Zorba, Male Belly Dancer

Henna Design So Many Veils, So Little Time! Henna Design
How Do I Choose?

When a typical Belly Dancer is presented with an array of veils to choose from, it's like a kid in a candy store. The only acceptable choice is, of course, ALL of them! Grin! I am just horrible about this myself, why earth do I need with well over TWENTY-FIVE veils? Eek!

Color issues aside - which of course all us dancers respond to, there are reasons for selecting different veils at different times. This article details SOME of the considerations you may wish to take into account.

Size Matters

Size matters. How tall are you? How large is the performance space? Do you plan to do slow, sensual veil dancing - or something more energetic? Will you be doing floorwork with the veil? Will you enter with the veil "out" or are you planning one of the many different veil wraps? Are you planning a Egyptian style veil entrance (enter with it trailing beautifully behind you, swish it around once or twice and get rid of it), or something a bit longer?

Like everything else in our chosen art, there are few hard and fast rules. However, there are some guidelines. A "properly sized" veil, according to many sources, is a veil which just touches the floor when stretched across the back with arms extended straight out to the sides. This is why 3 yard veils are the most common size - they're close enough for the majority of women. Whatever this rule dictates for you should only be used as a starting point, fine tune your preferences as you grow in the dance.

Following this rule, very petite dancers may be better off with a 2-1/2 yard veil, whereas one of my instructors is taller than I am (6'1""), thus a 4 yard veil is "normal" for both her and myself. There are lots of 4 yard veil workshops and videos out there - teaching the typical "3 yard veil sized dancer" how to deal with the larger size. But for a big guy like myself, I'd really have to go with a 4-1/2 or 5 yard veil to get the same effect!

All this is well and good, but even I won't dance with a 4 yard veil in tight quarters - restaurants for instance. A recipe for disaster (pun intended smile)! Many dancers use a 2-1/2 yard veil under such conditions - I've never tried one that small, but I have several 3 yard veils to choose from.


I hadn't previously addressed veil shapes in this article, so when dance sister Tourbeau posted on the subject on the now defunct bhuz.com, I asked her permission to reproduce her comments on the subject here:

It depends on what style of veil work you are interested in and what sort of effects you want. If you are hoping to do double veil or veil with a lot of spinning, dancers often prefer the look of the semicircle, since it flares out a little more attractively than a rectangular shape. If you plan on doing a lot of AmCab-style tucking and wrapping, you may need the length that the corners provide--and if you like the look of the longwise "sail" movements that often evolve from a tucked veil, rectangular works better. OTOH, if you are looking for a more Egyptian stylization that is primarily a bit of twirling and framing, either shape can be used and it's just a matter of personal preference.

Using a lot of trim or weighting at the hem is not really in style now. Most dancers are looking for long hang time and soft movement in a veil, but occasionally someone will want to go back to the older cape work that could support the more aggressive style of fabric manipulation that a substantial veil requires. If your veil tends toward the stiffer side (like a lightweight organza) or the heavier side (like a synthetic chiffon), you might find that a semicircle is more cooperative than a rectangle. You can always play with an unhemmed rectangle to start out and then trim it to a circular shape if it isn't working, but you can't put the corners back on if you cut a semicircle first and find you don't like it. BTW, the standard length of a rectangular veil is three yards by 44"-45". Most dancers don't have the arm length, height, and upper-body strength to work more fabric gracefully, but a few do make an intentional artistic decision to select unusually wider or longer veils, typically for fusion and modern-dance inspired stylizations or when the dancer is very tall.


I couldn't have said it better, indeed - I couldn't have said it as well!

Fabric & Weight

With the vast array of fabrics to choose from, and the multiple weights each comes in, the considerations are multiple:

Will you be doing something soft and floaty? Or more energetic? Is sheerness important? Single veil? Double? Each of these factors also add to the confusion! Some of the more popular choices are detailed below:


A perennial favorite, silk comes in many differing weights. Even the heavier weights are fairly floaty, and the lighter ones are seemingly as light as air - a delight to those (like myself) who love floaty veilwork. The downside to silk is that it is "brittle", its a joy as long as you don't put too much power into it - it will collapse if over powered and the difference between floating nicely and an ugly collapse is very small - there is no in-between.

Silk generally isn't used for D.V. (double veil) because of this brittleness in handling - but I've become addicted to silk in my D.V. dancing. Once you've become accomplished with D.V., you may wish to give silk a try - you just have to "deal with it". It's not for everyone - Kamaal, who is a VERY accomplished D.V. dancer, once told me that silk is the most detestable fabric for ANY kind of veil, especially double, Eek! and considers it a royal pain to deal with! As they say, your mileage may vary.

Half circle veils can be hard to find in silk, although my favorite veil vendor, Link opens in new window A'Kai Silks, has them in a very light fabric. I'm told silk can also be successfully used for three quarter circle veils, although I haven't personally tried it..


"Chiffon" is actually a weave, not a fabric. There are silk chiffons, polyester chiffons, etc. Most of my experience has been with heavier silk chiffon. Not nearly as brittle as plain weave silk, chiffon tends to have fairly linear collapse properties (now how's that for "guy terminology"? smile). Even the extremely diaphanous chiffons, while they will collapse easily, don't have that sharp edge of silk. However, diaphanous chiffons tend to be clingy, liking to stick to you, your hair, your costume, etc.


Like chiffon, organza is also a weave, and can run the gamut from "same as coarse chiffon", to "same as tulle" open weave as often found as bridal veils and outer layers of multi-layered skirts.

Because of this stiffness, organza is often overlooked as veil fabric. It is however, one of the best kept secrets among veil fabrics; more and more dancers are discovering it including Ma*Shuqa Mira Murjan . I have several veils made of organza. The secret is to run them through the washing machine a couple of times to soften the fabric up! The result is a veil that is probably all around the best behaved of all veil fabrics. You cannot do ultra floaty veilwork (such as I love) with organza, but it floats better than you'd expect - and it is absolutely the best fabric I've encountered for "power veil". It just will not collapse or get flustered regardless of how hard you slash it through the air, it just folds in gracefully, and linearly. It can be used to make half circle veils, but I'm told not three quarter circles - the third quarter collapses.

Plain ol' Polyester

Polyester is also found in veils fairly often and has the advantage of being inexpensive. It has its place despite being rather heavy - it is decent enough for "power veil" with good collapse properties. Can also be great for "veil as costume accessory" as opposed to "veil as dance prop". Many "old skool" dancers prefer it over silk as they "grew up" with Polyester whereas Silk veils weren't very common back in the day.

I played with a dance sister's polyester veil once that was so heavy that I asked her "What am I supposed to do with this thing, bludgeon someone to death with it?" It felt like it weighed five pounds!

Tissue Lamé

Lamé is, as they say, a horse of a different color. It looks, handles, and appears different from any other veil fabric. Shiny, and virtually opaque, it would never be confused with sheer. It is almost contradictory in the way it handles, it floats like a heavier weight silk, its collapse properties are similar to chiffon, it looks beautiful in motion; yet there is nothing uglier than a collapsed Lamé veil. Looks kind of like a cross between crumpled tinfoil and burlap frown.

This peculiar combination makes Tissue Lamé the fabric of choice for half (or 2/3rds, 3/4ths, whatever) circle veils.

Trim & weighting

All the above guidelines can be superseded by the addition of weights or trim on a given veil. As I have a floaty veil style, I generally don't care for trims. I borrowed a dance sister's veil once that had clamshell bells sewed to each corner - I couldn't get the poor veil to float worth a darn. Yet it met her needs at that particular time.

When I was first learning double veil, I borrowed this same dance sister's Lamé half circle veils - with sequined trim. Had a horrible time with them, and did much better with a pair of untrimmed (Lamé) half circles. Then Kamaal presented me with a trio of 3/4 circle Tissue Lamé veils, with sequined trim! Once I swallowed the lump in my throat at the mere sight of these terrifying looking veils, they seem to handle very well. As Kamaal is a VERY accomplished double and triple veil dancer who obviously knows how to make veils - I figure my initial experiences with trimmed vs. untrimmed were my inexperience coupled with the properties of "those particular veils". It turns out that they handle so well that I went back and trimmed my untrimmed half circle Lamé veils.

Your Experiences

All of the above are merely guidelines - your own experiences will teach you more than any number of "experts" on the subject. A petite dancer should use 3 yard, half circle, Tissue Lamé veils for double veil? One of my instructors, the infuriating Wiggle Woman who is definitely petite, can do double veil with a pair of 4 yard silk rectangular veils! Not her first choice, but she can do it. Probably while playing Zills. Show off! smile

Try Before You Buy

Until you are familiar with a particular vendor's veils, it is best to try a veil before purchase to see if it suits you and your style. Ditto for buying raw fabric and making your own. Once you're familiar with a given vendor's veils, you can generally purchase from them and know what you're getting (Harder with raw fabric). A Link opens in new window L. Rose veil, for instance, is a L. Rose veil - as I have several of them I'm very familiar with them. A dance sister can hand me a random veil - and if its a L. Rose, I'll know it immediately!

And Finally...

So, you're getting ready for a performance. You know what kind of veilwork you want to do and have taken all of the above, plus your own experiences into account, and have selected your veil.

And guess what?

The perfect veil you've so painstakingly chosen just absolutely clashes with your costume!! frown. You can't win, don't even try. Just use it as an excuse to buy more veils! Wink! NOW you know why I have so many! Grin!

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