How to do the sword dance

Belly Dancing with a Sword: Tips and Tricks



PHOTO CREDIT: Above photo by John Rickman Photography, San Jose, California.

by Shira


Table of Contents

  • Choosing a Sword & Preparing It for Use
  • Costuming Issues When Using Swords
  • Learning to Balance
  • Dancing with the Sword


Dancing with a sword can convey a feeling of power, of being in control. A dancer with a sword has a weapon, and demonstrates that she is at ease with handling it! Audiences are fascinated by swords – when the dancer first produces one, people wonder what she is going to do with it. When she balances it, they are very impressed by the skill required. Swords also convey an element of danger, which some people enjoy - both through the idea of a weapon, and also from the very real danger the sword will slip and fall off the head. I've noticed less heckling from audience members at general-public performances when the dancer is using a sword.

Here are some tips for dancers who are just beginning to learn how to work with swords. Click on any of the photos with this article to see them in more detail.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by William M. Smith, Iowa City, Iowa.


Choosing a Sword & Preparing It for Use

  • Buying a Sword. Not sure which type of sword to buy? Some swords balance well, others don't. Heavier swords will stay in place more easily than lighter-weight ones. Balance the sword on your hand before you buy it. If it won't balance on your hand in the store, it probably won't balance properly on your head, stomach, chin, hip, or shoulder while you're dancing.
  • Buying A Sword. Beware of chromed swords – they look beautiful, but the chrome is very slippery and will make the sword more likely to fall off your head. They are not recommended for newcomers to balancing!
  • Buying a Sword. Swords with slightly thicker blades that have not been sharpened are more comfortable to balance than those with thin blades that have been sharpened.
  • Securing The Knob. Some swords have a handle with a knob on the end that can be twisted to adjust the balance. For this kind of sword, you can use rubber O rings (purchased in the plumbing supply section of the hardware store) as a washer to ensure a secure fit on the threads.
  • Don't Slip! Keep an inexpensive votive candle in your dance supplies. Before going on stage with your sword, rub the candle back and forth across the part of the sword's edge that will rest on your head. This will help the sword stay in place while you're dancing.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by John Rickman Photography, San Jose, California.

  • Don't Slip! Before dancing, place a small amount of bowler's grip (sold in bowling alleys) on the sword. This will make it stay more securely on the balancing point.
  • Don't Slip! Spritz a little hair spray onto the top of your head where the sword will rest before you begin your performance. This will make your hair a little sticky and help the sword stay in place while you're dancing.
  • Permanent Modifications? Beware of advice to carve notches into your sword, use nail polish to attach grains of sand, or anything else that will permanently modify the sword. If an audience member gets hold of the sword and sees the modification, you will lose all credibility.
  • Maturing Your Skill. Eventually, as you become experienced in using a sword, you should discontinue use of any don't-slip cheats such as those described above. They're fine for students who are still becoming comfortable with balancing, but by the time you start using a sword in your professional gigs, you should have outgrown the cheats. Continuing to use them shows that you're still unsure of your own skill and possibly are not really ready to be using a sword in professional gigs.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by John Rickman Photography, San Jose, California.


Learning to Balance

  • Breaking Hair. You might notice that the weight of the sword on your head may cause some hair to break close to the scalp. Don't worry, it'll grow back, and I promise you won't develop a bald spot from it! I've been doing sword balancing for over 25 years on my bare head, and I haven't developed a bald spot yet!
  • Prevent Pain. When you're new to sword balancing, you'll notice that it hurts to have a heavy object on its edge resting on your head. For that reason, don't do more than 15 continuous minutes at a time of balancing practice. Or, alternate 5 minutes with the sword followed by 5 minutes without.
  • Prevent Pain. If you must practice balancing itself for more than 15 minutes, put on either a turban or a Cleopatra-style headdress such as the one in the photo later in this article after 10 minutes of practicing to cushion your head. You do need some time practicing bareheaded so you can master the skill, but there is no need to endure unnecessary pain.
  • Dealing With Pain. When you're new to balancing a sword on your head, you probably will get a headache after a very short time of balancing. Don't push yourself too hard at first. Start with no more than 5-10 minutes at once of balancing. Once you're used to that, you can gradually extend to longer.
  • Isolate! If you have trouble keeping the sword on your head, perhaps you need to practice your isolations a bit more. The most common reason people have trouble learning to balance is that they haven't isolated properly.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by John Rickman Photography, San Jose, California.


Costuming Issues When Using a Sword

  • Headdress. If you're dancing indoors, and if you're confident in your skill at balancing a sword, then don't wear a headdress at all! Sometimes when audiences see a headdress, they assume that it is some kind of "trick" enabling you to balance that sword, and they don't appreciate the skill it truly takes to do it.
  • Headdress. If you're dancing outdoors, consider wearing a headdress. The slightest breeze can blow your sword off balance! For best results, choose a headdress that is made of cloth rather than chains or coins, and the thicker, the better.
  • Headdress. Beware of headdresses made from slippery fabric such as tissue lamé that the sword could slip off of.
  • Headdress. Possibilities include the crocheted-cap headdresses with shoulder-length cords hanging down that have beads strung on them (like the silver one in the photo), turbans, wigs, or scarves. (If you wear a scarf, consider placing something under it that will add some thickness for the sword to nest down into. )

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by William M. Smith, Iowa City, Iowa.

  • Headdress. Beware of headbands that pass over the top of the head like the one shown in this photo to the right. Depending on the position of the headband, it can interfere with placing the sword into optimal position for balancing. Swords can slip on sequins. Even if the headdress doesn't get in your way, it may lead the audience to believe it is a "trick" to help you balance the sword, and they will be less impressed with the skill you are truly using.
  • Headdress. If you wear a headdress, make sure it is firmly anchored in place – if your headdress slips while the sword is resting on it, your sword will, of course, slip with it!
  • Practice in Costume. When balancing on the hip, as shown in the photo to the right, practice at home wearing the costume, jewelry, and makeup you plan to wear before performing that move in public. Swords behave differently with different belt styles, body jewelry, fabrics covering the midriff, body makeup, etc.
  • Costume. If you want to balance your sword on your hip such as I'm doing in the photo to the right, beware of wearing a power net midriff cover. These can be quite slippery. The sword will stick better to bare skin.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by William M. Smith, Iowa City, Iowa.


  • Pants With Floor Work. If planning to incorporate any kind of floor work into your sword act, be sure to wear pants either by themselves or under your skirt. The photo on the right shows a costume with a pair of red pants slitted in the center front worn under the red skirt. The skirt fell away when the right leg was raised, but the pants stayed in place to ensure that the audience didn't get a view of more than they wanted to see. More modest dancers can omit the slit from the pants entirely.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by John Rickman Photography, San Jose, California.


Dancing with the Sword

  • Remember to Dance! It's fun to play with props. However, always remember to focus first on dancing.
  • Dance Quality. Try doing your dance first without the prop. Your dance needs to look complete and accurate without the prop first, and then you can later add the prop to frame the dance moves.
  • Aesthetic. Many dancers enjoy experimenting with different places to balance the sword, such as the top of the head, the chin, the shoulder, the hip, etc. Don't put more than two balancing positions into a single dance. Otherwise, instead of looking like a "dance" it looks like a boring novelty act.
  • Build Suspense. When you initially pick up your sword, don't start balancing it right away. Hold it in varying poses first, to build suspense. Give the audience time to get used to the idea that you are holding a sword, and make them wonder what you are going to do with it.
  • What To Do Before Balancing. Grasp the sword in one hand and flourish it in a martial pose. Hold it in both hands and trace a large circle with it from your hips, to one side, to overhead, etc. Pose with it proudly overhead, as shown in this picture of Shira to the right. Walk up to audience members and show it to them, like a magician showing he has nothing up his sleeve.
  • Relationship. Think of the sword as a dance partner rather than as just a piece of metal to wave around.
  • Its Role in Your Performance. The sword is not a hat.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by John Rickman Photography, San Jose, California.

  • Don't Make It Look Too Easy. When actually placing the sword on the place where you will balance it, take your time. It may be tempting to balance it quickly to show off, but the audience will be more impressed if you act as though you're not entirely certain it will stay. Don't be afraid to take extra time to fine-tune the balance, and use your eyes to cast apprehensive upward glances toward the sword as you adjust it. Your accomplishment will seem more exciting if the audience believes it wasn't easy for you!
  • Bask In Your Glory. Once you have removed your hands from the sword, don't start dancing right away. Take a moment to stand perfectly still and act pleased with what you have done.
  • Avoid Injury. Don't do backbends like this one if you have any history of knee trouble!
  • Doing Backbends. The key to a successful backbend, whether standing or kneeling, is strong and flexible thigh muscles. Abdominal muscles are valuable for getting back up from a backbend. I've written an entire article on how to do backbends like this one.
  • Exercise To Build Strength. There are several thigh-building exercises you can do at home to develop the strength needed to do backbends. See the above link for suggestions.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by John Rickman Photography, San Jose, California.

  • Getting Back To Your Feet. Return to an upright position with weight equally distributed on both knees. Raise one knee to the position shown on the right. Hold this pose for a moment, doing something interesting with your arms, before standing up completely to make sure your balance is steady. Now:
    • Adjust the back foot so that its ball is touching the floor. Make sure it has a steady grip on the floor. If necessary, adjust the position of the knee so that the foot will have strong leverage for pushing off.
    • Use the back foot to push off, pressing forward so that the weight transfers to the front foot.
    • Use an upward sweeping motion of the hands to reinforce the momentum of moving forward and upward.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by John Rickman Photography, San Jose, California.


Related Articles

Visit these articles for more tips & tricks related to belly dancing.

  • Tips & Tricks for Belly Dance Costuming
  • Tips & Tricks on Other Topics


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Sword dancing in Saudi - Visit Saudi Official Website

A storied cultural tradition

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If there’s one performance that best embodies the rich heritage and culture of Saudi, it’s the sword dance, or Ardah. Combining poetry, drum music and rhythmic dancing, Ardah has its roots in military history, but today it is frequently performed during special occasions, such as festivals and weddings. No visit to Saudi is complete without experiencing this historic and majestic dance.

The History and Significance of Sword Dancing

The most common Ardah in Saudi, called the Najdi Ardah, was initially performed by Arab warriors in the central Najd region of Saudi before meeting their enemies on the battlefield. Sword dancing was a way for the men to display their weaponry and show their heroic spirit. The Najdi Ardah also recalls the battles led by King Abdulaziz Al Saud, the founder of Saudi Arabia.

Today, the folkloric dance is performed throughout the Saudi provinces and has become a symbol of traditional Saudi culture. In 2015, Ardah was inscribed on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.


What Happens During an Ardah

The sword dance features two lines of performers (usually, but not always, men) standing shoulder to shoulder and facing each other. The men wear traditional clothing that is specific to the Najd region of Saudi: long embroidered coats called daghla with upright collars and six buttons, which are layered over white cotton tunics called murowdin that have long triangular sleeves. The men wear leather ammunition belts diagonally across their chests and hold their swords in their right hands.

The Ardah begins with a single line of poetry that is repeated as a second group of men carrying drums steps between the men holding swords and moves in unison to the beat of their drums. The men carrying swords sway back and forth and side to side as they sing. Bending at the knee and leaning forward, they lift and lower their swords rhythmically. Another performer carries the national flag. The mood is celebratory and lively.

A sword dancing performance can continue for several hours, with short intermissions, with as many as 50 lines of poetry being sung. If a dancer gets tired, he can periodically rest his sword on his shoulder and continue stepping with the group.

Where to See a Sword Dancing Performance in Saudi

One of the best places to see Ardah performed is at one of many cultural festivals, which are held in different regions throughout the year. One of the biggest festivals is the National Festival for Heritage and Culture in Al Janadriyah, which is held for two weeks in late winter or early spring outside Riyadh.


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Scottish sword dance: yarkaya — LiveJournal

In Outlander I came across a scene where Jamie dances the sword dance (jumping over crossed swords lying on the ground). This is the same dance as in the series, if anyone remembers (a gypsy dancer danced at the fair). Since this is "our topic", I studied and even made an interlinear for those who do not read the original very well.

A Highland sword dance was done for one of three reasons. For exhibition and entertainment, as he was about to do it now. For competition, as it was done among the young men at a Gathering. And as it was first done, as an omen. Danced on the eve of a battle, the skill of the dancer foretold success or failure. The young men had danced between crossed swords, the night before Prestonpans, before Falkirk. But not before Culloden. There had been no campfires the night before that final fight, no time for bards and battle songs. It didn't matter; no one had needed an omen, then.

Jamie closed his eyes for a moment, bent his head, and the beat of the drum began to patter, quick and fast.

I knew, because he had told me, that he had first done the sword dance in competition, and then—more than once—on the eve of battles, first in the Highlands, then in France. The old soldiers had asked him to dance, had valued his skill as reassurance that they would live and triumph. For the Lindsays to know his skill, he must also have danced in Ardsmuir. But that was in the Old World, and in his old life.

He knew—and had not needed Roger to tell him—that the old ways had changed, were changing. This was a new world, and the sword dance would never again be danced in earnest, seeking omen and favor from the ancient gods of war and blood.

His eyes opened, and his head snapped up. The tipper struck the drum with a sudden thunk! and it began with a shout from the crowd. His feet struck down on the pounded earth, to the north and the south, to the east and the west, flashing swift between the swords.

His feet struck soundless, sure on the ground, and his shadow danced on the wall behind him, looming tall, long arms upraised. His face was still towards me, but he didn't me any longer, I was sure.

The muscles of his legs were strong as a leaping stag's beneath the hem of his kilt, and he danced with all the skill of the warrior he had been and still was. But I thought he danced now only for the sake of memory, that those watching might not forget; danced, with the sweat flying from his brow as he worked, and a look of unutterable distance in his eyes.

Highland sword dance was performed for one of three reasons. For fun, how Jamie was going to dance now. In a contest, as it was between the young men in the Gathering. And, as it happened once for the first time, as a sign. It was danced on the eve of battle, and the skill of the dancer predicted her success or failure. Young people danced between crossed swords the night before Prestonpans, before Falkirk. But not in front of Culloden. The night before that last battle, there were no camps, no fires, no bards, no battle songs. It was all the same and no one was looking for signs.

Jamie closed his eyes for a moment and bowed his head as a quick, pulsing drum sound came out.

I already knew - he once told me how he first danced with swords in a competition, and then, several times, on the eve of a battle - first in Scotland, then in France. The old soldiers asked him to dance, highly appreciating his skills and believing that in this way they would remain alive and win. The Lindsey brothers knew about his dancing skills, which means he also danced in Ardsmuir prison. But all this was in the old world and his old life.

He knew, and Roger didn't need to remind him, that everything old had already changed, and continued to change. This was a new world, and the sword dance would never truly be performed again, calling for an omen from the ancient gods of war and blood.

His eyes opened, his chin jerked up. So! The drumstick struck and the dance began with a shout from the audience. His feet trod on the trodden floor, north and south, west and east, deftly flashing between the swords.

His feet soundlessly and confidently stepped on the ground, and a shadow danced on the wall in front of him, tall, with long arms raised. His face was still turned towards me, but he no longer saw me.

The muscles of his legs below the hem of his kilt were as strong as those of a stallion, and he danced with the agility of the warrior he was and still was. It seemed to me that he danced not only so that the audience would never forget this dance; Sweat streamed down his forehead, and an inexpressible resignation froze in his eyes.

In the same subject. On Friday, Ceili Rue performed at the Hansa Days in Estonia, where they launched a sword dance act with the Kavkaz ensemble for the first time. What Anya dances at the very beginning (before she starts waving her sword) is what we all should do, and the sword is already a solo. Caucasian girls dance with swords "in Georgian", and I can't take my eyes off this number, including because of how it all sounds. Music by Obscurus Orbis.

Arda: the history and meaning of the sword dance in Saudi Arabia

Legendary cultural tradition

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The sword dance (arda) best reflects the rich heritage and culture of Saudi Arabia. The combination of rhythmic movements, poetry and drum music is deeply rooted in military history. Today, this traditional show is shown at special events such as festivals and weddings. Your trip to Saudi Arabia is not complete without experiencing this historic and majestic dance.

The history and meaning of the sword dance

The most common sword dance in Saudi Arabia (arda of the Najd region) was originally performed by Arab warriors in the central region of the kingdom before meeting enemies on the battlefield. The male sword dance was a way to display weapons and show a heroic spirit. The Arda of the Najd region also commemorates the battles waged by King Abdulaziz Al Saud, the founder of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Today, the folklore dance, which has become a symbol of traditional Saudi culture, is performed in all provinces of Saudi Arabia. In 2015, UNESCO included arda on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage.

The structure of the arda dance

The sword dance involves men who line up opposite in two lines with their shoulders to each other. The performers wear traditional clothing specific to the Nejd region: long coats with embroidery (dagla), straight collar and six buttons over white cotton tunics (muroudin) with long triangular sleeves. A leather belt with cartridges is located diagonally on the chest, and men hold swords in their right hand.

The dance begins with a line of verse recited in a loud voice, which is repeated as a second group of men with drums pass between the sword-wielding performers. In the dance, men sing and simultaneously swing their bodies forward and back, from side to side. Bend your knees and lean forward. Simultaneously raise and lower the swords. One of the performers holds the national flag. During the performance, there is always a lively festive atmosphere.

Sometimes the dance lasts several hours with short breaks until 50 lines of poetry are performed. In case of fatigue, one of the dancers can periodically put the sword on his shoulder and continue to move along with the group.

Learn more