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Veils

by Delilah

In American-style Bellydance, veils are traditionally arranged on the dancer’s body as drapes and wraps. They are thus available and ready for the dancer to use as her dance develops. They are called dance props and add an ethereal dimension to the staging of the belly dance. The art of unveiling involves skill and technique. The craft of dancing with the veil involves a sensitivity to the delayed lines that evolve around the dancer as she moves. This is pursued in complement with the rhythm of the music. Fabric color, texture, speed and weight, shape, length and width are all important artistic variables.

In the Mid East, the veil, of course, is a familiar article of clothing. Veiling is also an archetypal symbol which represents shielding, sequestering, seclusion, protection, isolation, barriers, mystery, feminine spirit and more. Often transparent, the veil creates an ambiance of mystique.

Some people see the removal of veils as some sort of strip-tease, but I think it is symbolically much more powerful than that. In fact, it holds a lot of spiritual juice. A Sufi aims to remove the veils around the heart to reveal truth and connection with the divine. Veil work has an angelic, spiritual, uplifting quality when it is mastered with grace. American dancers Loie Fuller, Isadora Duncan and Ruth St Denis at the turn of the 20th century all danced with veils. This was right before women received the right to vote in our country. I believe dancing with the veil is a powerful liberating act — an act of revealing.

Egyptian dancers rarely do veil work but often make their entrance with a flowing veil and then quickly discard it. I’m not sure why veil work has not caught on there like it has here. Perhaps it’s because they don’t dance so much to heavy ballads and boleros like we do in American bellydance. Persian, Uzbek, Turkish, and Armenian dances incorporate veils often connected to the hat that trail in the air behind the dancer, lending an ethereal effect. Certainly American women and Middle Eastern women have a different experience with the custom of veiling in this day and age, which may lead them to express its use differently in dance.

I believe that dancing with silk is a natural thing to do. When the first weaver pulled the silk from the loom, it begged to be danced with. So I do not believe any one person, country, or group have given rise to the phoneme non of veil dancing. Styles come and go, but the veil is very ancient.

Recommended fabrics

Fabric selection is a matter of personal preference. You will need to experiment and decide for yourself. I encourage you to be inventive! Try China silk (comes in different weights, referred to as mummies), polyester chiffons, some lightweight cottons, nylon tricot, etc. Lightweight synthetic lining fabrics are a little more opaque but can work nicely and very inexpensively.

Shapes

Rectangular Veils

These are generally the most common. The salvaged edges are most desirable. If you hem the length it can make the veil drag. The ends are finished with a tiny rolled or serged edge. Avoid heavy edging trims if you want the veil to float. Beads, bangles and sequins will effect the motion as well. I don’t put them on my veils and when I buy an Egyptian costume with a beaded veil, I immediately rip them off and save them for costume repairs.. Egyptians don’t do athletic veil work ordinarily so they aren’t concerned with the aerodynamic effects of the veils.

Circular Veils

A true circular veil without a seam is hard to find because the width of the fabric would have to be so wide. The seams will add a drag to the veil. I have one seamless circular veil that creates a wonderful effect in the air. However, I feel very limited in what I can do with it, so I prefer rectangular veils. Half-circle veils simply cut out the fabric I’d rather be there to catch the light and surround me with color when I dance, so I don’t use them either. In my opinion, rounding out the edge is not advantageous for most veil dances. As a specialty, however, it can be fun to work with. Laurel Victoria Gray choreographed a beautiful circular veil dance routine in the production of “Egypta”. I have a 3/4 circular drape I use but it is made of jersey and moves very fast and I designed a very stylistic dance for it. When you work with circular veils you need to be mindful of its personality and use a different repertoire of techniques that will show off the curves.

Dimensions

Width

The average width is straight off the bolt, 42-45 inches wide. Ordinarily, it’s not my favorite when the fabric is any narrower. An advanced dancer can handle 54-60 inch wide, but it’s not easy to do and even harder to find the fabric. However, it’s really a beautiful dance effect.

Length

2 and 5/8ths yards is the smallest length I’d ever use. I usually use 3 yards and sometimes 4 yards, though I don’t recommend that for a beginner or a small person.

Tucks

The veil is tucked into the costume without the use of pins. To keep the veil in place during rigorous dancing is a challenge. The halter bra strap is important here because the shoulder strap is too unstable to be dependable. When tucking a veil, you should twist, bend, and stretch to see if you will have enough range of movement for the dance you have planned. Tuck at the belt, at the hip bones, the back side of the belt, under the bra, at the shoulder/neck strap of the halter bra, and at the center or corner of the top of a bra cup.

Resources

Delilah’s Costume Workshop Video set shows you how to wrap and dance your veils off. It’s shot into a mirror so you can see both sides at once.The companion booklet shows different shapes and dimensions.

Volume II of Delilah’s Bellydance Workshop shows many veil moves and turns and features Delilah doing a beautiful veil dance to Angelitta, by Steven Flynn from the Tales of the Night Wind recording.

Delilah performs veil work on all her dance Performance Videos.
Fire at the Iao
Delilah & Sirocco Live and Wild
The Spirit of Oriental dance
IAMED Awards Video
Absolutely Beginning Bellydance on DVD

In live workshop courses, Delilah often teaches the use of veils to 9/8 rhythms. (An instructional video has been shot and may be edited by fall 2003.)

A few favorite Veil songs available from Visionary Dance Productions:
Steven Flynn has written some beautiful songs for veil dance
• Angelita, from the Tales of the Night Wind
• When the Rain Comes and Turning, & Lonesome Lullaby, from the Welcome to the Dance
• Shems and Rumi. . . from Rapture Rumi

John Belizikian has recorded many beautiful ballads: Mondubala, & Laurence of Arabia, from Tapestry of the Dance

As part of a full dance called Cabaret Dance routine you will find a lovely veil dance song on . . .Sirocco Volume II.


VEIL DRAPES

OVER-THE-SHOULDER-DRAPE

A. For a 2 and 5/8 yard veil, hold right arm out to the side and drape the veil over it, so it falls more or less equally on each side. If your veil is 3 or more yards long, the extra length should go in the back.

B. Reach up with your left hand right at your shoulder and gather up fabric straight across until the salvage side of the veil comes up to the right wrist. Tuck it into your halter bra strap. Make sure you tuck this securely at the muscular part of your neck, not at the hollow of your collar bone. The gathering is done by laying your thumb on your skin and gathering the fabric into your hand with the first two fingers.

C. Tuck the front inside corner into the side or the front of left hip (belt).

D. Tuck in the back inside corner of the veil at the back or side of the left hip, making a hip flounce.

E. (optional) Tuck the right front and back corners into the sides of belt edge, making minimal tucks. This rounds out the shape of the drape a bit more.

UNWRAP

A. From underneath the veil, pull and lift the veil loose with both hands, if both edges are tucked in front. Push the veil in front of your body as you turn toward your right.

B. Quickly transfer the fabric from your left hand to your right and simultaneously turn to your left

C. Lift the back tuck out with your left hand at your leisure.
Tip: The reason you’re using turns is to cover the mechanics of the move, and to keep air in the veil.

HIP FLOUNCES

A. With your hands 12” to 14” apart, make tiny gathers with each hand in a “V” formation. Your hands will eventually come together, creating a nice soft flounce. Transfer the fabric to one hand and tuck.

B. For a simple flounce, use one hand and gather in a diagonal line toward the body of the veil.

SPIRAL WRAP

A. Using a 3-yard veil, tuck one corner at left hip and hold the body of the veil in front of you. Wrap the veil to the right, encircling the body around past the left hip again. Lead the fabric up under the right arm, back behind, then over your left shoulder and across the front to the right shoulder. You are making three complete circles around your body with the veil.

B. Gather remaining fabric to tuck into the halter. You want to create a bib in front. You may want to tuck the fabric into the other side of your neck, and also at the back of the bra on the right side, for added security. But make sure you have enough room to move without pulling it out. With your left arm outstretched, you can pull on the lower salvaged edge of the veil for added drama.

UNWRAP

While spinning left, use both hands and lift the tucks out of the neck. Let go with the left hand once the fabric is free. With your right hand, lead the fabric around your body going toward the left, once, twice, and on the third time, catch and lift the fabric out of the left hip with your left hand. Begin your veil work.

MAGIC WRAP

A: Begin with an OVER-THE-SHOULDER-DRAPE.
Tuck veil at front of left hip, back of left hip, and top of right shoulder.
Back hip flounce may be used with three-yard veil, but there is no extra flounce with a smaller size veil.

B: Turning to the right, with left hand, untuck left front portion of veil at the hip. Take right hand and push body of veil downward, simultaneously turning to left.
(Veil should come down and hug right thigh.)
With left hand, pull veil around behind you, clearing your left hip.
Quickly turn right and grab the free edge of your veil over your head with right hand.
Hold fabric taut between hands.
Veil should be tightened around legs and a screen of fabric should be formed behind you.
You have just rewrapped yourself into THE COBRA WRAP.
Do some undulations, belly rolls, head movements, etc.

C: Turning to your left, keeping veil edge taut, sweep right arm in front, so that a vertical line is created by the veil’s edge.
YOU HAVE CREATED A COCOON.

D: Change directions, stepping out to the right, into a VEIL RUN, in a circular floor pattern. Be sure to bend forward from the waist as you slowly open the veil to reveal yourself to a selected portion of the audience as you travel.

E: As the circular floor pattern is completed, reverse the turn and start winding the veil from over your head so the veil unwraps from around your body and begins to rewrap in the other direction (about 4 winding rotations).
Stop and clasp veil in front of you, emulating Turkish face veil "YASHMAK" pose. Play coquettishly with this.

F: When ready, spin left and begin SPIRAL UNWIND out of your veil (3 rotations). Pass veil to left hand and pull remaining tuck out of left hip with right hand tug. Veil is now completely free in front of body.

NOW DANCE!


A Companion to Absolute Beginning Bellydance with Delilah

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