Using a veil during your belly dance performance, can add an extra dimension to your dance. Veils are usually suited to music which sounds airy and which suggests ample, flowing movements rather than a more earthy sound. Hence the veil is not suited to a drum solo or to folkloric music.
The use of veil in belly dancing was made popular by Samya Gamal (one of the bellydance legends during the first half of the 20th century) who used the veil to improve her arms carriage. Since then, more and more belly dancers started using a veil as a prop. However, nowadays, in Egyptian belly dance style the veil is only used briefly at the start of the performance during the entrance. American dancers instead, have made an art of the veil as a prop. In American cabaret style the veil is used in a lot of different ways. Dancers usually enter on stage with the veil wrapped around their costume, which is then unwrapped and made to spin with dexterity. American belly dancers have also invented the use of two or multiple veils at the same time.
According to the effect you want to obtain, belly-dance veils come is various shapes, sizes and materials. Usually the length of the veil should be chosen according to the dancer’s height. However, dancers who are particularly accomplished at using veils, can dance with particularly long ones (i.e. 4 yards). As for the shape, veils can be rectangular or semicircular. Rectangular veils offer more variety of movement, while semicircular ones are easier to use.
Veils can have plain or sequinned hedges. Veils with sequinned hedges do not float well and are more commonly used in Egyptian cabaret style, where they are dropped after the first few minutes of the performance and not used for spinning. Veils can be made of silk (the most expensive type, but the one that can create the best effects as it floats better), rayon chiffon, polyester chiffon or georgette. In general veils should be light enough to float gently in the air (but not the lighter they are, the more difficult they are to control for inexperienced dancers) and sheer enough, so that it is possible to see the outline of the dancer when she is posing behind it.
The length of a veil can vary, but you should make sure that it is at least two feet or 60cm longer than your arm span. Try holding its hem behind you with your arms stretched to the sides and the two sides should not touch the floor. In order to test how it catches the air, try and hold one edge and lift the veil in the air, letting it come down on its own while holding one edge.
The veil is usually held between the thumb and the other fingers (usually middle or index), although there are several ways of holding it and every belly dancers has a favourite way. The arms should be outstretched but slightly rounded and soft and the overall body posture should be good (head lifted, shoulders relaxed, chest open). So, if you lay the veil on your shoulders, and stretch your arms to both sides, you should then place the veil between the side of your fingers with the palms facing forward. The veil is very good to frame your body, in order to enhance certain movements (framing the hips, for example, while performing a figure of eight) or certain poses and lines.
The arm extension is very important while using the veil, this is why using the veil can also help you with arms carriage if you tend to bend them too much, in order to get used to a more extended position. Also, breathing can help when you lower your body to then lift your body and your arms, to make the veil float, so in that case you inhale when lifting your arms.
Think of the veil as an extension of your own arms while dancing, to make it flow nicely and gracefully. The movements of your body should be flowing and never be sharp or jagged as veils are about grace and elegance. Vary the speed of your dance, alternate between faster and slow movements and pause at times. Last but not least, allow your arms to make bigger movements then usual and do not keep them too close to your body, in order to give the veil more room for movement and for catching air.
There are many things you can do with your veil. You can spin and with the veil catching the air, the effect is beautiful. You can make the veil float by transferring it between one arm and the other, or you can create cascades front to back or vice versa or sideways, to make the veil create interesting ripples. You can experiment with different movements, turns, changes of levels, snake arms and more. At first it will feel weird but the more you experiment and practise, the more you will become confident and find the moves that suit you.
The veil is also good to frame the body. For example, you can do hip drops and frame the veil just below your hips, or, with the veil behind you and arms stretched up you can do vertical figure of eight, changing levels. Also, you can hold the veil in front of you and frame your face, hold it as a screen and dance behind it if it is transparent, so the audience can see you silhouette, or , a very effective movement good with slow music is the envelope, in which the dancer stands between two layers of the veil that form a sort of screen around the body.
These tricks and many more you can find in several DVDs that are available to buy. One that I particularly like is ‘Belly dance with veil’ by Sarah Skinner.