you need to practice your isolations a bit more. The most common reason people have trouble learning to balance is that they haven't isolated properly.

 

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Costuming Issues When Using a Sword

  • Headdress. If you're dancing indoors, and if you're confident in your skill at balancing a sword, then don't wear a headdress at all! Sometimes when audiences see a headdress, they assume that it is some kind of "trick" enabling you to balance that sword, and they don't appreciate the skill it truly takes to do it.
  • Headdress. If you're dancing outdoors, consider wearing a headdress. The slightest breeze can blow your sword off balance! For best results, choose a headdress that is made of cloth rather than chains or coins, and the thicker, the better.
  • Headdress. Beware of headdresses made from slippery fabric such as tissue lamé that the sword could slip off of.
  • Headdress. Possibilities include the crocheted-cap headdresses with shoulder-length cords hanging down that have beads strung on them (like the silver one in the photo), turbans, wigs, or scarves. (If you wear a scarf, consider placing something under it that will add some thickness for the sword to nest down into.)

Shira Wearing Cleopatra-Style Headdress

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by William M. Smith, Iowa City, Iowa.

  • Headdress. Beware of headbands that pass over the top of the head like the one shown in this photo to the right. Depending on the position of the headband, it can interfere with placing the sword into optimal position for balancing. Swords can slip on sequins. Even if the headdress doesn't get in your way, it may lead the audience to believe it is a "trick" to help you balance the sword, and they will be less impressed with the skill you are truly using.
  • Headdress. If you wear a headdress, make sure it is firmly anchored in place – if your headdress slips while balancing your sword, your sword will, of course, slip with it!

Shira Doing Kneeling Backbend with Sword

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

  • Practice with Your Costume and Headdress! Before balancing your sword in public, practice with it in private using the exact same costume and headdress you plan to use in public. Some headdresses make it easier to balance the sword, while others make it harder. That's the kind of thing you want to learn about practicing in private, not while in front of an audience!
  • Pants With Floor Work. If planning to incorporate any kind of floor work into your sword act, be sure to wear pants either by themselves or under your skirt. The photo on the right shows a costume with a pair of red pants slitted in the center front worn under the red skirt. The skirt fell away when the right leg was raised, but the pants stayed in place to ensure that the audience didn't get a view of more than they wanted to see. More modest dancers can omit the slit from the pants entirely.

Shira Belly Dancing with a Sword

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

 

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Dancing with the Sword

  • Remember to Dance! It's fun to play with props. However, always remember to focus first on dancing.
  • Dance Quality. Try doing your dance first without the prop. Your dance needs to look complete and accurate without the prop first, and then you can later add the prop to frame the dance moves.
  • Aesthetic. Many dancers enjoy experimenting with different places to balance the sword, such as the top of the head, the chin, the shoulder, the hip, etc. Don't put more than two balancing positions into a single dance. Otherwise, instead of looking like a "dance" it looks like a boring novelty act.
  • Build Suspense. When you initially pick up your sword, don't start balancing it right away. Hold it in varying poses first, to build suspense. Give the audience time to get used to the idea that you are holding a sword, and make them wonder what you are going to do with it.
  • What To Do Before Balancing. Grasp the sword in one hand and flourish it in a martial pose. Hold it in both hands and trace a large circle with it from your hips, to one side, to overhead, etc. Pose with it proudly overhead, as shown in this picture of Shira to the right. Walk up to audience members and show it to them, like a magician showing he has nothing up his sleeve.
Shira Belly Dancing with a Sword

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

  • Relationship. Think of the sword as a dance partner rather than as just a piece of metal to wave around.
  • Its Role in Your Performance. The sword is not a hat.
  • Don't Make It Look Too Easy. When actually placing the sword on the place where you will balance it, take your time. It may be tempting to balance it quickly to show off, but the audience will be more impressed if you act as though you're not entirely certain it will stay. Don't be afraid to take extra time to fine-tune the balance, and use your eyes to cast apprehensive upward glances toward the sword as you adjust it. Your accomplishment will seem more exciting if the audience believes it wasn't easy for you!
  • Bask In Your Glory. Once you have removed your hands from the sword, don't start dancing right away. Take a moment to stand perfectly still and act pleased with what you have done, as shown in the photo to the right.
Shira Belly Dancing with a Sword

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

  • Doing Backbends. The key to a successful backbend, whether standing or kneeling, is strong and flexible thigh muscles. Abdominal muscles are valuable for getting back up from a backbend. I've written an entire article on how to do backbends like this one.
  • Exercise To Build Strength. There are several thigh-building exercises you can do at home to develop the strength needed to do backbends. See the above link for suggestions.
  • Avoid Injury. Don't do backbends like this one if you have any history of knee trouble!
Shira Belly Dancing with a Sword

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

  • Getting Back To Your Feet. Return to an upright position with weight equally distributed on both knees. Raise one knee to the position shown on the right. Hold this pose for a moment, doing something interesting with your arms, before standing up completely to make sure your balance is steady. Now:
    • Adjust the back foot so that its ball is touching the floor. Make sure it has a steady grip on the floor. If necessary, adjust the position of the knee so that the foot will have strong leverage for pushing off.
    • Use the back foot to push off, pressing forward so that the weight transfers to the front foot.
    • Use an upward sweeping motion of the hands to reinforce the momentum of moving forward and upward.
Shira Belly Dancing with a Sword

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

 

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Explore belly dancing! Learn all about bellydance!

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