Sword Dance – The Cutting Edge

I’ve produced many bellydance shows with a large variety of belly dance styles and one of the most consistently popular dances for audiences is the sword dance. In a sword dance, the performer manipulates a sword in dramatic ways, uses it to frame her belly dance movements, and balances it on various parts of her body while she’s in motion.

People often ask me if we use real (sharp!) swords. The answer is that it depends on the dancer, but usually decorative (not sharp) swords are used. However, there are exceptions.

The sword that I use for bellydancing is decorative, but it looks ‘real’. Even though it doesn’t have sharp edges, the point on it can do some damage and the sword itself is heavy. I learned the hard way that it must be kept away from people at performances, especially children. Everyone seems fascinated with the sword and people can get hurt playing with it, especially if they start swinging it around.

A real, sharp sword compounds the danger factor exponentially. I had a friend named Kali’ma (not her real name) who was a great dancer. She used a real sword and kept the edges sharp. She’d test it out every once in a while when she had to chop vegetables in her kitchen. I didn’t need to pick up her sword to know how sharp it was – I saw her cut herself during several different performances over the years. When blood runs, you know the sword is real.

One year I was a judge for a belly dance contest in Chicago, and Kali’ma was one of the contestants. For her performance, she did her sword dance. As a judge, I was sitting in the very first row, right in front of the stage. I got a little nervous when I first saw Kali’ma pull out her sword, but that was nothing compared to how I felt when she held the hilt in one hand in front of her and started spinning like a whirling dervish. At that point (no pun intended) I realized that if the sword slipped out of her sweaty little paw, I could end up like Marie Antoinette. I instinctively sunk low in my chair and kept my head down. At the end of her dance, I breathed a sigh of relief and looked around. To my surprise, the entire section of audience behind me had noticed my reaction, figured out Kali’ma’s sword was real, and hunkered down too!

I advocate individual choice when it comes to bellydancing styles. However, if a dancer really wants to dance with a sharp sword, I think it’s better she does it in private or else is very, very careful (as Kali’ma always was). Whether I’m bellydancing with a sword or sitting in an audience, a decorative sword that just looks like the real thing is edgy enough for me.

(The subject of this blog was suggested by my friend and student, Alicia Brown – kudos also to Kali’ma!)

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