The veil, a beautiful light weight piece of fabric often made of silk or chiffon, is used by Belly Dancers worldwide to entice, mystify and impress audiences everywhere. As my FAVORITE prop I couldn’t help but wonder, “Where does veil dancing come from?” After doing some research, here’s what I discovered…
The Veil, a Hijjab?: First, it is very easy to confuse a veil used in dance with a “hijjab“, or modesty garment worn by many women in the Middle East. It is important to note that these two garments are not only made of different material, they serve completely different purposes! Silk and chiffon veils are for dancing, hijjabs are reserved for modesty.
Dance of the Seven Veils: When talking veils and Belly Dance…there’s ALWAYS one topic that comes up – The Dance of the Seven Veils (click here to read more, very interesting!). While there are many different versions of the legend behind the “Dance of the Seven Veils”, it has brought much attention to the art of veil dancing. This dance has been embodied and reproduced many times, each dancer interpreting the story differently and removing the veils in very inventive ways.
To Improve Arm Posture?: One of the most interesting stories I stumbled upon in my research, is a tale of legendary dancer, Samia Gamal. Samia, one of the most famous “Golden Era” Oriental dancers, would train with ballet instructors to incorporate ballet technique into her dancing. It is said that her instructors decided to use this “veil” as a way to improve her arm posture. The veil translated so beautifully with the dance, it became a prop used for grand entrances (hence the “Oriental Entrance”, see below!).
The Oriental Entrance: Today, in the Middle East, veils are solely used in the entrance of an Oriental dance show. The dancer enters, gracefully swings her veil around here and there, then drops it to the floor! And that’s it, “bye-bye” veil!
The Interpretive Veil: In the U.S., the veil is often used as a MAIN PROP for an entire choreography! The veil works great for keeping the short attention span of American audiences by creating mystery and allure and demonstrating trickery. Interpretive veil choreographies are all the rage…even double veil and fan veil performances are seen! It is the Americans who have created the art of veil dancing! Who knew?!
Whether used for the opening of an Oriental performance, to entice an audience, or to serve as a companion to embellish an interpretive piece, veils continue to impress us all!
So the next time you pick up your veil, hold it with great posture, make your entrance and dance away!