How to Choose and Use Isis Wings

Purists look down on Isis Wings, because they are not Middle Eastern.  So where do Isis Wings come from?

It's possible they were inspired by the Serpentine Dance, made famous by Loie Fuller way back in the 1920's.  Chorus girls in the Las Vegas shows and dancers at Caribbean Carnivals were using versions in the fifties and sixties, so that's another possible source.  Whatever the source, it certainly wasn't Egypt and they are still not used in the Middle East today.

However, if you are a Western dancer performing in a restaurant or at a function, Isis wings  can be a Godsend!  So often during a meal, the audience can be too busy chatting and eating to notice you. Make your entrance with a pair of huge rainbow wings shimmering around you, and see how quickly they sit up and take notice!

Many dancers are intimidated by the size of Isis Wings, but there's no need to be. They can be effective used in the simplest of ways - often, less is more.    Look at the video below, for instance. Notice how impressive the opening seconds are, even though the dancer is only just moving the sticks to make the wings vibrate.

 

Isis Wings Technique

There are a couple of basic secrets to good Isis Wing technique.

  1. Regard the sticks as an extension of your arms. Your teacher has probably told you not to let your hands flop when you're dancing, but to keep the back of your hand in line with your arm. The same applies to your sticks - try to keep a straight line all the way from your shoulder to the tip of the stick. There are exceptions for some movements, of course - but if you start with this rule, you can feel confident your moves will look elegant.
  2. Move the stick in a figure of eight. Never move the stick (forward, back, up or down) in a straight line. Instead, trace a figure of eight with the point of the stick. That makes all the difference between making beautiful shapes with your wings, and just flapping!
  3. Vary your speed. The same move can look very different at different speeds, because the air catches your wings in different ways.

The dancer in the next video is not a belly dancer, nor is she using Isis wings, nor is this belly dance choreography.  I've chosen it purely to illustrate the effect of the "figure eight" action. Notice how straight her arms are.

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Remember to Dance!

I have to say I find 90% of dances with wings terminally boring.   I go to a belly dance performance to watch a belly dancer channel the music expressively through her body - not to watch her flapping bits of material around.  When choreographing your Isis Wings routine, please try not to get so obsessed with the wings that you forget to dance!   Put the wings down and try dancing the routine on its own - you may be surprised how little real dancing you're doing.  Ask yourself, are you a belly dancer or a windmill?

Isis Wings can look absolutely fabulous used properly.  This video is an interesting interpretation which tells a story:

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How to Choose Your Isis Wings

There are two basic types of Isis wings.

Traditional wings are huge. Notice how big they look compared to the dancer in this photo! They're just two wings joined in the middle by a strip of material. The strip of material simply sits along your collarbone and drapes over your shoulders. It sounds insecure, but so long you're holding your sticks, it's not difficult to keep in place. However, you can never let go of the sticks or your wings will fall off!

Because the range of movements you can make with Isis wings is actually quite limited, dancers wanted wings they could pick up or drop at will. This led to the development of Isis wings attached to a Velcro collar.

These wings also had to have shorter sticks, so the ends wouldn't drag on the ground when the dancer wasn't using them. Of course, that meant the wings also had to become much smaller.

This next video shows an example of the lighter, smaller wings. They do enable you to add more variety to your choreography, but you can see they are much less dramatic, too.

Which type of wing you prefer will depend on your circumstances - what style you dance and where.  If you're buying wings online, check the size before you buy!   Amera's Palace usually stocks the shorter wings in a range of colours.

It is possible, though not necessary easy, to shorten Isis Wings if they're a bit too big - find the instructions here.

If you're part of a troupe, then the sensible thing is to match your wings to the rest of the group. Smaller wings are better for ensemble numbers - those sticks can be dangerous at close range!

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4 Responses

  1. Jenny says:

    What is the difference between open wings and 360°wings

  2. Thea says:

    360° wings are the conventional Isis wings, made of one big piece of material. They fan out behind you like a big cloak. I’m not sure why they are called 360° because they are not a complete circle!

    Open wings or opening wings are made of two separate pieces of material. I hadn’t seen them used much until recently. They are more versatile because you can move each wing independently, but they don’t look as spectacular because the bottom edge can lift.

  3. Saranya says:

    I have 360 wings, and i would prefer them to be opening. Can i open up the seam which connects them?
    Thank you

    • Thea says:

      You can try, but I hope you are good at sewing! You’ll need to unpick the seam and then hem the two raw edges. If they are made of lamé, that can be a nightmare. It’s slippery, melts if you press it, and frays very quickly. The best plan is to buy Fray Check and use that all along the edge, before you even try sewing it. Even experienced costume makers curse lamé!

      The only other thing I’d say is, you may be disappointed with the result. If you know someone else who has open wings, check the measurements of theirs compared to yours. Also look at the weight of the material. You want your wings to open, not curl up. Look at this image and notice how the bottom edges of the wings are flying up – and this is a marketing image meant to show them off at their best!

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