I’ll never forget my first sword. It was a Christmas present, and it felt like magic to me every time I slipped it out of its sheath. But there’s something I see all too often in the dance community that always ruins the magic of a sword performance for me. It’s when the performer herself kills that magic by handling the sword like a cheap movie prop.
It’s one of my biggest pet peeves as a performer, instructor, mentor, and audience member.
My early performance experience was not just in dance – I was a band geek too. Colorguard captain and everything. I even marched drum corps for a brief stint (shout out to DCI nerds who know what I’m talking about). I’m telling you this because we used sabres in colorguard, and even though we were spinning them and tossing them and handling them pretty roughly in show at times, we were trained to treat our weapons like WEAPONS. We cleaned them, taped them, adjusted them to find their balance point regularly. We transported them in equipment bags and never tossed them aside (unless it was scripted as such in the show) like a cheap prop. (They weren’t cheap either, just like a good bellydance sword!)
My first teacher shared that attitude by always responding to audience members who asked “Is it real?” with “Yes, it’s a real sword but it has not been sharpened.” When I converted from my smaller Indian-style sabre to the larger, more pointed balady scimitar, I proved the point (literally) in the middle of a show, when the sword tilted off balance and I caught it in an odd way as it was digging the point into my stomach. A guy in the audience pointed out the blood spot to me after I took my bow.
Regardless of whether it’s physically dangerous or not, it has always felt like a no-brainer to treat my sword with dignity and respect. It’s part of the whole illusion of our performance. You don’t work your butt off to execute these moves beautifully, spend two hours donning your exotic costume and makeup and put on a flawless show just to sit around before or after in plain view of the audience drinking a cold one and scratching your bits and complaining about your mysterious rash, right? The audience wants to think of you as someone else, that they are somewhere else, and that this whole situation is SOMETHING else!
So extend that allure and mystery to your sword, for the love of bellydance.
Here are my 6 rules for sword etiquette:
When not in use, transport it in its sheath or make a beautiful fabric bag for it.
Don’t toss it on the ground before or after the routine – place it gently in its position with both hands.
Maintain the illusion of handling a sharp weapon – handle it during your routine deliberately, delicately, but powerfully.
Never grasp the blade with your hand. Instead, grip the hilt and rest the bottom of the blade gingerly on your other hand’s outstretched thumb, with the other 4 fingers lifted away from the blade. Here’s a photo of Adrianne with her sword, showing off her perfect sword grip and her beautiful baby bump…
5. Don’t jump right into balance work – take a few minutes to introduce the prop to the audience by showing it off, holding it at different angles, and work those poses! The build-up helps with the illusion of danger and difficulty.
6. IF you’re going to allow the audience to inspect or handle your sword, wait until after the show (so that it’s a surprise during the show) and don’t let folks swing it around or drop it. Stay with them and show them the appropriate way to handle your weapon.
These rules are just MY personal rules, so of course feel free to ignore them or think they’re stupid. And don’t forget that breaking rules is what takes art to whole new levels. So of course I won’t rag on a dancer for making her entrance with the sword already balanced on her head and spinning around and around and whipping that badboy like it’s light as a feather. That would be badass because it’s not the norm….and because they aren’t light or easy to balance, am I right? Anyway, that’s the end of my rant about sword etiquette.
*This is not a paid or sponsored blog.