The Pro-Zill Position

We all have things we struggle to learn as dancers, for many it’s zills. They are challenging for sure in that “rub your belly, pat your head” kind of way. So many dancers seem to not play them these days that it just gets easier and easier for new dancers to justify passing them up like some optional prop. Heck, your instructor many not even play – so why should you bother?

Investing the time to learn and practice zills is about much more than being able to make a bunch of noise while you dance. Learning zill rhythms intrinsically changes the way you hear your music – it’s like seeing down to the ocean floor through clear blue water. You know so much more about what’s there than if you only watched the sunlight glinting off the waves. That deeper understanding of your music’s structure lets you dance closer to its heartbeat and really bring the music and the movement together as an integrated visual presentation.

When you can play zills proficiently  – maybe even boldly – you take on the additional artistic role of musician as well as dancer. Even if you are performing to recorded music, you can bring extra excitement with a “live” music element at your fingertips. If you are performing with a live band, you absolutely become part of the music-making. Done well, this interaction is exhilarating for both the dancer and the audience.

Whether live or recorded music, zills are a voice that let you express yourself creatively within the framework of the music. You can embellish a melodic flourish, add drama with accents or use them as a bridge between the rhythm and punctuation of your movement, and the basic meter of the song. The possibilities are creative, endless and FUN.

You don’t have to play for every performance, in fact, your preferred styles and music choices may come off better without them. You’ll still benefit from the rhythmic understanding and musical thinking that learning zills brings. Last year in a workshop, Princess Farhana told us about a student of hers  that didn’t want to practice. The student justified her position by saying she hardly ever saw her play in performance. The Princess’ answer, “Yes, but I DO know how if I want to!”

So all I’m saying is, give zills a chance!

Next time….. my top 3 tips to make learning to dance with rhythms easier.

What was your first impression of or experience with zills like? Has it changed over the time you’ve been dancing? Tell us in the comments below!


9 Responses to “The Pro-Zill Position”

  1. Kis Says:

    I love my zill more than nearly any other prop. They have such a life and sound about them that once you start playing it can be a little hard to stop! They’ve made me think more about timing and expression. They add extra expression to the music (the “live playing” aspect) that you can feed off to add extra “life” to your own dancing.


  2. Felicia Says:

    I feel like you wrote this personally for me.

  3. Hamsa Belly Dance Says:

    You cant learn everything you will ever need to learn about dance from one teacher, so justifying not playing zills with the fact your teacher doesnt do it just doesnt cut it. When I teach classes privately I teach regular dance class (technique, vocabulary, musicality) and I teach specialty classes (swords, cane, fire) I do not consider zills or veil a specialty every dancer (imo) should know how to use zills and veil at least in its most basic form, at least for the sake of being “well rounded”. With so much fusion and the constant transformation this dance form sees its nice to polish off the classics. No better way to do so than with a routine containing both elements. The bigger the zills the closer to God and my Turquoise zills travel everywhere with me!

  4. saphirenz Says:

    When I first sarted ME dancing several years ago My first teacher only touched upon zills. There were not enough zills to go round so the class had one zill each. A waste of time? Perhaps but it did serve to somewhat whet my appetite, although for some years after that zills were rather neglected and placed in the “too hard’ basket. Some time later I joined MEDANZ (the Middle Eastern Dance Association of New Zealand. Last year I attended theMEDANZ annual festival where, amongst other things I took part in a Zill workshop. I learnt basics and Maqsum, Baladi and Saidi rythms . Now Zills are making their presence felt in the repertoir of our troupe.
    You are so right, Zills give an exceptiona; insight and feeling into the rythms which are the heartbeat of the dance. I value the frequent inclusion of zilling topics in your pages. Thank you.


  5. Thea Says:

    I’m not sure where this idea comes from that you have to play zills or you have to do veil work if you are a belly dancer. It highly depends on the style that you prefer doesn’t it? In Norway where I was taught belly dance, zills are never thought of as a natural part of belly dance that you must learn. This is maybe because of the styles that most teachers prefer, such as classical egyptian etc.
    However it is a great thing to learn if you want to better understand the music that you dance to by learning the different rhythms, though learning to play the doumbek would serve this purpose as well. I like to think that it makes me more sensitive to the music anyways.
    Anywho, When I was struggling to get my body to dance at the same time as playing zills I found that hula hooping while zilling was the best way to free my body up!

  6. Thea Says:

    Of all belly dance props, I like zills the best – because they don’t inhibit my ability to dance, as other props can do. As a former flamenco dancer, it didn’t bother me to click my fingers and dance at the same time (thanks to castanets) but I did struggle with the rhythms until I did a fantastic workshop with Rachel Bond.

    I have seen other teachers really struggle to explain how to use them, and I wonder if that might be the real reason why a teacher might avoid them . . .

    • mahinbellydance Says:

      Very true – being able to play them and being able to teach how to play them are very different skills! I went through a lot of trial and error in developing an unintimidating method (which is NOT how I learned). It has been very gratifying watching my students have success and a minimal amount of stress and frustration.

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