Double Sword Dance

Marriot Hotel, Amman Jordon

The legends of a certain Moroccan coastal tribe say that once, when the men were away at war, the home village was taken by enemies. That night the women of the village danced to entertain these new conquerors. Their performance was so mesmerizing that the warriors allowed them to use their swords in the dance. As the captivating dancers stole the hearts of their audience, they also took their weapons. When enough of the swords had been gathered, the seductresses turned them on their disappointed admirers and held them prisoner until their own soldiers returned.

That is one of the stories of the origin of sword dancing as it is done in middle eastern dance. The women who captured the enemy soldiers were considered heroes, and were honored (by a tribe that made much use of symbolic tattoos) with a specific tattoo worn on the forehead, down close to the eyes. The tradition of sword dancing among Moroccan tribes has been handed down through the generations.

Handle with Respect
If you were thinking of borrowing from this tradition and dancing with a sword, always handle it with respect. Remember that it is a weapon—its purpose is to cut. Never touch the edge of the blade (even though in your stage version it may be blunted) for that will destroy the illusion of all that the sword symbolizes: Power, grace, masculine energy. It is the tool that draws the line between life and death.

Before you buy a sword, make sure it balances well. Dancing with the sword balanced on your head is the heart and soul of the Moroccan Sword Dance. Before you try dancing with it, get used to walking with the sword on your head. It is okay if it rocks a little; it is not supposed to be perfectly still. Learn how much movement you can sustain without dropping the sword. As you start to really dance with it, you will learn how to use that movement to your advantage.

Slow Music
Sword dancing is usually done with very slow music; perhaps chiftetelli or tasqim. With the sword still on your head, start doing a couple of your chiftetelli steps; use hip circles and chest circles—a series of hip circles followed by a series of chest circles, then alternate between them. Add other slow movements as you get comfortable—belly rolls, and Egyptian arms. Try not to hit the sword with your arms while it is balanced on your head. If your arms do touch the sword, don't panic: let it rock and come back to center. If necessary, use both hands to adjust the sword.

You can introduce the sword into your dance at the beginning of the piece by dancing with it in your hands. (If you have ever heard The Sword Dance on Dream Dancer by Light Rain—the piece Maria Masselos uses for her candelabra dance—Doug used to play that drone at the intro for as long as I danced with the sword in my hands. He would start the chiftetelli rhythm the instant I placed the sword on my head.

Sword Movements
There are many things you can do while holding the sword: hold it with both hands high over your head (do not touch the cutting edge); spin with it held that way; caress the underside of the blade. Some dancers like to balance it on their hip or their arm, or you may even want to do some martial slicing motions; but I prefer the beauty of balancing the power rather than demonstrating aggression.

Advanced Techniques
After you have balanced the sword on your head and you have gone through some of your basic slow movements, there are some more advanced techniques of sword dancing you may want to try: floor work and spins. With the sword balanced on your head, it is possible to do backbends and a whole repertoire of movements on the floor, as long as your head stays upright. From a standing position, spins can be performed slowly with the sword following the body around. You can gradually build up momentum and then stop, allowing the sword to keep spinning half way around several times. This takes much practice, and you should never try to perform it until you have done it hundreds of times privately. At best, if the sword falls, you will probably grab it by the blade, ruining the illusion of its ability to cut (or there would be fingers on the floor); at worst it could hit somebody and really hurt them.

Blood on the Floor
Sword dancing doesn not work perfectly every time, no matter how much you have trained with it. Once I was performing with Light Rain in a very crowded nightclub. I was on a slightly raised stage with the musicians seated next to me on the hour. I spun and stopped; the audience gasped as the sword kept spinning and then fell point down in the tiny space between the violinist and the drummer—and my sword is heavy with a sharp point! Miraculously, nobody was hurt, and no instruments were damaged. The incident taught me a humility and respect her the sword, even as an object for dance, that we should all cultivate every time we pick one up.

Sword dancing is not for everyone. If you choose to practice this, remember that when you dance with a sword you are an image of Shiva; and remember the seductive heroines who disarmed the men who would have dominated them.

(Written by De Ann, Volume 1, Number 2, November 1995—The Sistrum)


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