Who’s Dancing, You or the Props?
Props are an essential part of belly dancing, but remember - you're a belly dancer, not a magician or a rhythmic gymnast!
One veil looks lovely, so ten must be BETTER! One cane is nice, I need FLAMING ONES! I also enjoy quilting, so I had better tie myself up with artistic shreds of fabric to EXPRESS MYSELF! I collect dragon figurines so I'm inventing DRAGONWINGSOFISIS!
Just because you can, does not mean you should."
Thanks to Jane for the above quote, which sums up the dangers of props! Props can add an extra dimension to a belly dance performance, when their use is kept in proportion.
As a dancer, you express the music through your eyes, your face, your body, your gestures, and your focus is on connecting with the audience. All props get in the way of that to some extent: they affect how freely you can move, they affect where your gaze is, and the extra concentration can affect your facial expression. So it takes a lot of skill to keep dancing properly while manipulating a prop. Here's another quote from Walladah:
Wings and veils are the props which are the most revealing about the dancer's skill and imagination: most people when they use them, just walk doing things with them, as if they are saying "look, this is the new veil I bought yesterday".
Every dancer should try putting their prop down and dancing their choreography without it - they might get a shock at how boring their routine is! This sword routine by Sydney belly dancer Rachel is a good example of how an experienced dancer can do it right. Take away the sword in this routine and sure, it would be obvious that something is missing. But even without the sword, Rachel's routine has plenty of interesting movement, light and shade.
Teachers can be guilty, too. I understand instructors wanting to keep their students engaged by adding variety to their classes - but when you hand a student a sword or a pair of wings, you're giving them the message, "you know how to belly dance now, it's time to move on to props". That has to be the wrong message to give a beginner or intermediate student! There is so much to learn in belly dance, more than enough to keep a student interested for years without even touching a prop - I wish more teachers would have the confidence in the dance's ability to fascinate on its own.
I also understand why props are an essential element of professional performances. Whether you're dancing or not doesn't matter to some non-bellydancing audiences - they're just blown away by the overall sensory experience, the colour, movement and drama created by fan veils, wings or swords. And at a restaurant or wedding, where you're fighting with many other distractions, you need to make a big statement to get their attention. But at a hafla, it's different - because you're dancing to an audience that's there because they love the dance. Why hide behind props? Don't you believe your dancing is strong enough to impress the audience? If not, what are you doing on that stage?