Zills – The Endangered Species

Something’s happened over my dance career…it doesn’t receive any press coverage like global warming does, but it is still a change in the bellydancing environment that concerns me.

While students in classes learn the basic care and feeding requirements of zills, outside the classroom environment zills are rarely heard in their performance habitats.

What’s happening to them? Why aren’t dancers performing with them? The most common reasons I’ve heard for the decline in the zill population are:

It’s Hard to Play and Dance at the Same Time!

Well, our dance isn’t easy at all is it? We practice our moves until they become second nature, why are zills any different? From what I’ve seen and heard over my career, the reason is instructors themselves do not know how to play them. And if the instructors can’t play them, how can they teach students how to play them?

My Zills Don’t Ring, They Clack!

Generally, there are two reasons for this. One is because you were never taught the proper way to play them, and the second reason is your zills are not the proper size for your hands. We’ll address each of these reasons separately

Proper Zill technique means the zills are offset when you strike them together, meaning you don’t line them up perfectly when you strike them together. Lining them up creates an air pocket (this is true with all cymbals, not just finger cymbals) that creates a ‘dead zone’, or a clack. Once you offset the top and bottom zills, your ring will return.

Zills also need to be sized to your hands – just like you size your costumes! If your zills are too small, your finger strength will overwhelm them and you won’t get the ring even if you offset them. If they are too large, meaning when you have them on they hit your hand, you won’t get the ring either because your hand is dampening them and preventing them from vibrating once you strike them together.

So What’s the Solution?

Find an instructor who plays zills well and study with them! If you can’t find an instructor, but there’s a dancer near you who plays zills well, seek out the dancer for help! And, as is true with everything in our dance, don’t give up after a few times keep working at it!