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The 3 Arts of Sword

The 3 Arts of Sword


How to make a sword piece captivating, not just impressive.

I’ve had sword on the brain lately. Two of my classes requested it recently, so I’ve been thinking about what makes a good sword piece.
What makes sword beautiful and compelling, not just impressive?

Suddenly it clicked: sword is actually a mix of three different art forms.

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This was professionally transcribed, but it probably still has some errors. If you catch any, drop me a line at I’d love to hear from you!

I’ve had sword on the brain lately. Two of my classes requested it recently and so I’ve been working with it in my practice time and also just thinking about what makes a good sword piece: what makes it beautiful and compelling, not just impressive. I realized that a sword piece is actually a mix of three different art forms.

The first is circus. And this is something that I was lucky to have learned early in my time with the sword because one of my teachers, Melina here in Boston, is also a circus artist. She is probably one of the best sword dancers in the country. One of the things that Melina taught me is that you need to make the easy stuff look hard and make the hard stuff look easy. That helps set the stage so the audience can be impressed by whatever you’re able to pull out.

Another thing is to think of the sword actions as “feats”, not just moves. Make sure that you really present what you’ve done. Give each feet some space and as Aziza would say, “Be amazed.”

Another important aspect of the circus nature of sword dancing is that you need to get to know your sword. That does not mean that you have to have perfect mastery, or that you’re able to do the most difficult things, but you do need to be able to handle your sword confidently.

The second art that goes into a good sword piece is theater. Because a sword is not just a prop, it’s an object that has meaning. It’s a weapon. Or some people might consider it a ritual object. So decide what that meaning is for you and try to maintain that meaning during your piece.

Another theatrical aspect of sword dancing is the drama. A sword dance is never just pretty. That sword is dangerous so make a big deal out of that aspect. As you may have been advised before, make sure that you never actually touch the sharp edge or the point of your sword. You know you’re not going to hurt yourself, but nobody else does.

Another theatrical facet is the character or the setting of your piece. Who are you in this piece? What relationship do you have to this object? Why do you have a sword? For example, my students in the Tufts Belly Dance Club worked with me to come up with their characters and backstory for the piece that we’re working on. They’ve decided that they are students in an elite martial arts training school, and their sword dance is their final exam.

Now, in traditional belly dance, explicit narrative is not part of the traditional aesthetics. We’re never trying to communicate a story the way that we often do in say ballet. But even for traditionalists, a backstory that you have in your mind even if you’re not trying to express it to the audience can add a lot of texture and richness to your piece. Obviously, if you’re fusionist and interested in narrative content, go for it. It can be really fun.

The third art that goes into sword dancing is dance. So as focused as you maybe on your sword, don’t forget to dance too. A good rule of thumb is that if somebody airbrushed your video footage to take the sword out of it, the piece should still be interesting without the sword. It might be different, and it might not be as good, but it should still be interesting.

I like to think of prop dances as a singers duet. Sometimes the prop is taking a solo, sometimes your body movements are taking a solo, and sometimes they’re singing in harmony. All three of those modes are valuable, so try to incorporate them all. All you have to do is decide which of those three you’re focusing on in any given moment and try to include them all at some point in your piece.

Most importantly, make sure that your sword dancing is consistent with your dance values. If you’re a belly dance traditionalist, then you probably know that musicality, the feeling, and the connection with the audience are a big, big part of this art form. And make sure that carries through to your dancing as well when you incorporate the sword.

Paying attention to anyone of these three arts: the circus, the theater, and the dance, will all make your sword pieces better. But if you can honor all three, that’s when you become really captivating.


Your Turn

Have you worked with any of these elements before?

Do you have any other tips for making a sword piece more artistic?

Got a question or topic that you’d like me to talk about on the show?

I would love to hear from you.

Leave a comment below, or better yet, leave me a short voice message. Maybe I’ll even play it on the air!


Want More?

Here are the Belly Dance Geek Clubhouse episodes I mentioned:

Three Things You Can Put in A Dance Besides Steps with Alia Thabit
Theatrical Techniques for Belly Dancers with Anasma and Ranya Renee

And if you don’t want to miss the rest of this series, subscribe to the Belly Dance Geek News. I’ll send you a monthly digest of these mini podcasts, plus invitations to our monthly online radio show, The Belly Dance Geek Clubhouse, and other geek-tacular resources.


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