So You Want to be a Veil Dancer, Huh?
Dancing with a veil outdoors can be fun - but challenging!
"My veils laugh at me behind my back!"
"My veil is NOT my friend!"
I have heard these, and similar remarks from many of my dance sisters. I'm sure there are a few guys who feel this way also - among the guys who actually dare to dance with a veil; an activity I recommend for all Belly Dancers, regardless of gender!
These are not necessarily beginner's problems either - both of the above examples were stated by accomplished, experienced, and graceful dancers!
Because veil-phobia is a fairly common affliction among Belly Dancers, this brief article is intended to help the dancer overcome said fears and be the beautiful veil dancer s/he wants to be. I won't cover technique here, that's for your teacher. Nor will I cover what type of veil you should use - that's up to you (see Choosing a Belly Dance Veil). What I will do is explain what a veil is and some of the aesthetics. As veilwork is my passion, I get a bit philosophical at times, but try to balance that with some hard information too!
The teacher who first taught me veilwork was Jamaica. She has an absolutely hysterical & funny talk she calls her "How a Veil is Like a Man" speech. With due apologies to the guys, here it goes as I best remember:
How a Veil is Like a Man:
- Its all about control.
- Size matters, what are you going to do with it?
- All veils have different personalities, some are aloof, some are clingy.
- You can train one for months, and it will still mis-behave in public.
- One veil is never enough, you need several to share among your friends.
- It may keep you warm at night, but you still have to deal with it in the morning.
- You have to let your veil THINK it is leading... while maintaining control!
- Some veils are only for looks but do NOT try & dance with them!!!! (male model anyone??)
There was more, but that's what I can remember. I also told her that a veil was like a woman because "it reserves the right to change its mind at the last minute!". All this is humorous, but contains a grain of truth. Wiggle Woman (Janette), Alyne, Shoshanna, Kamaal, Cory Zamora and others have taught me much of the mysteries of the veil - but it is always a learning experience to dance with one. No two veil dances are the same, no two VEILS are the same, and I'm still learning!
But on to the heart of the matter. What is a veil?
A veil is a creature of air. Without it, it is nothing. The veil dancer must always work with the veil, and with the air; never, ever against them. Working against the veil, or the air that it floats on, will result in very ugly veilwork at the very best - and a hopelessly tangled mess at the worst. Don't be an ugly veil dancer!
Guys - Please don't fight with your veil and beat it into submission! This isn't veil dancing, its a mess. And no-one, male or female, should thrash around at warp speed with their veil. This isn't veil dancing either. Work with the air and the veil and don't overpower it. If you can't control your power, get a different veil that can handle it, even if it means getting a heavy cape! Cape dancing is a bit different than veil, but a cape can handle a good deal more power so it will at least look good. It took me awhile to learn to control my power and let the delicate veil float on its element (air) - you can do it too! Its all about control!
Guys - see "The Bra Strap Conundrum" on my tips page for how to deal with veil wraps that involve bra straps!
Remember, a veil is not like any other prop. It is not something that is balanced. It is not something that is twirled (like a cane). It can be worn as part of your costume, unlike any other prop I'm aware of. It is not something to be treated with contempt, cruelty, or disregard.
A veil is, however, your partner. It dances with you. Your job as a dancer is to lead your veil, guiding it through its element of air.
The heart of veil-phobia is losing control of the veil and having an impossibly ugly tangle in the middle of your beautiful dance. How do we avoid losing control and the resulting veil disasters?
The first word is the dreaded "P-Word": Practice.
I won't tell you to practice what you want to happen - you already know that! I'll tell you to practice what you absolutely, positively do NOT want to have happen. Practice veil disasters over and over and over and over again. There isn't a successful veil dancer on the planet who hasn't spent more time with veils wrapped around their head, tangled up and twisted around arms, legs, feet. Caught in hair, stuck in sequins, pulling off bras (for the gals), you name it! We all share these fears and pitfalls. It isn't a question of if a veil disaster will happen, its a question of when.
Induce disasters (in your practice) on purpose - Goddess knows it isn't hard. Then what do you do once the disaster has been successfully induced? That most fearsome moment?
You deal with it.
Stay graceful, DO NOT PANIC! Do not yell OPA! at the top of your lungs and push the veil off of your head like I did the first time I had a veil disaster onstage!
There are, of course, many different ways to recover from a veil disaster - your teacher should be able to show you some. No two veil disasters are exactly alike. A (very) few of the possibilities of corrective action could be:
- Gracefully reach up and unwind that veil that is wrapped around your head. This works great if you're already spinning, but might work even if you're standing still. The first time I did this, the audience actually applauded!
- Go with it. The veil ended up on your head? Fine, you meant to do that. Do some snake arms and hip stuff with your impromptu Burqa to give yourself time to figure out how to remove it gracefully.
- Spin. When in doubt, spin. Spinning gives you more options, time, and control. It gives the veil enough air to loft it - which can be controlled by the rate of spin and your arm positions - so you can get a tangled veil untangled and look pretty doing it. Of course, if the veil is wrapped around your foot, spinning is probably not a good idea! But most veil problems involve simple tangles or not being able to find the edge - a spin allows easy fixes. Watch other veil dancers - if you know what you're looking for, you'll notice dancers fixing veil problems all the time! And they usually do so in spins!
- Don't want to/cannot spin? Fine. Straighten the mess out, right there in front of everyone. Make a big deal out of it. Do some undulations, Maias, or something that isn't hidden behind the veil so the audience has something to look at while you gently caress the veil back into shape. Or backup with the veil in front of you. Use the resulting airflow to coax it into compliance.
- Veil catching on something on the back of your costume - bra strap, hair piece, hip belt, whatever. If this is happening while the veil is in motion - reverse the motion! Example: You're doing a "toreador" turn and you feel the veil catch on your bra. Rather than continue the motion, further anchoring the veil and/or creating a "Janet Jackson Moment", instantly reverse the direction of the toreador and move the veil back to where it came from. MOST of the time this will work, IF you catch it early enough. Of course if the veil is caught on your earring, proceed with caution (During my very first double veil performance, I somehow managed to prang a large hoop earring into the audience - either a veil or my fingers snagged the earring and TWING!, into the audience it flew!)!
- Veil just hopelessly caught on costume. Wrap it. Wrap it over one shoulder, wrap it into a skirt, whatever (you can probably hide this in a spin). You may or may not then be able to carefully unhang it from whatever sequin, bead, or jewelry its caught on. If not, just continue your dance without it.
- Don't be afraid to simply dump an uncooperative veil. Sometimes things just aren't meant to be! I once counseled an absolutely terrified dance sister who was forcing herself to go onstage and do a veil dance to just get rid of her veil if it didn't cooperate with her, or if she just got tired of it or felt she'd run out of things to do with it. "You can DO THAT?!" she asked rather wide eyed. "Of course, you're the dancer, you're in charge, you can do whatever you want!". Needless to say, her veil dance was beautiful, and her veil phobia was really unfounded!
- Stepped on your veil? If you haven't fallen down, get off of the veil NOW. Even if you have to break form. It won't be pretty but it beats slipping - a stepped on veil can be VERY dangerous. Most of the time it only involves picking up the offending foot and pulling up on the veil. A quip to the audience about "rude, uncooperative veils" or some-such will pave over most of the faux pas. Another option is to drop the veil, and gently brush it aside with your foot to either be picked up later or abandoned for the duration. But make sure it ends up somewhere where you won't step on it again and fall!
- Dropped your veil? Either accidentally, on purpose as it wasn't cooperating, or on purpose as part of your dance. But now you want to recover it and dance with it some more. Myriads of options here. You can "scold" the veil if that's appropriate to the situation - then "make up" with it. Maia gracefully down next to it and gently pick it back up. Or swoop down in one of those Sa'idi style turns and snag it in passing. Do floorwork and come back up with it. Use your imagination!
- Also, be VERY careful around a dropped veil - they're treacherously slippery and more than one dancer has gone down by stepping on one. Your audience instinctively knows this - if you dance too close to that veil on the floor, they will stop watching your dance and watch your veil instead! I've seen this countless times. Drop it somewhere safe, or gently move it with your foot.
- Veil wrapping itself around your foot/feet or lower legs. The veil isn't getting enough air; increase your spin speed, increase your arm speed if you're not spinning, and/or change your arm position so the veil will catch more air. But pay attention to what its doing, if its already wrapped too much, you could go down. The other option is, again, reverse the direction of the veil so it unwraps - then make sure it gets more air to prevent a reoccurrence.
- Sometimes an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure - certain circumstances are just best avoided. There is a joke:
- Belly Dancer.
- Ceiling Fan!
- Any Questions?
The best advice in the instance of a ceiling fan (especially if its running!), chandelier, low hanging sprinkler head, etc is "don't". But if you "did", what to do? Most likely the best course of action is to shrug at the audience, and abandon the veil. Have someone call maintenance after your act to retrieve it if necessary. This is called "cutting your losses"!
- For Goddess's sake, hem your veils! This is another "ounce of prevention". There are plenty of dancers who don't - but its far easier to find the edge of a hemmed veil. This means you find the edge quicker which helps mitigate the possibility of a veil disaster; as well as allowing you to concentrate on your dancing, not finding that blasted edge. This goes for the straight edge on half or three-quarter circle veils as well as the selvage of all veils. If you hem with either a micro-rolled hem, or simply serge it, it will NOT be visible to the audience and will NOT affect how it floats.
- Backstage primping. We all primp each other backstage and in the dressing room. However, if you already have your veil wrap "on", beware of well meaning dance sisters primping your backside. This happened to me once, my carefully planned veil wrap got "fixed" by someone who was just trying to be helpful, and I didn't think anything of it at the time. However, when it came time to unwrap the veil, it wasn't happening! I had to resort to the "fix it in front of everyone" technique as there was absolutely NO hiding the problem - nor the solution - from the audience. It ended well, but lesson learned! Don't let ANYBODY touch your veil wrap! Dunia was in the audience and told me later that she couldn't figure out what had gone wrong, only that I was in trouble and had to fix it. The dance sister, of course, felt badly about it, but it really wasn't her fault as she wasn't a veil dancer. We still laugh about it!
- Want to drop your veil? Be careful doing so while moving - the veil can follow the draft you create by moving away from it, especially if its light weight. Dance to the back or one side of the stage, then drop it from a low starting position. Everyone likes to hold it behind them with arms raised dramatically, then drop it while standing still. It looks good. It can't float forwards because your body will block it if it tries - BUT there's always the danger of it catching on your costume on its way down, plan accordingly!.
I've been asked what to do when doing veilwork outdoors. I've done a ton of veil dancing, but my experiences in outdoor veilwork are extremely limited. But the guidelines are still the same - work with the veil, work with the air (which is now almost certainly in motion), and be prepared to do deal with disasters as always.
Catching a veil disaster early is your best defense, before the veil gets good and hooked, good and wrapped, good and tangled. That's where the practice pays off - you become one with the veil and develop an instinct as to what its up to. Veil dancing is indeed all about control, but remember that control is an illusion - the only part of a veil you truly control are the one or two points of contact where you hold it. The rest is going to do what its going to do!
I've encountered most of the above situations at once time or another (no, not the bra strap one! ), and have employed similar solutions! Don't be afraid of your veil or the inevitable veil disasters - these are part of veil dancing and practicing how to "deal with it" will enable you to go onstage with your veil and be confident that you can handle anything it can throw at you! All the "big name" veil dancers have plenty of veil disasters, and usually only a trained eye will see them as they have practiced and know how to recover gracefully. And so can you!
May your veils bring you joy as mine do!