As you progress in belly dancing, the major challenge is mastering all the different props.
Please don't be tempted to start using props too soon. I see too many belly dancers resorting to veils, Isis wings, swords and sticks to distract attention from their less-than-perfect dance technique. That may con the general public, but many performances take place in front of other dancers - and rest assured, we're not fooled!
It's hard enough for an experienced belly dancer to control two things at once - her body plus a wayward veil or sharp sword - so it's no wonder that a novice dancer will “drop the ball" on one or the other. And because the prop is in front of her eyes, the prop is likely to win! So do be patient, and don't be in a rush to start dancing with props.
When you are ready, there will come a point where you can't go on using the school's equipment and will need to buy your own, and the costs can quickly mount up. A good belly dance sword will cost at least $100, for instance.
Before you start buying props, make sure you understand what you're looking for. For instance, you need to know what size zills or veil will work for you. Isis Wings come in many sizes - professional ones are huge, but if you dance in a troupe, you need them smaller or you will never fit on the stage!
A good way to measure for a veil is this: take a long piece of material. Stand up with your arms by your sides. Drape the material over your shoulders and let it hang over your arms. You want your veil to hang about a foot (30 cm) beyond your fingertips on each side. Mark the material with a pin at that point on each side. Now remove the material and measure from pin to pin - that's how long your veil should be!
Some bellydance schools will have second-hand props, so it's worth asking. You may also find second-hand items on eBay, but I've had some disappointments that way - frayed Isis wings and water-stained veils. If you're considering buying second-hand, study the photographs very carefully. If you can't get a good view of the item from all angles, don't risk it.
New items on eBay are a much better bet, and generally cheaper than you'll find in your local stores. Check the seller's feedback rating - it can't be faked, so it's a good indicator of whether the seller is reliable or not. Make sure you search for all items available to your location, not just items on your local site - you can miss out on a lot of bargains otherwise.
If you're not sure how to search properly on eBay, a better alternative is to use an eBay partner site which specializes in belly dance costumes and props.
These sites are run by individuals, not directly by eBay. They're paid a small commission for every item sold through the site. The commission is paid from the seller's fees, not by you - so it doesn't cost any extra to buy through these sites, and it's much quicker than having to do all the searches yourself. A bonus is that they're often run as a belly dance community site, so you are supporting your sister dancers as well! My own site is a good example.
Props can be frustrating to learn but make an exciting show once they're mastered, so it's worth making the effort!
© Marisa Wright 2008
For all your belly dance costuming needs, visit http://bellydanceoz.com/ Our bellydance bazaar has everything from hip scarves to belt-and-bra sets to professional Egyptian costumes. You'll find Isis Wings, swords, zills and more for sale from suppliers all over the world.
You'll also find profiles of some wonderful dancers, complete with videos of their performances. I'm actively building this portion of the site and want to hear from Australian belly dancers who would like to be included. Inclusion is free as the site is financially supported through the store.