Snake Dancing

Comments, questions and responses regarding this particular style of Middle Eastern dance, posted on the medance mailinglist which is publicly archived in the Dancer's Archive.

Comments and Tips

Snake dancing is not really a Middle Eastern tradition. I believe the origins were most likely from India, where temple dancers would dance with snakes as part of their worship. Now some modern American belly dancers work snakes into the act in a few different ways.

I like to start with the snake in a basket. Lots can be done just with how you carry the basket onto the stage and presenting the basket, before you take the snake out. The snake should be removed from the basket slowly, and other moves done with the snake should also be slow. Snakes, especially the large pythons and boas that are often used by belly dancers, don't like spins or fast moves. I have heard all sorts of horror stories; a snake threw up on a dancer after a spin, a snake bit a dancer in the nose when she tried to force it to stretch out, a snake pooped on the dancer on stage, a snake went flying into the audience during a spin, a snake died from heat and dehydration during an all day outdoor event. My own personal horror story is not too bad, considering. I was dancing with a 10' Burmese Python and allowed the snake to slide to the ground. When practicing the snake would slowly move away, but on stage he panicked and as he got to the floor he took offf for the edge of the stage. I ended up moving very fast and grabbed the snake as he tried to throw his body off the stage. The whole first row of the audience was moving pretty fast too.

I have seen some dancers try to force a snake into some sort of choreography. This is rarely successful, although a friend and I were able to get 2 pythons to cooperate fairly well in a duet. Some dancers will use the snake as a prop, like they would use a veil or cane. These IMO [In My Opinion] don't come off very well either. IMO when the snake is onstage the dancer should treat it as the star of the show. The snake should be allowed to do what it wants and the dancer should follow. The snake should only be on stage for a short time. Some of what can be done depends on the snake. There is very little that I can do with my 12', 50 pound Python. I can do lots of things with my 6' Rainbow Boa. If I was going to dance with my 12' Python I would keep the routine under 5 minutes and include lots of floor work, letting the snake slide over me while I keep still. With the Rainbow Boa I can do a much longer routine, starting with the snake in the basket and often going into a veil routine after carrying the basket on stage and using the veil to present the basket. Removing the snake from the basket can be a very slow and dramatic process all by itself, and should not be rushed. Some snakes like to stretch out and move around, other snakes like to wrap around the dancer's arm or neck and stay there. Snakes that move around look better on stage usually and the dancer can move while following the snake. Some moves that I use are snake arms and hands, backbends while holding the snake up so it moves down towards my face, posing while the snake moves down my body to the ground, and floorwork. Sometimes I can convince a snake to stay around my hips while I do some slow hip work.

I have some personal do's and don'ts for snake dancing. Target the audience. American audiences really like it, others may not. This is not traditional Middle Eastern dance. Don't snake dance in restaurants. Keep it on a stage and don't let the audience get too close. Have an announcer tell people that they can expect to see a snake, especially in an indoor area. It's very dramatic to pull the snake out of the basket when no one expects it, but some people are deathly afraid of snakes. You don't want someone in the front row having a heart attack during your performance do you? Even when warned, I've seen people in the audience run from the room when the snake comes out. Think about the snake. Make sure you can keep it warm enough, without letting it get overheated. Think about how you are going to get it to the show, and how you are going to get it home again, and what it's going to stay in backstage. Think about your feeding schedule. I find the snakes do better if they are just a little bit hungry. This way they are more acive, and the chances of getting pooped on or thrown up on are much less. Don't dance with a snake that is getting ready to shed. Not only are they blind and grumpy during the pre-shed phase, the skin is sensitive and easily torn. Not only could you injure the snake, your chances of getting bitten by a usually docile snake go way up. Think about your costume and keep it simple. Don't give the snake lots of jewelery to tangle into, or belts that it can grab and break, or sequins that catch in the scales, or use colors that clash with the pattern. Don't keep the snake out longer than necessary. After you come off stage lots of people will want to see the snake, hold the snake, pet the snake, etc. The snake will not appreciate a crowd of people pinching and poking at it, and it's not fair to other dancers who are on stage while the audience is crowded around you and your snake.

Rebecca of the Rose - who has been snake dancing for about 10 years

Is there a Middle Eastern cultural connection, at least?


Dear Rebecca, wonderful comments on snake dancing...but, are you sure that the probable connection to early cults using snakes doesn't make it authentic? Like Philip of Macedonia's wife, or the Turkish cults which still venerate the snake. Not necessarily as a stage piece, of course, but a definite cultural connection.



Well when you put it like that, ...No I'm not sure that there is no connection or that it is not an authentic tradition. The origins of snake dancing/snake worship are very ancient. Snake worship is fairly common and has occured in many cultures worldwide. Snake dancing is not necessarily a part of the snake worship, though. In India, however, snake dancing was (is?) definitely a part of snake worship. Certainly Indian dance has influenced modern belly dance as well, particularly in some arm movements. So I think maybe the connection is there, but the roots are still from Indian influences on ancient cultures.

I have a postcard of Horacio posing with snakes, and have seen many American dancers use snakes. I don't know of any modern Egyptian cabaret dancers that use snakes, though. Alexandra King cast a snake into her show 'Seraglio', but with a snake charmer rather than a snake dancer.

Rebecca of the Rose

Do Middle Easterners like/do it?


Some questions for the non-Americans or more widely traveled Americans out there: How common is snake dancing? Has anyone seen much/any snake dancing outside of the USA? If you see it, is it well received? Where was it and how were snakes used? Has anyone seen snakes used by dancers from the Middle East?

Rebecca of the Rose


...most of my Middle Eastern friends are frightened by snakes and get *real* uneasy when snakes appear on stage. I remember in a Lebanese club in Seattle an American dancer, before her performance, placed a closed wicker basket at the edge of the stage, about a foot from a table occupied by three Egyptians. Twenty minutes later, when she removed a snake during her performance, they all jumped up--one guy ran to the men's room and was quick sick... --jj--


I don't know of any modern Egyptian cabaret dancers that use snakes.
I've never seen an Egyptian/Lebanese cabaret dancer using a snake either or a sword/veil/zills/stick the way we do in Western countries. A friend of mine just back from Egypt said that the locals preferred overseas dancers because they were more interesting and theatrical and better trained dancers than the locals. So much for trying to get that authentic minimalist movement look.
I think the dislike for snakes is definitely more prevalent with Middle Eastern people I have spoken to... --jeroen--

Other Sources of Information

Mesmera, Delilah and Eva Cernik have videos out featuring snake dancing performances and/or instruction; ordering info is on my Video page. Others may also have snake dancing videos too; the above are the ones I've heard mentioned.

Last Modified: 15 Jun 1997
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