Veil Dancing

Middle Eastern or American?

"Floorwork is NOT an American invention: 'veilwork' & 'fan dancing' ARE... 'Veilwork' is a total American invention/fantasy, started by: 1) those who didn't have enough of a dance repertoire to do a full-length show & 2) 'Dance of the 7 Veils'/'veiled harem cuties' fantasies. (Doesn't mean I don't like/disapprove of 'veilwork' or that I haven't done it myself. I've seen veilwork so beautiful that it made me cry on more than one occasion....) "Sorry to have to burst THAT baloon." --Morocco

"It is my understanding that veil dancing, as Americans know it, is a 20th century addition to the dance. Though Egyptians enter with the veil, it is not wrapped, and it is not used in the same manner. The American version of unwrapping the veil is actually considered a strip tease move by some Arabs( because you are *taking something off*). The addition of veil tosses, double veil, and the extensive vocabulary of veil work was developed by Americans to keep the audiences attention during the longer shows." --Zulaika

Historical Wearing-of-Veil Connection

"I have a picture of a Persian minature dated late 16th century. The picture is called "Akbar entertained by dancers" from the Warren Hastings Album, source is Treasures of Persian Art after Islam by Mehdi Mahboubian, 1970, Plantin Press, New York. The picture features two dancers dancing with the rhythm sticks we talked about on the list not long ago -- but both have veils across their shoulders that are floating behind them. They are not doing anything other than wearing them...." --Cheshme Bulbul

"Along with Cheshme Bulbul's example of two dancers there is also an example of a wall painting from the harem of the Jausaq Palace at Samarra, 833-841. It depicts two female dancers pouring water into basins. They both are obvisously wearing losely draped veils across their upper arms. For those who might be interested there is a good black & white copy in Islamic Art by David Talbot Rice.

"The other example is to be found in Jennifer Scarce's book Women's Costumine of the Near and Middle East. She shows a girl who is tightly grasping her head veil. For those of us who dance this minature painting is one of the closest connections to the "Wear it & take it off" American style of veil dancing. I can almost see her next step of removing it However it is only a painting captured in time. It is a single figure study, Isfahan, 1630.

"Now that I have started to think, there is also another, though not as well shown of two dancers with one veil between them. There is an illustrated book known as 'The book of Songs'. It is very rare. One of the chapter illustrations depicts a group of females in ritual dance. There is also a copy of this to be found in Rice's Islamic Art. I believe it was done in early 1200, maybe 1216 0r 17." --Thais Banu

"Persian miniatures are rife with pictures of women dancing with 'veils' -- what look to be long, thin strips of material. It is most often seen as Thais described, draped across the forearms. I can't give specific dates, but it's definitely period if you're talking in terms of the SCA.

I saw an old video of persian dances (no idea what it was, or where it came from -- there was also a video of dances of Central Asia -- looked sort of 70's with odd video affects, and poetry was read during some songs--anybody know what this is? Or if it's still available?) and there were a few dances done with this sort of veil -- if I recall correctly they twirled it a lot and generally used it as a prop -- quite different from what I envisioned from looking at persian miniatures." --Zimra

Dance of the Seven Veils and Salome

Is there really a dance called "Dance of the Seven Veils"? I am not sure where I heard that from, if I read it or what, but I was wondering about it, is it authentic, what music, what is the dance, and maybe most of all, where the heck do you put SEVEN veils? Also, is Salome [the name associated with she who asks for John the Baptist's head on a platter in return for dancing for King Herod] historically connected to Belly Dance?
"What goes around comes back around. It doesn't look like this controversy plans to ever die. Since I sometimes feel like I've been dancing forever and I'm a packrat to boot, I went and dug up my best-remembered reading on this subject from Southern Dancer 1983, the precursor of Middle Eastern dancer/M.E.D. which is now defunct. In a thread running through several issues Yasmina Mahal researched into the nebulous roots of the Dance of the Seven Veils--the Seven Gates of Ishtar, the Seven Chakras of Yoga, the Biblical references to Herodias' daughter (never named and no veils or dance descriptions given by Matthew 14:6-11 or Mark 6:21-28). Morocco refuted the origin of this dance as coming from the Middle East. She recounted several anecdotes which are interesting. Entering with a veil or cape was started by Anna Ivanovna, Russian ballet teacher of King Farouk's daughters, who taught it to Samia Gamal (Anna got it from Caucasian dance). Morocco attributed the Dance of the Seven Veils to the Saint- Saens opera "Salome" based, perhaps, on Oscar Wilde's play (1893) of the same name. American veil dancing came from Loie Fuller, Mary Garden, etc. in the early 1900s. Morocco also included reference to a luncheon she had with Samia Gamal and Tahiya Carioca in which they both said they had never seen veilwork in their long careers (wish I'd been a fly on *that* wall)." --Azar

"One day I hope to do some serious research on this topic! It has all sorts of fascinating symbolism (the chakras and 7 gates to the underworld etc.), which is one thing not to forget -- behind the images of seduction there lie images of completion and feminine power. I am pretty sure that Salome is named in fairly early scholarly or apocryphal writings about the New Testament. We tend to forget that we're not the only people who ever wanted to learn (or create) more sense about the things that were important to us -- there are a lot of writings about the bible that scholars and religious types produced over centuries, that became enshrined in popular consciousness, but are not in the text of the Bible. Just doing a brief biblio scan of a local research library, I came up with a reference to a female preacher born in 1807 whose name was Salome Mowry, from which I figure that Salome was a known 'biblical' name (though why you would name your daughter that I don't know, but then Hepzebah and Jezebel are strange but attested choices too).

"So probably Salome was named as the dancer a long time ago. Now does this mean that the dance was also further defined? No idea, but it's probably possible to find out.

"I believe Oscar Wilde says only, as a stage direction [in his play Salome], 'Salome performs the dance of the seven veils' or similar language. Very stark. So he could be tossing out a tease -- what an interesting name, what does it mean? Leaving it all to the prurient imagination. Or, he could be refering to some- thing that people already know. In a good research library, with annotated texts, it shouldn't take but a few hours to find out -- It's a good thing we all have so much free time! (NOT) ;-) ;-) ;-)

"The dances of the 7 veils done in the USA are definitely an American (or maybe European) invention -- but certainly popularized in America. The author of *Where She Danced* (Elizabeth Kendrick, maybe?) has a great chapter on the Salome craze in the USA; apparently there was also a big lawsuit over libel directed as Maud Allen, the most popular Salome performer, by the 'religious right' of the day, which accused her of lesbianism and other such 'Moral crimes'. I don't know how it turned out! But I can probably find the reference -- *after* the semester is over and I move into a new house (OY!).

"There are so many dances from virtually every culture where women wear cloth, depicting communal or individual expressive dances with the veil, that I have a hard time believing no one in the middle east ever danced with veils, because frankly that would make them about the only ones. On the other hand, it is pretty unlikely that any original middle eastern veil dance looked a lot like what we do now or what Samia Gamal did in the 40's.

"But if dancing with a veil, or self-identifying as one who carries, is draped in, or disgards a veil, is so alien to middle eastern culture, why did it make such a hit and why is the veil still so much a part of the aesthetic? There must be some symbolic value intrinsic to the culture that makes it so vital and meaningful, and if the symbolic value is already there, my guess would be that in some form, the dance was there, even if it was waving a scarf in the privacy of your own harem.

"The scraps of info I hear about original Middle Eastern veil dancing, seem to me to be Persian or possibly Eastern European, as opposed to Egyptian.

"I would have loved to be a fly on the wall at Rocky's conversation with Samia Gamal etc. as well! Wow! One thing about oral informants is that people often speak with different understandings of what they're saying, or with different perceptions of reality. Did they mean they had never seen anyone anywhere doing, say, a dance step with her veil pulled tight across her hips, or never seen anyone dancing with a lovely scarf in the light, or never known any manipulation of fabric in a symbolic way from a dancer? Or did they mean that they had never seen anyone do the kind of performance thay were doing, with plentiful theatrical use of a big piece of chiffon? I would believe the latter before I'd believe that no one ever danced with anything like a veil. Rocky would know best about her informants, though. But as any anthropologist would tell you, you have to be very careful about how you read what your informants are telling you, because they may be speaking a different symbolic language (as well as a literal one!)" --Andrea Deagon

"...The book, _Radif-E Raqs: Collection of Dance Sequences of the Persian Tradition_, by Katherine St. John, Mahera Harouny and Lloyd Miller, mentions a dance called "raqs-e haft dastmal" (dance of the seven scarves). It is a dance of the Qashqai, a semi-nomadic tribe living in villages around Shiraz in Fars province. Unfortunately the book does not give a detailed description of the dance. It would be interesting to know if this, or some other traditional dance, was the source for Oscar Wilde when he included the Dance of the Seven Veils in his play, _The Tragedy of Salome_. One would think, with all that has been written on Wilde and his works, that some scholar has previously investigated this question." --Donna Carlton


"I have never written anything on the 'net', so I am not sure who will bereading this. But I have told that my name comes up every once in a while and so I thought I would reply to a few comments that are being made about the 'Dance of the Seven Veils'.

First of all, my friend, Paul Popowitz mentioned a dancer, Bonita Oteri, who did a 'Dance of the Seen Veils' in my recital recently. He said that I said that it symbolized the shedding of self-delusions and the revealing of the true self. This was Bonita's interpretation of what the dance menat TO HER and has nothing to do with my opinion of the myth of this dance. Bonita did a wonderful job with her own creation of this dance. Paul misunderstood me when I was announcing Bonita's dance. I was reading a quote from her about her choreography.

"I have been researching the history of the veil for 16 years and wrote a 200 page paper on the subject. This research describes many aspects of the veil, as an item of clothing, a means of oppression, Islam and the veil, ancient people who veiled long before the existance of Islam, ancient Christians who veiled, the veiling of men, the history of the bridal veil, the veiling of holy objects, the veling of those with divine wisdom, the veil in ritual and dance, veiling and spiritual transformation, the ancient maenads who danced with veils, veil dancing and the initiation rites for the cult of Dionysius, veil dancing in ancient Greece, the dance of the seven veils, the veil and Oriental dance, veil dancing in North Africa and the Middle East and some basics in veil dancing. There are 300 illustrations, most of which are from my collectionnn of antique pictures of women and dances from North Africa and the Middle East.

"I wanted to find a spiritual significance and historic root to the 'Dance of the Seven Veils'. I had heard of it growing up and wanted to know more. I hoped that there was some meaningful, ancient significance to this. I searched for 16 years on England, France, Germany, Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Turkey, Spain, Greece and the U.S. I have two masters degrees and have spent 25 years doing serious research on Oriental dance and ancient dance history. I do meticulous (really more like obsessive compulsive) research. I found that there was no such ancient dance as 'The Dance of the Seven Veils'. I was very disappointed but as an old friend once told me: 'Wishing don't make it so'. There were people in ancient times who danced with veils for spiritual reasons and I wrote four chapters about them. But nowhere, in ANY ancient texts was there ANY mention of anyone dancing with seven veils.

"I could write for pages and pages on this topic. Actually in the manuscript, I have 5 pages single spaced and 42 pictures on the history of this seven veil dance. I explained why I know that there was no such thing and who actually started this notion. Did you know that it was either Oscar Wilde or Pierre Louys? I quote their texts. I wrote about who Salome was, what religious she was (Jewish), her family history, the historic context in which her dance was supposed to have taken place, the mystical number seven, Ishtar's seven veils (she may have worn them but there is no documentation that she was supposed to have danced with them), the seven gates of the underworld story, and on and on. If you would like to know more about this, please write me at: Elizabeth Artemis Mourat, 2945 Woodstock Ave., Silver Spring, Maryland, 20910-1249. Or, if you subscribe to JAREEDA, they will eventually get around to printing the chapter. They have been serializing this research for about a year now and are about halfway hrough the manuscript. They don't have the room to show all of the illustrations but they print the text in full. The section on the seven veils should be printed 4 or 5 months from now [14 May 1996].

"I am glad to see that there are so many people interested in this topic, but SERIOUS rsearach is essential. The cardinal sin of research is to print theory as fact. Unfortunately, far too many writers have written about this phenomena as though their beliefs were proven by research. They are then quoted by other writers or 'believers'. This lends credence to the mistaken belief that their theories were indeed facts. Unfortunately, this happens all the time. People who mean well, believe things just because they are in print. Granted, some of the printed material is impressively packaged, but just because you see something in a 'coffe table' book, or a book from the metaphysics section of the bookstore, does NOT mean that the authors did adequate research. You see, THEY are often quoting other writers who published their theories as though they were facts. A 'secondary source' is one that is removed from the source or 'primary source'. In other words, you are quoting someone's opinion. For example, rather than commenting on what Plato actually wrote, you are commenting on what other people thought about what he wrote or meant in his writings. All too often, the references people use in dance research involve quoting someone who quoted someone who quoted somone's opinion about someting they never saw in the first place (all seconday sources). THAT is how myths appear to become real!

"Best of luck to all researchers. Sorry you can't reply to me more directly, but I am not 'connected' to the 'net'."

Elizabeth Artemis Mourat

"I would only add...that many dancers _do_ do a seven veils dance, and do it well (as evidenced by the couple of dancers who have already described their versions.) Don't let this stop you from making your own interpretation, so long as you know it is a creation of fantasy (like a lot of things in ME dance...and that, IMHO is far more due to a lack of information about the 'old styles'; we obviously have plenty of creativity), and not 'real'. At the same time, realize that there are a lot of sterotypes and assumptions about the dance out there, and the seven veils dance has a number of them connected to it, like the hootchie kootchie dancers :( . Be careful who you do it for. Contradictory? You betcha. Much of life is...that's what makes it exicting. No matter what you do, though, keep dancing!" --Asim

"RE: the query on Salome's name.
This answer from a Jewish expert:

'Matthew 14:6-11 says Herodias' daughter (no name given) danced for Herod and asked him for the head of John the Baptist. Mark 6:21-28 has a similar story, but says it was Herod's daugher Herodias who danced.

' The first century Jewish historian Josephus gives the name of Herodias' daugher as Salome in a somewhat confusing geneological statement in Jewish Antiquities, Book 18, 5:4 (136-37). Josephus does not include the story of the dance. Hope this helps.' --Alan Pfeffer"


Last Modified: 15 Jun 1997
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