Shems

Sword Tips, Tricks and Guidelines

Bedouin Women's sword dance at a wedding- Jerusalem 1900-1920

Shems’s Sword Guidelines

1 – Your sword is a dangerous weapon, treat it that way. Do not curl your fingers over the sharp edge of the blade (even if yours is not sharp), I don’t even like the look of a pinch hold on a sharp edge. It is up to you to show the audience how dangerous your weapon is. Don’t do anything to ruin the illusion for them. Protect the safety of your audience and yourself. Even if your sword is a more blunt decorative style, rule one still fully applies. You need to know what the “sharp” edges of your blade are.

2 – Your sword is not a hat. The sword is an incredibly versatile prop, don’t make the mistake of dropping it on your head as you begin and forgetting about it as you dance around. I hate seeing a dancer’s sword bobble around on her head as though she were completely unaware that she has an extremely dangerous weapon up there about to bounce off and cut somebody. Instead make the sword your dance partner and really show off your skill in utilizing the blade in a broad variety of ways.

3 – No swinging your sword about recklessly, or at all, unless you are very sure of your hilt. There are actually two reasons I’m not fond of a lot of sword swinging, specifically in an cane swinging style. First, refer to rule one, I’ve seen dancers come dangerously close to slicing their calf open with the point of their very curved large scimitars, and I do not want to see your blood. Second, sword blades, particularly less expensive decorative swords many dancers use have been known to become detached from their hilt (It has happened to me). If this does happen you don’t it to be while you are swinging your sword around wildly. Shems’s approved exceptions: a) You may swing your blade cane style if you are absolutely sure of your hilt, it makes sense for the character of your piece (ex. Yasmina’s Khaleegy Sword), it is in control, and you are using a style of sword you know wont cut into your calf on it’s way around. b) You may incorporate, in control, big swings for dramatic effect.

4 – Create power with the forgotten arm. We often utilize only one arm to manipulate the sword, but the other arm and the rest of the body for that matter can sometimes be forgotten. Use your free body parts to frame, complement and add dimension to your sword technique.

5 – Carve Space. The sword has a beautiful linear quality to it. I love it when a dancer intentionally utilizes that quality to draw arcing lines from movement to movement. Also how a dancer forms the negative space between her body and the blade from moment to moment in a sword dance. Paying attention to the particular curve of your blade can and should influence how it moves through space about your person.

6 – Power and drama. There is no better time to bask in the drama than when dancing with a dangerous weapon. Lift those arms, flex those muscles, extend those lines, use your power.

Tips and Tricks

  • Use beeswax on the balance point, hairspray on your hair or a scarf to help keep the blade from slipping.
  • gracefully going from balance point to balance point
    • roll fingers to switch balance point
    • arm to hip
    • two hands to head
    • bent arm to hand
  • invisible head adjust using arms
  • using arms to start and stop spins
  • use the scabbard, if you have one, for a dramatic reveal and to create double sword like shapes before discarding the scabbard to dance with just the sword
  • wait for the right moment to release the hands from the head balance, maybe toy with the balance, play it up, everyone was waiting for this moment
  • if dancing in small spaces, protect your audiences by extending your arms beyond the point of the sword in turns or other movements where you might be close to audience or staff
  • also for small spaces, plant one foot in a spin and paddle around it to avoid unintentional traveling – see image of feet in a paddle spin in appendix C
  • try spotting the back of your hand in a spin with the sword on your head to avoid dizziness

Shems with Sword

Sword Care

These care tips assume you have a steel blade, if you have a chrome blade, you just need to keep it clean and stored properly, copper and brass treat more or less the same as steel, but you would use a cleaner appropriate for your metal, like brasso for brass.

  • Keep your sword clean. Keep a cloth in your dance bag to wipe down your blade after each performance. The natural oils from your skin will corrode the blade over time. Ideally it is best to wipe down the blade with an oiled cloth (which you can keep in a ziplock bag) coating it with a thin layer of gun oil, mineral oil or sewing machine oil to protect the surface. It is also best to store it oiled. If you do this, you will want to make sure you wipe your blade clean from the oil before performing with it.
  • Store in a dry environment, you can hang it on hooks on the wall, keep it sealed in a plastic bag or lay it between clean dry towels in a non-moist environment.
    Do not store your sword in a leather scabbard as that will hold moisture next to the blade and cause corrosion, also do not store your sword anywhere where moisture might get trapped next to the blade.
  • it is preferable to store your blade on it’s balance point, on a sword rack, or hanging by the hilt from a hook, do not store it leaned up against anything or the blade may bent and warp over time. If it is lying flat, make certain not to stack anything on top of it and give it a surface with adequate support to prevent warping.
  • If your blade starts to show signs of corrosion, you may clean it with WD-40, mineral oil or Nevr-Dull and one of those green kitchen dish scrubbers, (I recommend the ones without the sponge attached.) After cleaning you may choose to seal it with Renaissance Wax.
  • I don’t recommend scoring your sword at the balance point. It causes unnecesary damage to the blade and may make it less confortable for your head. It might also cut at your hair. Instead use some beeswax at the balance point to create a little extra friction to help keep it balanced. If you are using it, scrape off and reapply fresh beeswax before each performance.

Poses and Planes

  • the light reflecting plane of the flat side of a blade makes for great posing material
  • play with framing both inside the line of the body and outside, highlighting both human curves and movements
  • there are many many possibilities, I’ve photographed Tydirah demonstrating just a few, please see appendix A and appendix C.

Balance Points

Head, crossways head, chin, one finger tip, several finger tips, palm, back of hand, forearm, one shoulder, both shoulders, bent arm, hip, belly, thigh, shin, (slightly less classy, but still possibilities in the right context: breasts and bum.) I’ve toyed with a foot balance, but to make that look good, one needs real finesse.

There are so many possibilities, that it can be great fun to mix it up, the thing to think about is how to gracefully transition between, frame, maintain and show off the balances to maximum effect. See photos of Tydirah in appendix B

Recommended Resources

Belladonna Double SwordBelladonna’s Sword Stylization DVD
Just a great sword DVD.

local resource for sword cases here in Baltimore:
Warrior Emporium
1228 Light St
Baltimore, MD 21230

Swords and Finger Cymbals – Buying Advice

Short Article: Sword And Balancing Dances

4 Comments »

  1. Wow! I couldn’t have said this better myself! Thank you for posting such a comprehensive article about the subject of sword! I will be sure to include the link on my notes for the sword workshop I’m teaching next weekend!

    Comment by Serafina — October 26, 2012 @ 4:25 pm

  2. Thank you so much for posting this. Everydancer should read this!

    Comment by Nicole Raven — October 27, 2012 @ 3:36 am

  3. [...] For some great tips on working with sword – including the classic advice, “don’t treat your sword like a hat”! – visit Shemsdance.com [...]

    Pingback by Belly Dance Sword: Dancing with Danger? : BellyDanceOz — November 15, 2012 @ 9:02 am

  4. […] For some great tips on working with sword – including the classic advice, “don’t treat your sword like a hat”! – visit Shemsdance.com […]

    Pingback by Belly Dance Sword: Dancing with Danger? | BellyDanceOz.com — September 25, 2013 @ 1:11 am

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