Sunday, August 19, 2012

Bellydancing with Swords: Beginner's Tips n Tricks

A week and a half ago I had the pleasure of playing with a sword for the first time since I started bellydancing 3 years ago. It was a nice little surprise that my instructor sprung on us for our last day in the summer workshop classes. As I did not own my own sword, my instructor brought 2 to loan out and I was lucky enough to get one. I was surprised to find that balancing a sword was not all that difficult as far as keeping it on your head once you found the balance point. What I did find difficult was trying to adjust to the weight of the sword as well as feeling the indentation take place on my head where the sword was sitting as I began to move with it. Both of these factors will develop and improve over time with practice. The weight of the sword you will adjust to while the indentation in your head will also become more permanent as you balance and play with the sword more.

One little trick I had noticed with my instructor's sword was that she had roughed up the area that rests on the head in order for her to know she has the sword placed where it's balance point is. I had never stopped to think that this would be a trick used. I knew that as time goes on, dancers become very aware and familiar with their swords to automatically know where on the sword the head needs to be touching to make sure the balance is as solid as it can be. For first starting out, this is a good trick to use for practices (not performances) until you become more familiar with the sword.

Since this last week has been a break between the summer workshops and the beginning of the fall semester of classes, I decided to look into sword play a little more. I recognize that being a Level 2B student I will not play with swords until I become a Level 3 student, but it would not hurt to know some things about the sword so that I am better prepared next time when I have the chance to play with one or I am able to purchase my own to play with until I graduate into the next level. So here are some little tidbits I would like to share, along with the sources listed so that if you would like to look more into what the author has to say about different aspects of bellydancing, you are able to access those.

One dancer who is a great resource for tips and tricks to sword play is Shira. Below here is what she has to offer in ways of the sword:

Tips & Tricks for Belly Dancing With a Sword by Shira

Here is another bellydancer who has some great information as well on sword play:

Choosing and Dancing with a Belly Dance Sword by Zarifa, edited by W. Snowman

Balancing a belly dance sword is a beautiful addition to your dancing routine, but more importantly it is an exercise in one of the most important skills in belly dancing, isolation. A skilled belly dancer can restrict dancing movements to one part of her body while keeping others perfectly motionless, or moving in a different direction. Dancing with a sword is an excellent exercise to perfect this skill.

How do I dance with a sword balanced on my head? Perfect isolation can take many hours of training and can be quite daunting with a heavy sword - and painful when dropped! You may want to practice with something lighter at first - a book, block of wood, or broom handle. Remember isolation is the key.

Begin with simple shimmies: shimmy the hips while keeping your upper body and your head perfectly still. Then practice shoulder shimmies while keeping your neck and head motionless. Once you can perform shimmies without dropping your "practice sword," move on to movements requiring more control to keep your head stationary, such as camel or body waves. The downward figure eight and elevations (lift up on your toes then flat foot) while doing shimmies are not only challenging but look great while keeping a sword balanced on your head.

Once you can perform a few moves without dropping your book or broom handle (most of the time!) you can try dancing with a real sword. Most belly dancing swords have a fairly heavy handle so that the balance point is a closer to the handle. Move it around until you find the spot where it can sway a little without sliding off your head. A good balanced sword should lay on the edge with the blade perpendicular and the handle up straight and ready, easy to reach when you need it.

Some dancers find it much easier to perform sword work while wearing a turban or other head wear. This is not really "cheating" unless you use a really thick head wear or alter it to hold the sword. Some dancers have thick hair, making it easier to pick up belly dance sword work, some need a little "help."

Once you feel comfortable with isolated movements, it's time to try spins with the sword on your head. The trick is to use a dance move that puts your arms over your head so that one arm rests against the sword while you begin the spin. As the sword begins to spin with you as one, you may be able to release the sword and hold it in a perfect spin with your head and drop your arms. (Or maybe not!) You will need to move your arms back up and brace the sword as you come out of the spin so that it doesn't keep spinning and fly off your head. Don't be discouraged if this doesn't come to you easily, very few dancers can perform this move gracefully and only after years of diligent practice. When you become comfortable with controlling the sword as you move, you can begin keeping your arms further and further from actually touching the sword as you turn. A dancer experienced in sword work can make several complex changes without ever touching the sword.

How do I choose my belly dancing sword? Choose a curved blade sword or scimitar with a smooth blade and without an edge; the edge should be flat. Avoid swords with large "handguards" on the handle, such as fencing-style swords with handguards off to the side, as these will throw the balance off. Many misunderstand "balanced" to mean that the sword should balance in the middle of the blade. The balance of a belly dance sword refers to how straight it stands on edge and can be seen by the angle of the blade to the floor when balanced on its center of gravity.

Because the handle is heavier than the blade, the center of lengthwise balance of a belly dance sword usually closer to the handle than the middle of the blade. When balanced on your head, a well balanced sword should lay on the inner curved edge with the blade perfectly perpendicular to the floor. The blade should not be leaning toward the front or back. Sometimes a sword that is out of balance and leans to the front or back can be re-balanced by twisting the handle.

Do not use a battle sword for belly dancing. They are not balanced correctly and having an edge will be extremely difficult to dance with. Some swords are heavier than others and it will take some conditioning to get used to the weight. Dance until your scalp goes numb, then practice other moves!

Can I dance with more than one sword? Believe it or not, an experienced dancer can balance two swords on her head, or one on the head and another on the hip. Another fun routine is to move into a back bend with the swords touching the floor, or one on the head with the other on the stomach while doing floor work. Some even wear a blindfold while dancing with the swords on a basket balanced on their head. All of these moves require practice with a teacher who can help you.

Safety first! There are several things that can go wrong while practicing belly dance sword work, so please be careful. Although belly dancing swords don't have a point or an edge, they are still heavy and can cause serious damage or injury. Make sure your handle is solidly attached and not coming loose; swinging the sword around fast can cause the blade to come loose and fly out. Be sure to give yourself plenty of room when practicing. Belly dancing with a sword in close quarters or areas with breakables can be costly.

There are several more resources out there to learn how to choose a sword best for you, how to conquer sword play and wardrobe issues, techniques to be used in order to become very familiar with your sword, and how to make your performance with a sword shine. I finally want to give you some videos to watch from people who give some excellent demonstrations on the sword. There are several videos out there on sword play, but I just wanted to give you a few to get started with. I hope you have enjoyed this blog entry and enjoy the following videos on sword play along with a mesmerizing sword performance by Irina Akulenko.

Sahira's Sword Instruction

Shoulder Exercises for Sword by Mahin

Turning with Sword by Mahin

Strengthening the Wrists for Sword Handling by Mahin

Irina Akulenko - "Justice" from "Tarot - Fantasy Bellydance" DVD


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