Tag Archive | zills

Weekly Challenge for 5-26-14

I’ve finally got myself sorted out after Tribal Fest, so it’s back to the Weekly Challenges! Did you miss me?

First of all, I hope everyone is having a memorable Memorial Day. Let us all take a moment to thank those who have died in service to our country, whether we agree with how or why or not. They gave their lives for something they believed in, and deserve respect for that. Thank you.


I’ve done zill challenges before, but I wanted to stress them again. This might just be me, but I’ve noticed that the use of zills has declined among dancers in general, but in cabaret dancers in particular. I see a lot of belly dance, and the only performers I’ve seen in months who use zills are the Tribal and Tribal fusion dancers! That’s awesome, because fusion dancers should always be aware of our roots in cabaret dance, and to be interested in those roots, and to keep up those skills.

But it’s so sad that no fewer than two zill workshops in my area alone in the past few months were canceled due to lack of interest. And that I almost never see cabaret dancers use zills anymore.

Yeah, they’re loud, they’re not fun to practice (especially if you live in apartments or have pets), and can be difficult to learn. But they are important to the art of belly dance – in ALL styles.

So here’s your challenge this week, and it’s simple.

No matter what style you do, no matter what level you are or how many years of experience you have or don’t have with zills…this week, practice every single day.

Find a teacher, a website, or a video, and get to learning those zills!

P.S. There are many items to help with zill practice these days. Wooden zills are a little quieter, or there are the Practizills. Many vendors also sell crochet zill covers to mute the sound, and I’ve even heard of some dancers using baby socks! There are no more excuses!

Weekly Challenge for 4-7-14

Another Monday, which means it’s time for another challenge! Are you ready?

Drum Rhythms

When I was a baby dancer, my teacher told us that the drum was the most important instrument for belly dancers. We dance to the drum. Of course, we can always dance to the most prominent instrument in a piece, but the drum is where the heart of the dance lies.

Middle Eastern music is rather different than Western music, not only in sound but in structure as well. Drum rhythms are important, and are usually named. Some drum rhythms are found in certain areas or types of music, and knowing these rhythms is mandatory for all belly dancers. And I do mean mandatory, and I do mean all belly dancers. If you are doing belly dance (in my opinion…and in many others’), you must dance to the beat, to the rhythm (mostly, depending on style and piece). This can be challenging to Westerners, because we hear the melody the most, and the drums are just the “pace car.”

If you dance “traditional” belly dance, you need to know these rhythms, why they are important, and how to dance to them (and thus be able to identify songs of certain types). If you are a Tribal performer, you still need to know the roots of your dancing, and many ATS® and ITS troupes use traditional songs and rhythms. It’s also helpful for fusion, because many of the popular fusion musicians still use Middle Eastern stylings and rhythms. While most Western bands do not use these drum rhythms, it is important to know the history of your dance.

So what’s the challenge? This week, learn your drum rhythms!

Find a drum or a pair of zills (or even just use clapping!) and learn at least one new drum rhythm this week. There are lots of resources out there, DVDs, websites, your teacher, workshops, etc. for learning these rhythms. I particularly like this one, but there are many others out there. DVDs are great, because many of them feature dancers who can show you movements and short combos that go well with those drum rhythms.

Extra challenge: How many drum rhythms can you learn (well) in one week? Let me know in the comments, on Facebook, or Twitter!

Happy drumming (or zilling!)


Taking the challenge? Let everyone else know! Tweet it!


Photo credit: montuno via photopin cc


It’s November!  There’s a lot going on in November, so just this month, there will be no new Weekly Challenges.

What?! Sorry, but this little belly dancer does a lot of things in November; it’s always been a tough month.  I’m also a writer (hey, here’s a shameless plug for my novel, The Horror at Palmwich), and I take part in National Novel Writing Month (also known as NaNoWriMo).  So I’m going to be doing a lot of writing this month.  A whole book, just in the month of November!  But that’s not all!  I also have to write and edit two newsletters that come out this month, one of which is my own!  If you haven’t already, check out my newsletter, sign up, and get special offers and content JUST FOR SUBSCRIBERS.  This stuff will never be offered to the public, so you have to get my newsletter for them!

Instead of writing a new challenge each week, I have chosen my most popular Weekly Challenges ever!  Pick one each week and give it a try!

October 7, 2013 – Drills

May 13, 2013 – Let’s add the drama!

August 23, 2013 – Emoting through arm movement

May 21, 2012 – Zills!

I’ll see you back again in December!  Have a great month, and happy dancing!

Don’t forget to find me on Facebook or on my Facebook pageTwitter, or Tumblr.

Weekly Challenge for 7/30/12

Yay it’s another Monday challenge!  This week, we’re returning to:


We all know that we can play rhythms with zills, and that dancers use them as accompaniment to our dancing.  But zills are not just icing on the cake…zills are instruments in their OWN right!  (Want proof?  Watch this)  While it is difficult to dance and use zills as instruments (rather than just accompaniment), we can at least aim for it, can’t we?  Then maybe we could do something more like this than what we are all used to.


First, of course, we have to get comfortable with playing zills at all.  If you’ve never picked them up before, perhaps you should try this challenge first.  And no, beginners, you don’t have to bow out of this challenge yet!  It’s going to be baby steps for us all (including me!)

Beginner: In the previous challenge, you only tried 3s, but you’ll need to know at least one other zill pattern before you can attempt this challenge.  If you haven’t learned it yet, learn 3-3-7 (ask your teacher!).  Then, while walking (don’t stand still and zill!), do 3s for 16 counts and then 3-3-7 for 16 counts.  Basically, you will be alternating them.  What will be challenging is remembering when to switch, especially since there isn’t a whole lot of difference between 3s and 3-3-7.  If…and only if…you know beledi, you can switch between it and 3s.  Why do this?  Because this will get your brain working!  In order to think of zills more as instruments, we have to play them like instruments.  But it’s difficult if we only know patterns.  By practicing patterns and switching rapidly between them, we’re getting our brains ready for playing and dancing at the same time, while switching rhythms.  This will eventually become playing and dancing, while playing “notes.”  But baby steps first!

Intermediate: We’re going to shorten the count and add different patterns.  I don’t advise doing this in performance, because it probably won’t sound very good; this is just an exercise.  Pick 4 rhythms you know (likely 3s, 3-3-7, beledi, and saiidi) and only do 8 counts of each.  Keep the same pattern of rhythms for now (in other words, don’t randomly play whichever rhythm comes to mind).  Of course, as in the previous challenge, you will be dancing.  Keep the steps super-basic, because your brain is going to be working hard with keeping up with the patterns.  Warning: this is going to be hard.  Don’t get discouraged!  You’re keeping a lot of things in mind: dancing, the count of the music, which pattern you are supposed to be following, and finally actually playing the rhythm.  That’s a lot!  Don’t forget to smile!  This is fun, right?  Right?!

Advanced: Start thinking about other ways to play zills.  Playing rhythms and patterns is probably old hat by now, so come up with other rhythms (think drum solo!).  Check out videos on YouTube for inspiration (see link above).  Play a pattern on one hand and then on the other.  Play and have fun with the zills, but don’t forget to dance with them!  You can keep the moves simple for now, because your zilling is what you are going to be concentrating on (that doesn’t mean you should let your dancing get sloppy though!).  Think about how you could incorporate zills as instruments rather than just these loud things on my fingers that I play to get your attention into your dancing.  Don’t just slip back into playing beledi in a song because that’s what the rhythm is.  Think of yourself as an additional member of the orchestra and how you can fill in the music and not just copy the drummer.

Happy zilling AND dancing!

Weekly Challenge for 5/21/12

Happy Monday dancers!  You know what that means…another belly dancing challenge for the week!

A reminder that the challenges are meant to be tried EVERY DAY.  How can you challenge yourself if you don’t try this out at least once daily!  Of course, many things you will not master in one week, and that’s not the point.  The point of the challenges is to get you out of your comfort zone and get used to expanding your abilities.  So…onwards with this week’s challenge!


Those of you who followed my previous blog will be familiar with this, but that’s okay.  You need to do it again!

Beginner: Zills are intimidating.  But beginner level is the perfect time to start with them.  There are lots of zill videos on YouTube and elsewhere online.  Pick the easiest pattern, which will be “3s” and try it out.  Get used to playing them, but don’t just stand around and play them.  If dancing and zilling is too scary, try just walking and zilling.  Everyone knows how to walk, so this shouldn’t be a problem!  Just make sure to walk on beat and get used to playing the 3 pattern with your fingers.  You’ll strengthen your hands and fingers as well as get used to playing them while moving.  Make sure to warm up your hands and forearms before playing and stretch them afterwards in order to build your muscles up.

Intermediate:  Here’s where it gets challenging!  You need to DANCE while zilling, so pick a good, long song (might I suggest 10 minute heavyweight Gana Al Hawa from the On Fire! CD) and dance while zilling.  It doesn’t have to be all the fancy patterns you might know, just the basics: 3s, galloping (also known as 3-3-7), and beledi.  If these are the only patterns you know, that’s good, because these are the zill workhorses and will usually be appropriate for any performance.  Just make sure your dancing doesn’t suffer while you are concentrating on the zill patterns.  Pick easy steps, ones you know really well, and dance to those while practicing your zills.

Advanced: Zilling skills might just be a requirement at this level!  If you haven’t learned to zill by now, you really should learn (yes, even fusion dancers might need to know a little something about zills…you never know!)  Practice zilling with the beat of the music, no matter what beat that might be.  You may need to branch out and learn the lesser known/used patterns like masmoudi, saiidi, ayuub, and chiftitelli (this is not an exhaustive list, by any means).  These patterns will not always be used in whatever piece you are dancing to, so make sure they fit the music before attempting in performance.  When practicing, make sure you DANCE while zilling, even if it’s easy steps at first.  But make sure you can do any movement in your repertoire with all of these rhythms.

Good luck…and happy zilling!